Apr 18, 2013 · 4 minutes

The bipartisan "Gang of Eight" senators yesterday filed an immigration bill called Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act that would have significant implications for the tech industry and the startup community. The 844-page document has taken a while to digest, but early reactions are now starting to flow in from the tech industry.

The verdict?

The bill, which includes a startup visa for foreign entrepreneurs and raises the cap on high-skilled H-1B visas, while making it easier for advanced degree holders in science, technology, engineering, and math to stay in the country, is good for the industry – but it comes with some caveats, including higher H-1B-related fees for employers and tougher restrictions on monitoring the immigration status of employees.

Here's a round-up of what you need to know.

Key provisions of the bill:

  • Startup visa for foreign entrepreneurs who want to start a business in the US
  • H-1B visa cap raised from 65,000 to 110,000, with an adjustable cap -- as high as 180,000 -- based on the High Skills Jobs Demand Index formula. But the most the cap can increase or decrease each year is 10,000
  • H-1B cap exemption for Master's and PhD STEM graduates increased to 25,000
  • Higher wage requirements for H-1B recipients. Jobs must also be posted on a new searchable portal created by the Secretary of Labor
  • 120,000 merit-based visas for talented people, based on education, employment and length of residence in the US, alongside other considerations. The individuals with the most "points" will earn the visas. This allocation also has an adjustable cap that can reach up to 250,000 during years of low unemployment
  • All PhDs exempted from green card cap. People of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, certain physicians, and dependents are also exempted
  • STEM visa for individuals with an advanced degree, or the equivalent experience
  • Dual intent for all students on BA degree programs, or above. This allows those with job offers to apply both for green cards and H-1B visas
Via Engine Advocacy

Expected timeline

  • Yesterday: Bill introduced (S.744) -- sent to Judiciary committee for hearings
  • Mid-summer: Senate vote -- chance of success 60 percent (magic number: 60 votes)
  • Early winter: House vote -- chance of success 40 percent (magic number: 218 votes)
  • New Year's Day, 2014: President signs a final bill (if it gets that far)
Via Politihacks

Reactions to the bill

Senator Jerry Moran, main sponsor of Startup Act 3.0 and leading advocate for a startup visa:
[W]hile other countries are creating new visas to attract entrepreneurs as a way to grow their economies, the immigration bill introduced [yesterday] sets arbitrarily low quotas on startup visas, unreasonably high investment or revenue requirements, and includes unnecessary hurdles like the submission of a business plan to bureaucrats in Washington. The most important criterion should be whether an immigrant entrepreneur creates jobs for Americans.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, co-chair of Partnership for a New American Economy:
I applaud the bipartisan Gang of Eight for tackling this issue, and we will do everything we can to help them win bipartisan majorities in both houses. One of the best things we can do for our economy is to pass sensible immigration reform that drives innovation and creates jobs – and the sooner Congress acts, the brighter our future will be.
Vrunda Rathod, member and board relations, Engine Advocacy:
Despite some areas for improvement, this plan is something the technology community can, and should, rally behind. It's great to see the new 'invest visa' (better known by the community as a 'startup visa') that will really encourage smart individuals to start businesses in the United States -- it makes a welcome change from existing policy that sends business away. We're also relieved to see the dual intent provision for students, which will make it easier for students to apply for green cards and encourage the best and the brightest to come to school here and stay; it might also relieve the pressure on the H-1B system. And among all the chatter about visas, we're also happy that this bill is looking forward to the next generation, making the much-needed investments in our own education system, especially at the K-12 level.

We are concerned, however, that the new wage rules for H-1B holders do not take into account equity or other benefits, and require startups to pay median wages determined by metro area. This might make it more difficult for smaller companies to compete with larger companies -- with deeper pockets -- for top talent. Joe Green, founder and president of FWD.us, the new tech industry advocacy group backed by Mark Zuckerberg:

We applaud the political courage of the Republican and Democratic senators who have put forward a bipartisan plan to fix our nation’s broken immigration system. While we continue to examine the bill, many of the commonsense principles we advocate for are represented:
  • Tough, effective border security measures, including providing law enforcement the tools they need to secure the border;
  • A simple and effective employment verification system to ensure that employers play by the rules, and to crack down on those who abuse the law;
  • Modifications to the new worker program to include an increase in the number of H-1B visas to attract the world’s best and the brightest workers, while implementing reforms that encourage this talent to reside permanently in the US;
  • Establishing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the United States who do not have legal status; and
  • Reforming the legal immigration system to better strengthen the American economy and American families.
Gina Cooper, founder of Netroots Nation, political consultant for tech industry:
While Big Tech didn't get everything it wanted, it looks like startup visa supporters who hitched their wagons to comprehensive immigration reform have a lot to be happy about. There are more in-roads for immigrants wanting to start businesses in America than ever before.