While Debates Continue on Illegal Immigration, the Wealthy and Talented Go Elsewhere

by Tahmina Watson

Startup Act Blog picRecently history shows the world competing for the wealthy and the talented reaffirming the importance of immigrants.. The wealthy, predominantly Chinese, are being enticed by the privilege of working and living in the best places.  Governments are vying for the talented, making every effort to ensure the next Facebook is created in their country.

Countries are focused on immigrants who can: (1) buy an house (2) invest millions of dollars or (3) start a business.  While we have a decent investor visa option, we lack the other two. That means we are losing out on the opportunity for economic growth.  The US is nonchalant that people from around the globe actually still want to live in the US.

Immigration reform is key to boosting our economy.  All three of the above visas must be included in any comprehensive reform proposal

Let’s revisit recent developments.

In November 2012, Australia launched the newly created “Significant Visa,” allowing residency to anyone with an investment of $AUD 5 million.  In May 2013, Australia issued its first ‘Significant Visa’ and since then, the visa has garnered much interest and Australia is in the process of fast tracking these cases.[1]

Appreciating the appeal, in April 2013, Canada implemented its very own “Startup Visa Act”.  While the US high-tech industry has been green with envy with our neighbor’s new visa, Canada had no problem crossing the border to taunt us with their innovative achievement.  They even went to our technology hub, Silicon Valley, to poach our brightest entrepreneurs!  The head-hunting push began with an eye-catching billboard boasting the phrase “Pivot to Canada” followed by a visit from the Canadian immigration minister Jason Kenny.  Canada issued its first Startup Visa in September 2013[2] and continues to make improvements to the program.[3]

Canada and Australia are not alone in their efforts: the UK is constantly reinventing their immigration laws and are not afraid of trial and error.  In 2012, the UK launched their well utilized Tier One Entrepreneur Visa which was further amended in January 2013. In October 2013, the UK announced relaxed visa rules for Chinese citizens enabling easier investments.

Speaking of China, this is probably the only country that actively discourages entrepreneurs.  The Chinese government recently tightened immigration rules.[4] With a rapidly growing economy, attracting immigrants in the same way as other nations is not important.

Back in Europe, Portugal implemented the “Gold Visa” allowing residence if one purchases a house for at least €500,000.[5]  The visa has already proven popular, particularly with the Chinese. Spain also created a similar visa for people who purchase properties worth €500,000.  Called the “Spanish Golden Visa” or “Spanish Entrepreneur Visa” this visa is giving the country a much needed financial boost.[6]

A few years ago, New Zealand relaxed their laws to allow people with $NZD 10 million to qualify for residency. Only the crème-de-la-crème will do, thank you.

In 2010, Chile implemented their “Startup Chile” program to attract the world’s talented entrepreneurs.  The unique program, funded by the government has generated much financial growth, job creation and other positive effects.[7] Brazil recently replicated the model creating “Startup Brazil.”[8]

So where is the US in this battle for the wealthy and the talented? Well, we have two investor visas: the EB-5 and the E-2 visas.  The EB-5  provides residency to people who invest a minimum of $500,000 with proof that 10 jobs were created with the investment in two years.  Unsurprisingly, a large percentage of users are from China.  Created in 1990, the program is not permanent. S.744 Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, which passed the Senate in June this year, will  make the program permanent.

The E-2 visa allows only temporary work permission and has other limitations.  First, the visa restrict citizens from certain “treaty” countries. Secondly, it does not provide residency, leading to insecurity for those who want to grow their businesses.

What about ‘buy a house to get a green card’? A bill to that effect was touted in the US generating huge interest from around the globe in 2012. However, the bill did not go far.  Those provisions are included in the S.744 immigration bill.  It will likely attract a variety of wealthy people in due course.

The entrepreneur category represents the epitome of the loss for the US.  While it is unquestionably necessary, we still do not have an Entrepreneur Visa. S.744 includes two new visas for entrepreneurs[9] which the US desperately needs so that entrepreneurs do not leave with their talent.

Only with immigration reform we can really join the battle to attract and retain the wealthy and the talented, which is key to economic growth for the US economy.

The majority of Americans want immigration reform.  House GOP- let’s get it done!


2 http://www.betakit.com/growlab-reveals-new-fall-cohort-along-with-new-farm-team/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growlab-reveals-new-fall-cohort-along-with-new-farm-team

3 http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/global-filipino/10/30/13/canada-expands-start-visa-program-entrepreneurs

4 http://www.forbes.com/2008/05/28/china-tourist-visa-ent-law-cx_ml_0528chinavisa.html

5 http://theportugalnews.com/news/china-citizens-dominate-list-of-portugal-gold-visas/29601

6 http://www.financialreporter.co.uk/view.asp?ID=13863

7 http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/science/july-dec13/chileconvalley_10-19.html

8 http://techcrunch.com/2013/04/15/startup-brasil-brazil/

9 See http://watsonimmigration.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/invest-visaentrepreneur-visa-chart-startup-visa-eb6-x-visa/

Originally posted on the Watson Immigration Law Blog. Reprinted with permission.

About The Author

Tahmina Watson is an immigration attorney and founder of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle Washington. She was a practicing barrister in London, UK, before immigrating to the United States herself. While her practice includes family-based and employment-based immigration, she has a strong focus on immigrant entrepreneurs and start-up companies. She can be contacted at tahmina@watsonimmigrationlaw.com. You can visit www.watsonimmigrationlaw.com to learn about Tahmina and her practice.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) alone and should not be imputed to ILW.COM.