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STATE OF SMALL BUSINESS

More Green Cards in 2014? The Odds Just Got Better.

A new hire by Speaker of the House John Boehner points the way to entrepreneur-friendly immigration reform.

The odds just got a bit better that 2014 will see some sort of entrepreneur-friendly immigration reform.

In a move that is already eliciting howls from hardline conservatives, Speaker of the House John Boehner has reportedly hired Rebecca Tallent, a longtime congressional aide, to advise him on immigration issues. Tallent once served a similar role to Arizona Senator John McCain, who is a well-known proponent of broad-based immigration reform. Tallent was most recently the director of immigration policy at the Washington, D.C.-based Bipartisan Policy Center.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, underlined the Speaker's desire for a piecemeal approach, saying that Boehner supports "common sense, step-by-step reforms," and that Tallent is well-qualified to help accomplish them.

That's in dramatic contrast to the approach in the Senate, which in June passed a comprehensive immigration bill running more than 1,000 pages. House leaders have said they have no intention of considering that bill.

Early wins for entrepreneurs?

A go-slow approach might be just fine with many entrepreneurs, since some of the things they want the most are also the least controversial. High on the list, and already included in a bill approved by the House Judiciary Committee this summer, is the provision of 55,000 green cards for foreign graduates of U.S. universities who earn advanced degrees in math and science.

That same bill, thanks in part to heavy lobbying on the part of Silicon Valley's tech community, would also increase the cap on H1-B visas to 155,000 from the current 65,000. The change has been controversial because there are plenty of U.S.-born science and tech workers who can't find jobs, and H1-B employees are often paid less than other similarly-qualified workers. They also have less recourse against lousy employers, because if an H1-B worker loses his or her job, he or she has to find another employer as a sponsor or leave the country.

The number of H1-Bs set aside for foreign graduates of U.S. universities would rise to 40,000 from 20,000.

Overseas entrepreneurs would also get special treatment: The bill provides 10,000 green cards for foreign entrepreneurs who can raise enough venture capital money to start a company that creates at least five U.S. jobs. According to research from the National Venture Capital Association and Stuart Anderson of the National Foundation for American Policy, some 41 percent of venture-backed software entrepreneurs are immigrants. Between 2006 and 2012, according to the same study, a third of venture-backed companies that went public were founded by immigrants.

A database of legal workers

The House bill would also make mandatory the use of the federal government's E-Verify system, a free online database that is designed to help employers confirm that a prospective employee is eligible to work in the United States.

That's not going to be hugely popular. E-Verify is now voluntary in most states, and only about 400,000 businesses use it--partly because it sometimes rejects people who are legally able to work in the U.S. The system recently sported error rates of about a 0.3 percent. That might sound low, but with a nationwide labor force of about 155 million, it's still hundreds of thousands of people. 

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Last updated: Jan 2, 2014

KIMBERLY WEISUL | Staff Writer | Inc.com Editor-at-Large

Kimberly Weisul is editor-at-large at Inc. and co-founder of One Thing New, the digital media startup that is rebooting women's content. She was previously a senior editor at BusinessWeek.




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