Jan 012010
Image by danielbroche via Flickr

A proposal that will make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs in the US to start the next Google or Yahoo will be debated in the new year.

Congressman Jared Polis has proposed a start-up visa to entice “foreigners with good ideas” to stay in the US.

The issue has been gathering steam in Silicon Valley where half of all tech company founders are immigrants, according to Duke University research.

The idea is part of a proposed overhaul of the US immigration system.

“Every day the American economy is losing ground – not to mention high-tech jobs and technologies – to India and China because foreign-born entrepreneurs cannot secure a visa to stay in the US,” he said.

Lost opportunity

Eric Diep, who has just turned 22, could be regarded as one entrepreneur who got away.

He came to Silicon Valley as a student like many immigrant founders who have helped start companies such as Google and PayPal.

Mr Diep was one of the first developers to get into social games with his application called Quizzes, initially launched on the social networking site Facebook.

Over a year ago he started to apply for a visa to allow him to carry on working in the Valley, but he soon encountered problems.

“The reason it was so difficult for me was because I dropped out of university and the stipulation for a lot of visas is undergraduate experience. My age also seemed to be an issue for the attorneys

“At the beginning it wasn’t the expense in terms of legal fees but the big problem soon became one of distraction. I was trying to spend as much time working on perfecting my product but then I would have to go away and figure out the legalities of applying for the visa,” Mr Diep told BBC News.

In the end, Mr Diep decided to base himself in his native Canada and travel back and forth to Silicon Valley.

“The flying is so tiring between the two places and it’s expensive. At one point, I had no money left in my bank account but at the last minute money came in and now I feel pretty fortunate that I can still do this.

“It was a pretty close call,” he added.

He backs a start-up visa because, for him, being in Silicon Valley is where he needs to be.

“Being there at the time really launched me. I would never have spotted the social gaming opportunity had I not been there.”

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