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Obama Startup America Legislative Agenda Proposals Include Immigrant Visa Backlog Relief; DHS and State Department Reforms Court Highly-Skilled Immigrants; Pending Final Rule to Allow Extended Validity of Certain L-1 Visas
According to a Whie House press release, President Obama has sent his Startup America Legislative Agenda to Congress. Building on a prior year of government and private-sector activities to promote entrepreneurship in the U.S., the agenda outlines ideas to expand tax relief and unlock capital for job-creating startups and small businesses through the White House Startup America Initiative.
Urging Congress to "send [him] a common-sense bipartisan bill that does even more to expand access to capital and cut taxes for America's entrepreneurs and small businesses," Obama also proposed two immigration-related reforms to relieve immigrant visa backlog and attract more highly-skilled foreign workers including entrepreneurs to the U.S.:
- Eliminate the per-country caps on employment-based immigrant visas;
- Raise the caps on family-based green cards from seven percent to 15 percent.
These reforms would help address some of the longest backlogs without increasing the total number of available immigrant visas.
Other proposals include:
- Eliminating capital gains taxes on key investments in small businesses;
- Offering a 10-percent income tax credit for 2012 on new payroll added in 2012;
- Permanently doubling the deduction allowance for start-up expenses to $10,000;
- One-year extension of 100-percent first-year depreciation for qualified property acquired and placed in service before January 1, 2013;
- Raising "mini-offering" limits that trigger public financial reporting obligations from $5 million to $50 million;
- Allowing entrepreneurs and small businesses to raise capital through "crowdfunding;"
- Phasing in securities laws and regulations for smaller, young companies in the first years following their Initial Public Offering (IPO);
- Increasing annual support allowed under the Small Business Investment Company program to $4 billion.
While several government agencies and the private sector through its Startup America Partnership are implementing or renewing measures to promote entrepreneurship and job creation in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced administrative reforms intended to attract and retain highly-skilled immigrants, including:
- Expanding eligibility for 17-month extension of optional practical training (OPT) for F-1 international students to include students with a prior degree in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM);
- Allowing spouses of F-1 students to enroll part-time in academic classes; and expanding the number of Designated School Officials (DSOs) at schools certified by DHS to enroll international students;
- Providing work authorization for spouses of certain H-1B holders who have begun the process of seeking permanent residence in the U.S.;
- Allowing outstanding professors and researchers to present a broader scope of evidence of academic achievement than regulations currently allow;
- Allowing E-3 visa holders from Australia and H-1B1 visa holders from Singapore and Chile to continue working with their current employer for up to 240 days while their petitions for extension of status are pending.
Also, USCIS has announced that it will host high-level representatives from the entrepreneurial community, academia, and federal government agencies at its Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR) Information Summit to be held in Silicon Valley in late February. EIR's mission is to maximize current immigration laws' potential to attract foreign entrepreneurial talent.
In response to the president's appeals, the Department of State (DOS) is developing plans to increase efficiency in visa processing for key growth markets such as China and Brazil; and to increase the number of qualified countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program. DOS and DHS are working together to implement streamlined visa processing for qualified returning visitors to the U.S. who were previously interviewed and thoroughly screened.
Rule to Allow Extended Validity of L-1 Visas
Under a pending Final Rule, DOS would begin issuing L-1 visas valid for periods based on the visa reciprocity schedule rather than the petition validity period granted by USCIS. The change would benefit L-1 beneficiaries who are nationals of countries for which the reciprocity schedule prescribes a visa validity period longer than the petition validity period initially approved by USCIS, and who have extended their L stay while in the U.S.