For years now, we've been pointing out the ridiculous situation that the US has with denying visas to entrepreneurs. Over and over again, research has shown how skilled immigrants starting companies in the US help create new jobs. So we were excited earlier this year when plans for a Startup Act were presented in the Senate. Some aspects of that were taken care of by the JOBS Act, which came a month or so later, but key issues concerning startup visas and entrepreneurs still need to be addressed... and thankfully, Senators Moran, Warner, Coons and Rubio recently introduced the updated Startup Act 2.0. And, yesterday, Representative Michael Grimm, along with seven other House colleagues, introduced a the House version.
There's no way around it. This bill makes sense. In fact, looking around to see if anyone is arguing against the bill, the only thing I could find was a column at HuffPo arguing that Startup Act 2.0 Is Embarrassing. I was curious why the author would think so... and it turns out his reason is that it's embarrassing that we actually need a law for this, in this day and age, when what's in there should have been in place decades ago:
So why do I hate the Startup Act 2.0? Because it's embarrassing.
As a business owner and an American I'm embarrassed that such a fuss is being made over something that has been needed for so long and everyone agrees is necessary. That will clearly help this country over the long term by keeping those people who our own universities educated here, where many of these students want to be, rather than forcing them to leave. As a small business owner it seems so fundamentally right that it's unbelievable that these rules weren't changed decades ago. I hate that.
I also hate that we're celebrating the "bipartisanship" of the proposal. "I would guess that 80 percent of my colleagues in Congress would agree with the visa provisions in this legislation," says one of the bill's sponsors, Senator Jerry Moran. "And what I would encourage is that we not take the attitude or approach that unless we do everything, we can't do anything." With all that Congress has not accomplished during their past few sessions, we're applauding them for agreeing on something so fundamentally obvious and right? And who are the 20% of those that would oppose something like this? I hate that we have elected representatives that actually think this way. It's embarrassing.
And that's why the damn thing just needs to get passed. There's no reason to bicker around it. There's no reason to argue. Congress just needs to pass it.
But, of course, this is Congress that we're talking about, and they might not pass it because actually doing something useful is apparently not in their job description. However, one thing that is clear is that Congress does care about jobs -- and there's no question that startups create jobs. Research has shown that most of the net new jobs in the US have been created by startups over the past few decades. And, Congress is finally waking up and willing to hear from the startup community about what will help them create more jobs.
Our friends over at Engine have created an easy way to contact your representative to let them know that it's time to finally pass this bill and help entrepreneurs create more startups, and help those startups create more jobs. And, while you're at it, you should join Engine, as well, in order to keep on top of these things -- and help get your voice heard by Congress.
We've written quite a few times about the importance of skilled immigration and the questions surrounding the H-1B immigration program (and some related programs). We have been pretty clear that we agree that the H-1B program is abused too often, and that it could be vastly improved, but that the general principle of getting skilled immigrants, especially in key innovation areas, into the US working for US companies is a good thing for innovation. We will freely admit to the fact that there are problems and abuses with the system, but there are also many success stories. Many of the complaints against the program often seem to come across as thinly (or sometimes not so thinly) veiled racism, concerning "them" coming to "steal our jobs."
Thankfully, there's now some additional research that shows these particular worries are mostly hogwash. theodp points our attention to some new research about the impact of H-1B visa recipients on the job market, innovation and the economy. After going through a lot of data, the researchers concluded that increasing the number of H-1B visas does not negatively impact American jobs.
We do not find any substantive effect on native scientists and engineers across a range of labor market outcomes like employment levels, mean wages, and unemployment rates.
In other words, for all the talk of H-1Bs stealing jobs, depressing wages, increasing unemployment among American engineers, there's simply no evidence to support that. Now, the research did debunk one claim from the other side of the debate as well: many supporters of H-1B visas have suggested that skilled foreign workers create even more jobs. However, the data showed no evidence of that. In other words, they did not take away jobs, but they did not then create additional new jobs, beyond their own positions, in most cases, at an aggregate level.
Separately, the researchers also tried to look at whether or not an increase in H-1Bs resulted in greater innovation, and they concluded that yes, it did. Now, I have some problems with the methodology here, in that it uses patents as a proxy for innovation, which I've always found to be a very inaccurate methodology. At best, the study seems to show that when there's greater foreign skilled immigration allowed, there is also a greater number of patents awarded to people who are likely of foreign origin. Additionally, there was no corresponding decrease in patents given to non-foreigners (again supporting the claim that H-1Bs are not taking away jobs). I don't think this is a proper measure of actual innovation, but it's still an interesting figure.
The new guidance, issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, says a company founder may qualify for EB-2 Green Card visa if his or her position would report to a board of directors.
This visa also requires advanced degrees or some exceptional ability, which is "a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered in the sciences, arts, or business," according to USCIS.
Similarly, an "immigrant founder" may be eligible for an H-1B visa "if there is a way to demonstrate that if in fact there is a separation between your role as founder and that role as employee," said Chopra in the Webcasted presentation.
We know of too many stories of brilliant engineers being unable to start their companies in Silicon Valley because crazy immigration rules forced them back to their home countries. I can't fathom why people are against such startup visas. These are, clearly, cases where the individuals are not "taking jobs from Americans" because these jobs don't exist if the startup cannot be founded. I'm glad to see that the White House isn't even waiting for the various attempts by Congress to carve out a separate startup visa, but are using what they can do with the existing program to use it for this important purpose.
Wow! We keep pointing out how bills like Senator Amy Klobuchar's S.978 anti-streaming bill and Senator Patrick Leahy's PROTECT IP Act will be abused by US law enforcement, and we keep being told that those bills aren't "intended" to be used the way they could be. I think part of the problem is that people don't realize how the Justice Department and US Attorneys will sometimes stretch and twist the law just to go after someone.
Last month, we wrote about the absolutely ridiculous case by the US against former Cisco engineer Peter Adekeye. The details have to be read to be believed, but most of it only came to light because a Canadian judge absolutely blasted both Cisco and the US Attorneys for what clearly appeared to be an unnecessarily vindictive criminal prosecution against Adekeye because he filed an antitrust lawsuit against Cisco, after Cisco tried to block third party companies (such as one of Adekeye's) from accessing necessary patches to service certain Cisco equipment.
The whole story was horrifying, but we thought it ended in May when the judge let Adekeye go and gave the Justice Department a pretty big slap for its actions. But... no. Slashdot points us to the news that the Justice Department has just unveiled a new indictment against Adekeye over the same issue: basically someone at Cisco gave Adekeye a login to download patches, and he did exactly that. This is not, in any way, a matter that should involve the Justice Department. The judge in Canada made that clear. The story about Adekeye shows the Justice Department acting for bad reasons -- either incompetence, corruption or malice (pick any two!). And you would think that someone there might think twice before pushing ahead with bogus prosecution against Adekeye (who's finally back in Switzerland after being stuck in Canada for a year), but that's not how the US works.
And this is why we get very afraid when Congress looks to pass broad new legislation that may impact criminal statutes and the kinds of things that US Attorneys can charge people over. I'd like to believe that US Attorneys are good people trying to stop and punish crimes, but we've seen too many cases where it appears that their actions are incredibly questionable. I'm still hopeful that it's just a few bad seeds among the ranks of US Attorneys, but if we keep seeing stories like this...
Whenever we talk about the very serious risks and likely abuses of new laws favored by the entertainment industry -- such as PROTECT IP and the felony streaming bill, S.978, supporters of those bills insist that we're crazy for suggesting that the laws will be abused or that there will be any unintended consequences. We're told, over and over and over again that these laws are designed for and targeted only at the "worst of the worst." They're targeted at "rogue" actors, who must be stopped.
And yet, we've seen all too often how US officials have abused other such laws to attack and protect certain US companies from competition. A whole bunch of you have been sending over this incredibly frightening example of the Justice Department conspiring with Cisco to effectively try to destroy a former exec's life for daring to file an antitrust claim against Cisco, due to Cisco's desire to block competitors from servicing some of its products. Unfortunately, I actually found the version of the story at the Ars Technica link above a bit confusing (and it buries many of the key points). A much better way to understand just what Cisco and some federal prosecutors appear to have done is to read the ruling, embedded below, from a Canadian judge, who explains the whole thing clearly and bashes Cisco and the US Justice Department for its incredible overreach, for no reason other than to try to destroy the life of Peter Adekeye.
Adekeye, born in Nigeria, but a UK citizen, had apparently been a quite successful Cisco exec in both the UK and the US for many years. In 2005, he left Cisco and started a couple of companies himself, including one, Multiven, that offered to help provide maintenance services for various Cisco equipment. Apparently, Cisco tried to force customers into purchasing maintenance contracts only from them by denying third parties, such as Multiven, access to various bug reports and fixes. Because of this, Multiven sued Cisco, claiming antitrust violations. Cisco then countersued, including suing Adekeye directly, claiming that Adekeye had accessed Cisco's internal network illegally over 90 times. Adekeye does not appear to deny accessing Cisco's internal systems, but notes that he was given the login information from a Cisco employee, which he believed meant he was now authorized to use the system. It sounds like he used this access to get some of the info that Cisco had been denying Multiven. As part of its "hardball" litigation strategy, Cisco also sought to get the federal government to file criminal charges against Adekeye based on the exact same issue.
Separate from all of this, Adekeye had been dealing with attempts to get a work visa to be in the US for Multiven. The court ruling documents the incredibly ridiculous bureaucratic nightmare that Adekeye went through over the period of a few years in an attempt to seek proper visas to work in the US. At no time does it appear that Adekeye violated the various visas he did have. In fact, it sounds as though Adekeye bent over backwards (and then some) to always comply with US immigration and visa rules, even when it resulted in absolutely ridiculous circumstances, such as when he wasn't allowed back into the US, even though he'd been granted his H-1B visa. That story is crazy, but tangential to the point here -- though I suggest reading the ruling to get a sense of the ridiculousness of US immigration and visa policy.
In part because he was unable to get back into the US, Adekeye moved to Switzerland where a new Multiven office was opened, and continued his efforts to get his immigration status cleared up. As part of the ongoing legal dispute, Cisco wanted to depose Adekeye. Adekeye applied for permission to enter the US to do that... but was denied, and he was told if he went anyway, it could harm his chances of getting his visa status fixed. And Cisco used this to their advantage:
Notwithstanding this entirely reasonable explanation for his inability to attend a U.S. deposition, Cisco had the unmitigated gall to commence contempt proceedings for the applicant's "failure" to attend a U.S. deposition. It was, of course, unsuccessful, but it speaks volumes for Cisco's duplicity.
Eventually, all of the parties agreed to handle the deposition in Vancouver. It was outside the US, but close to Cisco's offices here in Silicon Valley. There was a separate (again tangential) issue involving the belief (which may not have been accurate, apparently) that a US deposition could happen in Canada without having to alert Canadian officials. It was at this deposition hearing in Vancouver on May 19th of last year that things got crazy. Cisco, knowing full well where Adekeye was and why he was in Vancouver -- and that he had tried and failed to get to the US -- apparently told the US Attorneys, who they'd been pushing to file criminal charges, about Adekeye's presence in Vancouver. The Justice Department then filed its criminal charges -- once again totally abusing the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act (CFAA) to make Adekeye's actions sound much worse than they actually were, and had a warrant issued for Adekeye's arrest.
They then sought rather extraordinary efforts from the Canadian government to arrest Adekeye immediately. Part of that, according to the Canadian judge who issued this ruling, appeared to involve a US Attorney leaving out key information, making blatantly false insinuations about other facts, and in some cases, what appears to just be lying:
The affidavit made no mention of the fact that United States immigration authorities had refused the applicant entry to the United States. No mention was made that the applicant had no criminal record. No mention was made that the United States Federal Court had ordered a deposition in Vancouver, presided over by a "special master" at which six or more United States lawyers would be present. No mention was made that the criminal complaint "mirrored" a counterclaim brought by Cisco in the main action in which the applicant was seeking large damages in an antitrust suit.
Sinister inferences were suggested, leading to an inference that the applicant would be a flight risk. The affidavit stated that the applicant "is a Nigerian citizen who claims to have citizenship from the United Kingdom", and that he possibly had British citizenship, and that he was in Canada on a Nigerian passport. The latter reference invited an inference he might flee to Nigeria, a country from which extradition was highly unlikely. In fact, U.S. authorities well knew and had a duty to disclose to the issuing judge that the applicant was a citizen of the United Kingdom and possessed a British passport, on which passport he had entered Canada. They also knew and had a duty to disclose that he had been a resident of England, but was currently residing with his wife and child in Switzerland, and that he had travelled from Switzerland to Canada for purposes of the deposition.
What happened then was somewhat astounding. In the middle of the deposition, RCMP officials walked into the room, interrupted the deposition in progress and arrested Adekeye in the middle of the proceedings. The beginning of this is on videotape. Adekeye, his lawyers, and the "special master" clearly have no idea what's going on, but what's notable is that, while people repeatedly ask for the recording to be turned off, Cisco's lawyers immediately say that the recording should be left on. It appears they knew exactly what was going on and wanted the humiliating arrest on the deposition tape. You can see the video below. As the judge in this ruling notes, the police's actions "could be compared to entering a courtroom and arresting a person during the course of his or her testimony. It is simply not done in a civilized jurisdiction that is bound by the rule of law."
Believe it or not, the situation then gets even worse and even more egregious. Adekeye was, in fact, arrested -- and the charges could have resulted in almost 500 years in jail, all for accessing a Cisco network with a password given to him by a Cisco employee. As you can see, he was removed from the deposition, much to the confusion of the special master appointed by the US court. After being arrested, he asked for bail, and Richard Cheng, an Assistant US Attorney for the Justice Department, sent a letter that was chock full of false and misleading information, which the judge in this case goes through step by step. It falsely implies that Adekeye did not really have British citizenship and that he did not really live in Switzerland. It stated that he used his Nigerian passport to enter the US under an E visa, which was not true. It claimed that the US had denied all of Adekeye's attempts to obtain a visa to visit the US since 2007, which as the ruling now notes "is simply not true." It also falsely stated that Adekeye had fled from law enforcement in the past. Again, the ruling noted "this statement was completely untrue."
And yet, federal officials continued to seek extradition. Even then, months after the arrest, the civil suit between Cisco and Multiven were settled, in a manner that everyone agrees was a "win" for Multiven, with Cisco changing its policy. So the key matter over which this highly questionable criminal charge was brought was settled. And yet, the feds continued to push forward. It was only in May of this year, a year after his arrest, that this new ruling came out and freed Adekeye to leave Canada and go back home.
Honestly, the whole story is really terrifying and makes me depressed to think that my government would do something like this. However, it should seriously call into question whether or not new laws like S.978 and the PROTECT IP Act should be allowed. It seems clear that the Justice Department has no problem using very questionable means to act as the private bullies of certain large companies. It should also call into question some of the recent efforts by other US Attorneys from the Justice Department, such as the efforts in coordination with Homeland Security/ICE to seize domains on questionable evidence, the attempt to extradite Richard O'Dwyer from the UK over very questionable charges and, of course, the recent charges against Aaron Swartz.
All of these cases have key factors in common. They involve what at best should be minor civil issues between private parties in court -- but in which, due to the presence of certain large industry interests, the Justice Department steps in and starts throwing its considerable weight around, including insane possible punishment, all because of dubious and often extremely misleading claims from these private interests. It's possible that the Justice Department officials here are simply incompetent (and honestly, that's an only slightly more comforting idea than the alternative) and unable to realize they're being manipulated by companies seeking to stamp out competition. But it's certainly demonstrating a really horrifying pattern of questionable behavior by the Justice Department and US Attorneys not to focus on real criminal behavior, but to abuse the criminal justice system to take vindictive action against potential competitors for big US industry players.
Last week, we noted that a bunch of law professors (at final count, 108) signed on to a letter to every member of Congress highlighting problems with PROTECT IP. One of the key authors of the letter was Mark Lemley, the respected lawyer and Stanford law professor, who is one of the leading voices on this and related issues. He, of course, sent the letter directly to his own elected official, Rep. Anna Eshoo, who represents a large part of Silicon Valley, and thus should be one of the Congressional Reps leading the charge against this horrific bill -- especially since a bunch of VCs (many of whom live and work in her district) have pointed out that if this goes through, they'll fund less innovation in her district.
In other words, this is an issue that Eshoo should be front and center on. Unfortunately, the only Silicon Valley Rep. who has actually bothered to pay attention and speak out against this has been Rep. Zoe Lofgren, from a nearby district. I've really been quite disappointed that none of the other Silicon Valley Reps, including Eshoo, Jackie Speier and Mike Honda, have spoken up about this awful legislation. But, it's even worse than that when it comes to Eshoo. In response to Lemley's letter, Eshoo appears to have responded to a totally unrelated issue: immigration:
"I do share your concerns about illegal immigration and have consistently supported legislation to strengthen our Border Patrol. Our immigration system is in dire need of reforms. This is a national security issue and an economic one as well. We have porous borders and illegal crossings which make us vulnerable on the security front. We have heavy backlogs to process those waiting to become citizens (years-worth) in a system that is highly strained, lengthy and inefficient. There are, as you know, 10 to12 million people in our country without legal status. Each of these issues represents a critical problem which must be addressed and I think they need to be taken up comprehensively to overhaul the system.
While I agree that more needs to be done to curb the flow of illegal immigrants into our country, I shall continue to vote against legislation that in large part places unnecessary burdens on individuals who have legally immigrated to the U.S."
Oops. Now, in our discussions about Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) group's Operation In Our Sites effort to seize domain names without due process and under very questionable legal theories, many people have asked: what does immigration have to do with copyright? The ICE folks and their supporters note that one of ICE's mandates is to keep counterfeit products out of the country, and the group has stretched and twisted that mandate into believing it now can run roughshod over any intellectual property issue, no matter how little it grasps the legal details. So perhaps in some twisted way, folks in Eshoo's office think that PROTECT IP is an immigration issue? Or we can go with Occam and his razor and assume that Eshoo's people sent back the wrong form letter. Either way, it's not particularly comforting to think that this is the level of concern they put in when a leading voice on a particular issue contacts them about a bill under discussion.
One of the more controversial subjects we've discussed over the years is immigration & visa policy when it comes to skilled foreign workers. At this point, there's more than enough evidence to support two key points: that a skilled immigration & visa program done well creates economic growth and jobs within the country (as opposed to pushing those folks to other countries where they create growth and jobs away from the US) and that the current skilled visa system is massively abused. This often makes it difficult to have serious discussion on the topic, because every time we talk about the importance of getting a program that works well and doesn't send skilled workers away from the US, opponents of the system focus solely on the abuses of the program. However, if you can separate the two issues out and recognize that immigration is not a zero sum game (i.e., a foreign worker doesn't necessarily mean one fewer job for an American worker), then you can start to look at creating a better program for skilled workers.
It looks like Rep. Zoe Lofgren is trying to do exactly that, with a new bill (which again, has a terrible acronym): the Immigration Driving Entrepreneurship in America... or IDEA Act. On the face of it, the bill seems to hit on a few key points that we've discussed in the past. It focuses on getting immigrants with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) green cards, and making it easier for students in those areas to get visas. This has been a huge issue, where top notch students and skilled workers were often forced to go back home, rather than create jobs and growth in the US.
Also, embedded in all of this appears to be a version of the startup visa, that we've discussed for many years. I still have significant concerns about the specific implementation of a startup visa, and the fact that it still relies on venture capitalists as the gatekeeper. That is, a foreign entrepreneur needs to secure money from a venture capitalist to get the visa. I think this relies way too heavily on the venture capital system, which (contrary to what some VCs believe) is not necessary to build a successful startup. It also could put the entrepreneurs in a tricky position where they need a venture capitalist's support not for monetary reasons, but for immigration reasons, and that opens up the system for abuse. However, the overall concept of granting visas to entrepreneurs is good, and hopefully the specific details will help get around these concerns within the bill.
Importantly, the bill also does not pretend that the current H-1b and L-visa programs are free from abuse. Instead, it tries to reform both of those programs to stop the widespread abuse, wherein those visas too often are used as a way to sneak in cheap labor, rather than for their actual intended purposes of keeping significantly skilled labor here.
Finally, the program appears to try to use the money from these new visas to invest in scholarship programs in those important STEM areas, which seems like a good way to invest back into education for future workers.
There are some devils in the details, but it's nice to see a comprehensive attempt to take on a few of these issues that really are impacting US innovation and economic growth.
"By enacting a controversial 'emergency' rule in 2008 allowing foreign students who earn degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) in the U.S. to work for American employers for 29 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) without the need for an H-1B visa, Department of Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff boasted he was 'giving U.S. companies a competitive advantage in the world economy.' Microsoft applauded the move, saying the program would allow U.S. companies to recruit and retain the 'best' science and tech students educated at the top U.S. universities. And last April, the DHS quashed a legal challenge to the program, telling the U.S. Supreme Court that 'the public interest would be disserved' without the program.
Noticeably absent from the DHS brief, however, were any details on the two-year old program's participants. But now, a Computerworld report suggests why the agency may have been less-than-eager to share any details with the Court. Not only is the DHS program dominated by for-profit Stratford University, whose 727 approved OPT STEM extension requests is more than twice the combined total of the entire Ivy League - Brown (26), Columbia (105), Cornell (90), Dartmouth (18), Harvard (27), Princeton (16), Penn (50), and Yale (9) - it turns out the program is also being embraced by IT outsourcing and offshoring companies like Kelly Services, whose entities snagged about 50 approvals, more than twice the combined total of Google (15), Amazon.com (2), Yahoo (2), and Facebook (3). More details on the 20,000 OPT STEM extension requests filed since mid-2008 can be found in Computerworld's interactive database."
I'll admit that I was a supporter of this program when it was first announced. I believe that we should absolutely be opening our borders to those skilled in science and technology, and keep them working in the US so that they're working to improve US competitiveness, rather than competing with US firms elsewhere. Unfortunately, it certainly looks like (as with the H-1B program) that it is not being used in the way it should be used. This is unfortunate, as anti-immigration folks will simply use this as evidence to block important, useful and job-creating immigration, insisting that all such efforts are abuses. That's not true, but when a program like this is not really being used for the best and brightest, then it's been improperly designed.
As the baby boomers start to retire en masse, one of the fears is that the US will struggle to continue to fund Social Security. Though originally projected to become cash flow negative by 2016, it looks like Social Security will reach that mark this year, hastened by the early retirement taken by many boomers as a result of the global recession. Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, proposes a potential solution to the impending crisis: immigration. The way Reich puts it, the nation's workers all put into the system to support the retirees -- but the increasing number of retirees is outpacing the growth of the American workforce:
Forty years ago there were five workers for every retiree. Now there are three. Within a couple of decades, there will be only two workers per retiree. There's no way just two workers will be able or willing to pay enough payroll taxes to keep benefits flowing to every retiree.
So, to correct this demographic imbalance, Reich proposes that the US opens itself up for more immigration:
Get it? One logical way to deal with the crisis of funding Social Security and Medicare is to have more workers per retiree, and the simplest way to do that is to allow more immigrants into the United States.
Easier said than done, perhaps. Faced with a global recession and high unemployment levels, it will be easy to find critics who will vehemently argue that there are not enough jobs here for American workers. Reich refutes this with a simple claim that "once the American economy recovers, there will be." He may be right, but he could have done a more convincing job. Reich misses an opportunity to explain that bringing a fresh wave of skilled, smart immigrants into this country actually creates more jobs. Jobs are a not a zero-sum game -- studies have shown that an increase of H-1B visas resulted in an increase in jobs. And as we've pointed out before, there are also suggestions like the startup visa that attempts to attract immigrants who would create jobs.
Immigration policy will almost certainly need to be included as a part of any solution to the impending Social Security shortfall. Without addressing immigration at all, the options are much more limited -- focusing mainly on cutbacks or higher taxes. An option that could help grow the economy should not be left off the table.
With health care reform out of the way, lots of politicians are pushing out new legislative ideas, hoping that Congress can now focus on other issues -- so we're seeing lots of bad legislation proposed. Let's do a two for one post, highlighting two questionable bills that many of you have been submitting. The first, proposed by Senators Schumer and Graham, is technically about immigration reform, which is needed, but what's scary is that the plan includes yet another plan for a national ID card. Didn't we just go through this with Real ID, which was rejected by the states? Jim Harper, who follows this particular issue more than just about anyone, has an excellent breakdown of the proposal, questioning what good a national ID does, while also pointing to the potential harm of such a plan.
Then we have the big cybercrime bill put forth by Senators Hatch and GillibrandSenators Rockefeller and Snowe (updated, since there are two separate cybersecurity bills, and its the Rockefeller/Snowe one that has people scared), that tries to deal with the "serious threat of cybercrime." But, of course, it already has tech companies worried about the unintended consequences, especially when it requires complying with gov't-issued security practices that likely won't keep up with what's actually needed:
"Despite all [the] best efforts, we do have concerns regarding whether government can rapidly recognize best practices without defaulting to a one-size-fits all approach," they wrote.
"The NIST-based requirements framework in the bill, coupled with government procurement requirements, if not clarified, could have the unintended effect of hindering the development and use of cutting-edge technologies, products, and services, even for those that would protect our critical information infrastructure."
They added the bill might impose a bureaucratic employee-certification program on companies or give the president the authority to mandate security practices.
This is one of those bills that sounds good for the headlines (cybercrime is bad, we need to stop it), but has the opposite effect in reality: setting up needless "standards" that actually prevent good security practices. It's bills like both of these that remind us that technologically illiterate politicians making technology policy will do funky things, assuming that technology works with some sort of magic.
When the startup visa was first put forth by Paul Graham, I was a big supporter. When Brad Feld took the idea and got political support for it, I was still a big supporter. But when the bill was actually introduced, I expressed some serious worries about it -- specifically over the fact that it was entirely focused on enterpreneurs who could raise a certain amount of money. As I noted, there were some potentially serious unintended consequences of requiring enterpreneurs to raise a specific amount of money just to stay in the country. The leverage between enterpreneurs and VCs can be a delicate enough balance without adding in the fact that you might get deported if you don't take the deal being handed to you.
While many of the people I know and respect in the industry have been vocal champions of the current bill, it was good to see at least someone make a big deal of these serious deficiencies in the bill. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry wrote up a post for Business Insider that basically reflects this same viewpoint. We both think that a startup/entrepreneur visa makes a ton of sense, and it's something the country needs, but we're a bit worried by the current bill, which seems entirely focused on venture capital, rather than actual entrepreneurship.
Some have responded and suggested that this is better than nothing, but I'm not entirely convinced of that. A bad bill with unintended consequences could create more harm than good and could derail future attempts to put forth more serious (and needed) reform.
In the end, I think (former VC) Jeff Nolan put it best: this is a "well-intentioned bad idea that shouldn't be stopped." The real thing is that it should be fixed. Now, some of the bill's supporters have suggested that the problems with this bill are necessary, in that it's the only way they'll get passed, but that seems like a defeatist attitude. We have an opportunity to actually get this right and to bring smart entrepreneurs who can create a lot of jobs and tremendous value to the US. We shouldn't rush it through in the easiest manner possible: we should focus on getting it right, even if it takes more effort.
Update: It looks like the folks at the Kaufman Foundation have had similar concerns as well, supporting the concept, but worried about tying it to funding. They suggest an alternative, focused on job creation:
Here's a way to improve on the Kerry-Lugar plan. Create a true "job creator's visa," one tied directly and only to job creation by new immigrant entrepreneurs. The visa could be a temporary one for immigrants already here on another visa who establish a business. It could then be extended if the firm hires at least one American non-family resident. The visa should become permanent once the enterprise crosses a certain job threshold (such as five or 10 workers). But it would not be tied to financing.
There are plenty of immigrants who might qualify: the one million skilled foreign workers now here on H1-B visas who otherwise must go home after six years, as well as the roughly 60,000 foreign students who earn degrees at American universities each year. These are far larger numbers than those who could qualify under the Kerry-Lugar proposal.