PolitiHacks Digest – 28 May 2013 – What’s next for the immigration bill, startup visa?

Reading List—Theme: Immigration Reform

  1. Politico: LATISM & iMarch partnership—Latins In Social Media (LATISM) and Mayor Bloomberg’s March for Innovation (iMarch) partnered up to drive social media activity into the iMarch, which saw 30k+ actions taken over social media.
  2. Senators take to Vine for immigration reform—Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV) andCharles Schumer (D-NY) use Vine for the first time; Patty Murray (D-WA) marks her second time
  3. FWD.us: Joe Green on what the committee vote means—Joe provides a basic overview of the Senate process related to the recent vote and previews what’s next
  4. Sen. Jerry Moran: Startup Visa Amendment—Sen. Moran (R-KS) announces his intention to file an amendment to improve the startup visa provision in the immigration bill
  5. TheNextWeb: Hatch-Schumer H-1B deal—Sen. Hatch (R-UT) pushed hard for changes to the immigration bill, making more H-1Bs available for large companies, and Sen. Schumer (D-NY) represented the sponsoring Senators (Gang of Eight) in making a deal with him

One for the road: The New York Times reports on efforts by the FBI to compel online chat and Internet-based phone services to build in wiretap capabilities, as well as pushback by the open Internet activist community and network security experts.

Political issues affecting startups: 

Senate Immigration Bill passes out of Committee 13-5
Two major political take-aways from the vote (10 Democrats, 3 Republicans in favor, 5 Republicans opposed):
  • Two Republican members of the Gang of Eight sit on the Judiciary Committee, meaning only one non-Gang Republican member (Sen. Hatch of Utah) of six voted to favorably report the bill
  • Still, the final committee vote was 13-5, or 72% in favor, which is a strong signal moving forward

A committee vote to favorably report a bill is an important stage of the legislative process, as 88% of bills introduced die (see: Prognosis) before reaching this point. Still, Govtrack only gives the bill 27% of becoming law at this stage, though its chances have been rising since the November election.

The bill should be considered to have positive momentum moving forward, though only matching expectations without exceeding them.

The vote to watch is Sen. Cornyn’s (R-TX), who voted for the Sponsor’s amendment (passed 14-4) and flipped to vote against the committee report. He represents the tipping point vote right now.

The bill has already survived several points where it could have been doomed:

  • The discredited Heritage report was released, whose predecessor strongly correlated with the failure of the 2007 immigration effort
  • Various amendments were considered that would have destroyed supporters’ unity, specifically one allowing same-sex husbands or wives to be considered as a legal marriage for purposes of immigration.

The next point at which opposition could coalesce is when the bill is costed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

PolitiHacks spends a Day on the Hill with National Immigration Forum

The primary takeaway was that expected opposition in the Senate from rank-and-fileRepublicans hasn’t yet coalesced. My vote count right now is between 52 and 75-77, which is surprisingly wide for such a major bill.

Many Republicans currently neutral on the bill could ultimately vote against it, but for now, they are still in listening mode. That alone is a striking change from 2007 to just before the 2012 election.

We heard that the CBO costing report could either keep these Senator’s neutral or drive them to the opposition. The CBO report will be derived from important assumptions that can and will be politically debated to either support or discredit the report.

Already, we’ve seen a costing report by the Heritage Foundation discredited due to itsassumptions, which argued that immigration reform would cost the US $6.3T over 50 years while considering only economic costs to reform.

As is often common in social science, reasonable people can rationally disagree about various assumptions’ economic contributions looking forward to the future. Where an assumption falls between reasonable and unreasonable gets addressed through adversarial debate, which is unusual for tech audiences. However, there are few binary solution sets in the political world.

What does the Hatch-Schumer tech immigration deal mean for startups?

The final sticking point before the committee had its final vote was whether or not Sen. Hatch (R-UT) could be convinced to vote for the bill. He wanted to see changes made to the high-skilled immigration, generally in support of what the big tech companies’ position is, as a previous sponsor of the I-Squared bill, which left out startup visa.

The end result was a complicated amendment tree representing complicated negotiations. An amendment tree details how an amendment itself can be amended up to a certain point. Hatch had submitted an amendment representing his extreme on the game theory spectrum, and Sen. Schumer (D-NY) inserted a secondary amendment that represented the in-between point representing the meeting point between the initial bill and Hatch’s perspective.

TheHill has the comprehensive coverage of what policy changes are in the amendments. For startups, the primary change is not needing to submit job postings to a proposed Department of Labor database unless 15% of your company or more holds H-1B visas, which would have been a difficult requirement to reach during early periods of founder or early hire matching and later periods of rapid growth.

Vivek Wadhwa debated Ron Hira on PBS about the deal and what it means for the tech industry as a whole.

What other immigration amendments should we be paying attention to?

Though missing the final days and deals, the Washington post piece remains the most comprehensive review of amendments considered, aside from the Hatch-Schumer deal.

Startups should be interested in the EB-5 investor visa program being made permanent, and Chinese founders may be able to make use of access to the visa waiver program through Hong Kong.

The most exciting was the passage of Sen. Whitehouse’s (D-RI) amendment to count investment through accelerators towards the qualification for the bill’s startup visa, though “accelerator” is loosely defined. I’m not sure exactly how helpful this amendment is, because no accelerator or incubator I’m aware of provides enough funding to qualify, and follow-on funding through angels or VCs was already covered.

Rep. Issa introduced high-skilled immigration bill in House—strengths and flaws

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who was a key supporter of startups and the open Internet on SOPA, recently introduced a high-skilled immigration bill with the support of Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA).

Most relevantly to startups, the bill does contain a startup visa, though the milestone of $1M raised or $1M in annual revenue within three years would restrict successful startup visa applicants to only top performing tech startups, mostly in Silicon Valley. Further, such a high bar could cause founders to have to give away significant equity, forcing a choice between ‘(green) card or king,’ to paraphrase the famous “rich or king” piece. We do cheer the understanding of the difference of scale in angel and VC investment, with $100k or $500k raised, respectively, being the milestone to qualify for this startup visa proposal.

Additionally, the E-2 visa, a popular founder visa intended for investors from countries friendly to the US, would be authorized to allow E-2 holders to apply for a green card after 10 years, which hasn’t been brought up before.

While these are positive improvements over the status quo, there are two primary problems, one policy (the idea) and one political (the implementation):

  • The proposal is unfavorably compared  to almost all other startup visa proposals
  • It remains unclear if the House will move forward with its piecemeal immigration bills or ultimately move a single, comprehensive bill—if the latter, these proposals offer insight to the final package but no constraint

While we support the principle of Rep. Issa’s bill (draft copy) and consider it a major improvement above the status quo, it could be much improved simply by modeling after other political proposals.

Sen. Moran plans startup visa floor amendment—what’s that?

PolitiHacks is proud to support Sen. Moran as he seeks to make the startup visa provision more effective.

The amendment has the following major fixes:

  • Remove business plan submission requirement
  • Clarify the intent to allow a founder to move from intending to leave the country after several years to pursuing permanent residence
  • Reduce the revenue and funding milestone requirements to be more in line with market data
  • Allow friends, family, and personal savings/investment to count towards qualification requirements

If your organization is interested in supporting this proposal, please contact us by June 7. We thank Hackers & Founders, Lean Startup Circle, and Watson Immigration Law for their support, specifically thanking Tahmina Watson for her research on where the immigration bill could be improved.

Cellphone Unlocking: Phone campaign report

PolitiHacks cosponsored a a phone campaign, led by FixTheDMCA.org and powered byPhone2Action. We targeted DC to advance the cellphone unlocking bill introduced by Reps. Lofgren (D-CA), Massie (R-KY), Polis (D-CO), and Eshoo (D-CA).

Phone campaigns work because DC political offices tally the number of calls on a given issue each day, which influences their decision-making process on legislative issues. According to one Congressman, if you can send at least 30 calls into an office from within the district, you’ll get advanced up the staff chain.

The call campaign reached 5,000, who generated 181 calls, for approximately a 0.3% conversion rate. This rate contrasted with a campaign to generate emails to Congress, which had a 35% conversion rate. Primarily reaching a tech audience, the results illustrate a large culture gap between the online world and that of DC.

However, phones are the minimum viable political action, as emails are not easily linked to a specific voter in an elected official’s district. Without that link, emails are mostly discarded by office interns without their views being registered, unless submitted directly through the office website.

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