The Lookout

With today’s jobs scarce, Obama admin. turns to tomorrow’s

Zachary Roth
The Lookout

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President Barack Obama at a meeting with the Jobs and Competitiveness Council, June 13, 2011: Carolyn Kaster/A …

The Obama administration doesn't seem able to do much about the dire state of the present U.S. jobs picture. That may be one reason why--with the debt crisis out of the way for now--White House officials are focusing on the jobs of tomorrow, instead.

The government today announced an effort to make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to launch job-creating start-ups in the United States. The initiative, part of the administration's strategy to "win the future" by fostering technological innovation, is designed to combat a growing problem: Many skilled entrepreneurs, especially in tech-driven industries such as software, come to the United States to obtain advanced degrees before launching businesses. But because they're unable to get a work visa or permanent residency, they often return to their home country to launch new enterprises--taking their U.S.-incubated expertise with them.

The experience of Anuj Agarwal is typical. He came to the United States in 2008 from his native India to complete a masters in computer science at the University of Southern California. Soon after he matriculated, he launched a start-up that makes a product used by search engines and digital-media companies. But Agarwal couldn't get a visa for himself, so he moved the company to India, which lately has been doing more to lure its skilled workers back home. That means, of course, that any jobs the company creates in the future won't help Americans.

It's hard to say how much of an impact the Obama administration's new measures will have. Most start-ups, it's worth noting, fail before creating a single job. But research suggests that the ones created by skilled entrepreneurs with advanced degrees in a relevant field are much more likely, on average, to succeed.

Vivek Wadhwa, who studies immigrant entrepreneurs at the University at California, Berkeley, told the Wall Street Journal the new White House policies could mean as many as tens of thousands of new start-up companies, and hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

The new measures contain several provisions. Among the key policy shifts:

• They'll allow foreign entrepreneurs to be eligible for an EB-2 immigrant visa even if the immigrants don't have a specific job offer. All they will be required to do is to show that their business will be in the national interest -- primarily, by creating jobs.

• Similarly, the new measures will make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to qualify for temporary H-1B visas, by no longer requiring that they be employees of a larger company.

• And the new policies will bolster the EB-5 investor program, which allows foreigners to qualify for green cards if they invest at least $500,000 in a U.S. enterprise that generates at least 10 jobs.

The administration is frank about one key motive force behind the new initiative: a dismal labor economy, where unemployment is now at 9.2 percent. "In this economy, it certainly is in the interest of this nation to welcome foreign talent," Alejandro Mayorkas, the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told the Journal.

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