Videos & Speeches

I want to tell a story. It goes back to the summer of 2011. Back at that point in time, we had 30 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent. I decided it was important to work on legislation to jumpstart the economy and to work in every way possible with my colleagues to put Americans back to work.

With a foundation of compelling data showing that nearly all of the new net jobs created since 1980 had been created by companies less than 5 years old, Senator Warner and I introduced the Startup Act in December of 2011. The Startup Act was a jobs bill written to help entrepreneurs who have been responsible for most of the job creation in our country over the last 30 years.

The legislation made changes to the Federal regulatory process so that the cost of new regulations did not outweigh the benefits and encouraged Federal agencies to consider the impact of proposed regulations on startups, particularly. Our bill made commonsense changes to the tax code to encourage investment in startups and reward patient capital.

The Startup Act also sought to improve the process of commercializing federally funded research so that more good ideas out of the laboratories were put into market where these innovations could be turned into jobs by companies and spur economic growth.

Finally, the Startup Act provided new opportunities for highly educated and entrepreneurial immigrants to stay in the United States where their talent and new job ideas could fuel economic growth and create American jobs.

When I began work on the Startup Act, I did not intend to write an immigration bill. My goal was simple: find the most cost-effective way to jumpstart the economy and create American jobs. After reviewing the academic and economic data, it became clear that any strategy to create American jobs must include highly skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants. Immigrants to the United States have a long history of creating business in our country.

We can all think of examples of individuals who have done so: Sergey Brin cofounded Google; Elon Must cofounded PayPal, SolarCity, SpaceX, and Tesla; Min Kao founded Garmin in my home State of Kansas. There is a long list of people from other countries who created businesses here in the United States that now employ thousands and thousands and thousands of Kansans and Americans. Of the current Fortune 500 companies, more than 40 percent were founded by first-or second-generation Americans. Immigrants are now more than twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a business. In 2011, immigrants were responsible for more than one in every four U.S. businesses founded.

Today, one in every 10 Americans employed at privately owned U.S. companies works at an immigrant-owned firm. The immigration bill drafted by eight of our colleagues and reported by the Judiciary Committee recognizes the importance of entrepreneurial immigrants. The legislation creates new visas for immigrant entrepreneurs and awards points for the merit-based visa for successful entrepreneurship. Yet this bill could be improved significantly to reflect more accurately how new businesses grow and hire workers.

Done right, an entrepreneur's visa has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of needed jobs for Americans. Now in its third version, Startup 3.0 creates an entrepreneur's visa for foreign-born entrepreneurs currently in the United States. Those individuals with a good idea, with capital and a willingness to hire Americans would be able to stay in the United States and grow their businesses. Each immigrant entrepreneur would be required to create jobs for Americans.

In many instances our country already has made a commitment to these entrepreneurs, allowing them to study in our universities and work temporarily at American companies. Providing a way for immigrant entrepreneurs to stay in the United States and create American jobs makes economic sense.

Earlier this year the Kauffman Foundation studied the economic impact of immigrant visas in the entrepreneur's visa in Startup 3.0. Using conservative estimates, the Kauffman Foundation predicts that the entrepreneur's visa could generate 500,000 to 1.6 million jobs over the next 10 years. These are real jobs with real economic impact that could affect real American families and boost our GDP by 1.5 percent or more, a 1.5-percent increase in our gross domestic product by this provision of the legislation alone.

Anticipating floor consideration of the immigration bill, I have been speaking with entrepreneurs, investors, and startup policy experts to develop an amendment that would improve the legislation. In my view, we have an opportunity to create jobs for Americans by making certain highly skilled and entrepreneurial immigrants are able to start a new business and contribute to the growth of American companies. If we miss this opportunity, we risk losing the next generation of great entrepreneurs and the jobs they will create. I will offer an amendment to the immigration bill to accomplish these goals and hope my colleagues will join me in supporting the changes to the legislation that would result in the creation of jobs for Americans.

While it is important to provide a straightforward and workable way for entrepreneurial immigrants to stay in the United States so they can employ Americans, we also need to make sure the immigration bill addresses the needs of growing American businesses.

The current problem is twofold. American schools are not producing enough students with the skills our economy demands. While American universities do a great job of attracting foreign students to study advanced subjects, few pathways exist for these talented graduates to remain in the United States and contribute to American prosperity.

One reason for this problem is our Nation's high schools have fallen behind in STEM education--science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Forty percent of high school seniors test at or below basic levels in math. Fifty percent of our high school seniors test at or below basic levels in science. By 12th grade only 16 percent of students are both math proficient and interested in a STEM career, and fewer than 15 percent of high school graduates have enough math and science to pursue scientific or technical degrees in college. It is no wonder that by the time American students go to college few are choosing to major in a STEM area subject. According to the National Science Foundation, college students majoring in non-STEM fields outnumber their math and science-minded counterparts five to one.

Moreover, the growth rate of new STEM majors remains among the slowest in any category. Unfortunately, research shows that this gap continues to widen at a time when the number of job openings requiring STEM degrees is increasing at three times the rate of the rest of the job market. The number of students pursuing math, science, and engineering is declining. The demand for the jobs is increasing. Should this trend continue, American businesses are projected to need an estimated 800,000 workers with advanced STEM degrees by 2018, about 4 years away, but will only find 550,000 American graduates with those degrees they need.

How do we solve this problem and prepare America for the future? First and foremost, we need to do more to prepare Americans for careers in STEM fields. This will take time, but our efforts to improve STEM will yield positive results across the economy, even for those without STEM skills.

Second, as we work to equip Americans with the skills for the 21st century economy, we also need to create a pathway for highly educated foreign students to stay in America where their ideas and talents can fuel economic growth.

Startup 3.0, the legislation Senator Warner and I have introduced, addresses this immediate need by creating STEM visas. Foreign students who graduate from an American university with a master's or a Ph.D. in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics would be granted conditional status contingent upon them filling a needed gap in the U.S. workforce. By working for 5 consecutive years in a STEM field, the immigrant would be granted a green card with the option of becoming an American citizen.

The immigration bill we will soon consider attempts to address the immediate needs for more qualified STEM workers and the longer term need for Americans to develop the skills needed to fill those jobs. I am hopeful these aspects of this bill will be strengthened in order to provide growing American businesses with the skilled employees they need now and in the future. If growing American companies are unable to hire qualified workers they need, these businesses will open locations overseas.

I was in Silicon Valley last year, and executives at Facebook told me they were ready to hire close to 80 foreign-born but United States-educated individuals, when their visas were denied. Rather than forgo hiring these skilled workers, the company hired them anyway, but they placed them in a location in Dublin, Ireland, instead of the United States. Facebook was ultimately able to get the visas for these workers after training them in Ireland.

All too often companies end up housing these jobs permanently overseas. When this happens, it is not only those specific jobs we lose but also the many supporting jobs and economic activity associated with them. Even more damaging, more damning to me than the loss of those highly skilled workers who are now working in some other country, the end result is that someone among that group will start another company such as Google, be an entrepreneur, and start another company that creates jobs, but not in the United States—in Canada or in Dublin, Ireland. The United States loses both employment today and an opportunity for American jobs to be created in the future because our immigration policies failed to help our country retain highly educated and skilled individuals.

To me, this story and many others like it illustrate the importance of getting the policy right. Creating workable ways to retain highly skilled, American-educated workers and entrepreneurs is about creating jobs for Americans and growing our Nation's economy. The United States is in a global battle for talent. If we fail to improve our immigration system, one that currently tells these entrepreneurs and highly skilled individuals we don't want you, they will take their intellect and skills to another country and create jobs and opportunities there.

Some of my colleagues may think I am exaggerating what is at stake, but this week Canada's Immigration Minister was in Silicon Valley recruiting entrepreneurs and promoting Canada's new startup visas. They have billboards in California encouraging those STEM-educated individuals to move to Canada where they have an immigration policy beneficial to them and their jobs. This Minister's message was simple: The United States immigration system is broken, so bring your startups to Canada, where we will get you permanent residency and the opportunity to build your business. Canada put up billboards along Highway 101 between Silicon Valley and San Francisco enticing entrepreneurs to “pivot to Canada.”

In fact, six other countries besides Canada in the short time I have been a Member of the Senate have changed their laws and policies to encourage these individuals to find jobs and create businesses in their countries. We have done nothing. For the sake of our country and the millions of Americans looking for work, we cannot afford to lose talented entrepreneurs.

As the Senate begins debate of the immigration bill in the near future, I encourage my colleagues to keep in mind the other 11 million, those 11.7 million American workers who are looking for work and the many others who have become so discouraged they have given up.

The United States is the birthplace and home of the American dream. For years our country has been seen as the land of opportunity for innovators and entrepreneurs. We must do everything possible to make certain that remains true in the face of growing competition. When the immigration bill comes to the Senate floor, I will offer amendments to improve the bill and encourage my colleagues to join me in supporting commonsense changes that will allow the United States to win the global battle for talent. Doing so will make certain that immigrant entrepreneurs have a home in the United States. In their pursuit of the American dream, they will create jobs for Americans and strengthen the American economy.