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Economics

Visas for Foreign Entrepreneurs

Peter Tegelaar and Coen Stevens sound like just the sort of entrepreneurs the U.S. economy could use right now. The two friends are working on a Mountain View (Calif.) startup called Newcope and want to hire employees. But there's a problem: They're Dutch. In the U.S. on tourist visas, they'll have to return to the Netherlands this spring, unless something changes fast. Jeff Clavier, a venture capitalist who is considering backing the pair, says their departure would hurt Newcope's prospects, since the company is working on a payment system for online games and much of that expertise is in Silicon Valley. "Their likelihood of success in the Netherlands is close to zero," he says.

Tegelaar, 28, and Stevens, 27, have a chance for a reprieve. With prodding from the U.S. venture community, Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) have proposed a two-year visa for any immigrant entrepreneur who can secure $250,000 in capital from American investors. After the two years are up, the person could become a permanent resident if his or her business has created five full-time jobs in the U.S., raised an additional $1 million, or hit $1 million in revenue. The senators hope to pass the StartUp Visa Act this month as part of legislation aimed at helping small businesses add jobs. "This bill is a small down payment on a cure to global competitiveness," wrote Kerry in an e-mail to Bloomberg BusinessWeek.