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Startup Act 2.0: Could it be an immigration breakthrough?

Startup Act 2.0 sponsors aim to build a new case for immigration reform. Their point: America has a deficit of employees with skills relevant to an economy built on innovation – and new immigrants can help.

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In the US, Feinblatt notes, about 7 percent of immigrants (or 15 percent, including their families) are admitted for economic reasons. In South Korea, Switzerland, and Spain, that figure is 80 percent. According to an OECD report on innovation and entrepreneurship published Tuesday, France has shown a "spectacular" increase in new businesses far outpacing the US over the past five years thanks to a simplified procedure for startup firms.

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Since the current Congress was seated in 2011, moreover, seven nations have added special visa provisions to lure entrepreneurs, Sen. Jerry Moran (R) of Kansas, one of the bill's Senate patrons, said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

"We have a problem accessing talent. We know that. We have a problem retaining that talent. And this legislation is going to help us retain, attract, and motivate those to want to start a business here in the United States, to hire American employees," said Rep. Michael Grimm (R) of New York, a co-sponsor of the bill, during a press conference Tuesday.

Of course, this legislation does nothing for the millions of illegal immigrants currently in the United States. Nor does it attempt to address the thorny issue of border security.

For Democrats, that's objectionable because it takes a bargaining chip – visas for high-skilled immigrants – off the table in their discussions with Republicans over comprehensive immigration reform. For Republicans, it adds fodder to those wary that immigrants compete with Americans for work.

Jamming the bill through Congress in an election year is an additional hurdle. The bill has some influential sponsors among its six Senate backers, including rising star Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, Republican whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Sen. Mark Warner (D) of Virginia. In the House, the measure's roughly half-dozen cosponsors skew strongly toward the junior end of the seniority scale. The bill hasn't received the blessing of leadership in either chamber, although the legislation is still only a few weeks old.

“We are encouraged by the amount of support both the Senate and House bills have gotten in a short amount of time," Senator Moran said in an e-mailed statement.

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