Introduction of Immigration Driving Entrepreneurship in America (IDEA) Act of 2011

On June 14, 2011, Rep Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the . The IDEA Act would allow American companies to attract and retain highly skilled foreign graduates of American universities in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields, commonly referred to as STEM fields. The Act would also create a new green card category for entrepreneurs who form new startups as well as reform the current H-1B and L-1B visa programs.

The primary provisions of the IDEA Act would:

  • Help American companies attract and retain the best and the brightest workers by empowering them to seek green cards for advanced degree graduates in STEM fields from the most distinguished American universities.
  • Allow foreign students to have “dual intent”, which means they could pursue a green card within the need to transition to a temporary work visa.
  • Permit certain undocumented students who are enrolled in a full course of study to apply for temporary student visas if they initially entered the US at 15 years of age or younger.
  • Attract new businesses by awarding green cards to entrepreneurs with significant venture capital funding who agree to open their start-ups in the US.
  • Fix our employment-based immigration system by recapturing unused green cards, eliminating backlogs and streamlining regulatory hurdles. The bill would exempt spouses and minor children of employment-based immigrants from the annual numerical limit.

Upon introducing the bill, the Congresswoman said, “it makes no sense for us to educate the world’s brightest students and then ship them back to their home countries to compete against us. My bill would allow some of the world’s sharpest minds to stay in the United States and help us grow our economy.”

Under the current immigration rules, a foreign born individual who has entered on an F-1 status has to obtain some form of work authorization/visa to allow them to work in the United States. This is generally through an H-1B status/visa. While this will permit an employee to work in the United States, it impedes that employee’s ability to advance in the company, restricts the employee’s spouse from working and otherwise limits the options available to the employee.

The IDEA Act calls for green cards to be available to foreign born students who graduate with an advanced degree in a STEM field from a U.S. university, if that person has a relevant job offer from a U.S. company. It further reduces the green card backlog by recapturing visas that were issued in previous years in other categories but were never used.  It also eliminates arbitrary caps in the current system that restricts the number of employment based visas that can be awarded to citizens of any one country in a given year.