As the Senate Judiciary Committee continues debating legislation to overhaul our nation's broken immigration system, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) offered two amendments this week to strengthen the bill, both of which were approved by the Committee. Whitehouse's amendments would help foreign-born entrepreneurs who create jobs in the U.S. obtain visas so they can continue to grow their businesses here, and would make it easier to report violations of H-1B program rules (the H-1B program allows businesses to hire foreign workers for specialty occupations, but includes standards to protect U.S. workers).
"It is long past time to fix our nation's broken immigration system, and I'm glad to be taking part in the Judiciary Committee's process of crafting this important legislation," said Whitehouse. "Both of these amendments address issues that I've heard about from Rhode Islanders, and will make the overall bill stronger and more effective."
Whitehouse's first amendment, which was adopted by voice vote, would help workers report H-1B program abuses by creating a toll-free hotline and website for that purpose. It would also require companies that employ H-1B workers to inform their employees of the hotline and website; and establish reporting requirements for enforcement. When introducing the amendment, Whitehouse noted that he had heard from Rhode Islanders at community dinners who had been laid off and replaced by workers from foreign countries. This would give those workers an easy way to report possible violations of the law.
Whitehouse's second amendment modifies the bill's new INVEST visa program, which provides visas for entrepreneurs from other nations who have been educated in American colleges and universities and have gone on to start businesses here in the U.S. The amendment would ensure that funding from startup accelerators can be taken into account for individuals applying for these visas. Startup accelerators, which are a growing phenomenon across the country, typically provide entrepreneurs with training, mentorship, seed money, and access to other investors, in exchange for a small amount of equity in the startup. Betaspring in Rhode Island is an example of one such startup accelerator.
"Betaspring supports promising, high-growth startups that spur economic development in the state," said Allan Tear, founder and managing partner of Betaspring. "When program participants can't obtain visas and are forced to return home, Rhode Island loses the opportunity to retain world class talent--a loss we cannot afford as we work to build a thriving entrepreneurial community. Senator Whitehouse's amendment will help our entrepreneurs grow their businesses in Rhode Island, create jobs, and build a stronger economy in Rhode Island."
Twice a year, startups from around the country come for Betaspring's intensive 12-week accelerator program. Betaspring's full-immersion program, which runs in both Spring and Fall, enables teams with a strong start on a high-growth venture to rapidly transform into fundable, scalable companies. Betaspring has accelerated 72 companies in six sessions and Betaspring alumni have raised $25M in follow-on funding.