Any startup founder will attest to the importance of hiring people with the skills and experience needed to turn a great idea into a successful business. The same holds true at a macro level.
Since the earliest days of the nation, and especially in times of great power conflict, the United States has acted on the fact that economic strength and security come from having the best minds in the world discovering, creating and building in America.
Congress now has an opportunity to bolster American competitiveness by creating a pipeline of entrepreneurs whose artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing and machine learning startups will cement U.S. superiority in emerging technologies for decades to come.
But here’s the catch: Many of them will come from abroad.
The House-passed America COMPETES Act, currently in conference committee, contains a provision to create a path for foreign entrepreneurs to start businesses here in the United States. Known as a startup visa, the provision has a history of bipartisan support. Its inclusion in the final version of competition legislation is essential if the bill is to achieve its aim.
When the United States squared off against the Soviet Union after World War II in a race to develop and use new technologies to bolster national and economic security, we brought thousands of scientists and engineers to America, including the chief architect of the Saturn V rocket that took American astronauts to the moon and won the Space Race in 1969.
Until the SpaceX Starship or NASA’s Space Launch System leave our atmosphere, the Saturn V will continue to be the largest, most powerful rocket ever built. That decades-old achievement has had a long-lasting impact. Future technological advancements will also reverberate for years to come and could easily change the world order. None of these innovative solutions are possible without the world’s brightest and best coming to America. And what our nation provides them is the ingredients necessary to sow the seeds to accomplish their visions. The United States possesses the best open business environment which acts as the lubricant, the investments which are the fuel and finally the talent that, as a spark, will light these new engines of innovation.
The purpose of past U.S. efforts to aggregate talent was simple: get the best and brightest minds to America or suffer the consequences when our competitors capture the fruits of their labor.
A similar commitment is needed in today’s global economy, where talent and capital are mobile.
Our competitors recognize this. Some two dozen countries have created startup visas in recent years and thus gained a competitive advantage in the global race for entrepreneurial talent. The United States has not kept pace, and we are losing out on the innovations these entrepreneurs create.
Just look at where venture capital, which finances innovative technologies and startups around the world, is going. In 2021, 40 percent of venture capital deals were done with American startups — a steep drop from 2004, when U.S. businesses accounted for 74 percent of venture deals and captured 82 percent of venture capital dollars.
Growing competition, including in the critical AI sector, comes from China. In 2020, Beijing was home to 93 startups valued at $1 billion or more and China’s AI industry grew to more than 6,000 companies.
Recognizing this threat, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 established the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence. The commission stated that the “human talent deficit is the government’s most conspicuous AI deficit and the single greatest inhibitor to buying, building, and fielding AI-enabled technologies for national security purposes.”
In response to Chinese advancement in AI, the commission recommended several provisions, including the startup visa, to not only counter the American “brain drain” but also target the human talent of our adversaries.
If the United States is to compete with China and maintain its economic superiority, we need the world’s most innovative entrepreneurs to start their businesses here in our country.
Creating a U.S. startup visa is a low-cost, high-reward policy change that would ensure the next generation of technologies, including advances in AI, machine learning, semiconductors and others, are developed here in America, to the benefit of our economy and security.
Just as a startup can’t grow without the right talent, the United States will not develop and control the technologies that will shape the future without the world’s best entrepreneurs innovating in America. Many people see our emerging competition with China as not only an economic struggle but also one for the shape of the world order. Such a struggle requires some measure of selfishness — let’s get the world’s best and brightest to start companies and build the technological future here.
Jason Wiens is a senior advisor to the Bipartisan Policy Center. He is a former policy director at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Prior to that, he spent 10 years on Capitol Hill as a deputy legislative director in the U.S. Senate and a legislative assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Jonathan Arias is the senior policy analyst for the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Business team. Prior to joining BPC, Arias served over a decade in the United States Senate across various roles with the U.S. Senate Small Business Committee & Entrepreneurship and with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.