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In an Election-Year Push, Tech Entrepreneurs Lobby Congress for Tax Breaks and Immigration Changes

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Wednesday, June 6 2012

Engine Advocacy in San Francisco is asking its 10,000 list members to call their members of Congress to support the StartUp Act

A bipartisan group of House members led by Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) introduced a new bill earlier this week that would address the technology industry's long-time demand for more access to high-skilled foreign labor and tax breaks that would boost startup investments, research, and development.

The bill, H.R. 5893, would increase the number of available temporary work visas for foreign-born technology workers to 75,000 from the 65,000, and provide visas that would enable 50,000 foreign-born graduate students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to potentially stay for as long as they like so long as they remain employed in their respective fields.

These are things that people in Silicon Valley have wanted for years. What's different this year is that it's an election year in a dismal economy. It also doesn't hurt that entrepreneurs and deep-pocketed venture capitalists have found themselves more and more frequently in the company of candidates looking to court their campaign donations and lawmakers sympathetic to their concerns. Tech companies have already scored wins in Washington D.C. this year in the fierce debate over copyright policy and with the passage of the JOBS Act.

Other sponsors of the legislation include Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.); Devin Nunes (R-Calif.); Robert Dold (R-Ill.) and Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.); Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.); and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). A bipartisan group of senators introduced a similar measure last week.

The House legislation has the support of big companies such as Microsoft and Google, tech industry lobbying groups CTIA, The Wireless Association, the Consumer Electronics Association, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, and TechNet, among others. It also has the support of The National Small Business Association and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

What's also different is the involvement of a growing lobby dedicated to entrepreneurs and startups in Silicon Valley, like Engine Advocacy, an organization hoping to represent small and mid-sized Internet businesses — but also backed by bigger names like Google and Mozilla — which has been steadily building a presence by holding events locally in San Francisco and meeting with lawmakers in D.C. They're also more focused on rallying entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to actively get involved in contacting their lawmakers to urge passage of the legislation. The bill itself is based on research from the Kauffman Foundation, which is focused on identifying and enacting policies to help science and technology startups.

On Wednesday, Engine Advocacy sent out an email to the 10,000 people on its email list urging them to call their members of Congress to support the Startup Act 2.0. The group is using an Internet telephony app created by Mobile Commons that lets people call their representatives when they enter their contact information and zip code. Engine has also created an infographic that provides entrepreneurs with their talking points.

"This is going to be the first item for action of a longer-term engagement," said Mike McGeary, one of Engine's co-founders.

Engine currently has 130 members, but the 10,000 people on its list are people who signed up to join the group's last action during the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act.

Earlier versions of the legislation with the immigration components have stalled in Congress due to lack of support. Nevertheless, both presidential candidates have expressed support for the idea.

Top officials from the White House and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services swooped into Silicon Valley late February to solicit input from the startup community on how the administration can improve the way it hands out visas to talented entrepreneurs who've landed funding to create new companies.