The Kansas Republican said the Startup Act is needed to keep the U.S. competitive globally and the country would suffer if it dragged its feet on reforming its high-skilled immigration laws. Since his time in the Senate, Moran said seven countries have changed their laws to recruit foreign entrepreneurs to incubate and launch their startups within their borders.
"Other countries are moving rapidly to attract and recruit the kind of individuals we need in this country and their entrepreneurial abilities," he said.
The bill is the latest measure introduced this year that is aimed reforming the visa system for highly skilled foreign workers. The tech industry has called on Washington for years to allow for more talented foreign scientists, engineers and computer programmers to stay in the United States. Tech observers see the current momentum for immigration reform as their best hope for getting a bill through this year.
"There is an opening here, there is a moment," said Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and head of investment firm Revolution. "There now seems to be bipartisan support growing."
The Startup Act 3.0 counts Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Mark Warner (R-Va.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) as co-sponsors. Moran and Warner first introduced the Startup Act in Dec. 2011.
Coons is also a co-sponsor of another immigration bill, the Immigration Innovation Act, that would significantly increase the number of H-1B visas for high-skilled workers and free up more green cards for those workers to stay in the U.S. on a permanent basis.
The Startup Act 3.0 includes a provision that would create a new visa that allows up to 50,000 foreign students with a master's or P.hD. in math, science, engineering, math or tech disciplines (STEM) to stay in the U.S. on a "conditional status" if they remain engaged in a technical field for five years. The STEM graduate would become a permanent legal resident once that status is lifted and have the option to become a naturalized citizen.
Additionally, the bill includes measures that would support university initiatives to bring research to the marketplace more quickly. It would also enable start-ups to access a limited R&D tax credit for up to $250,000 by tying it to the employment taxes they pay on employee wages, rather than on income taxes. To qualify, a start-up must be less than five years old and have less than $5 million in revenue.
Like the Immigration Innovation Act, the bill would eliminate the per-country cap for employment-based immigrant visas. It would also adjust the per-country limitations on family-based visas without increasing the number of available immigrant visas.
President Obama and Senate Democrats are pushing for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, which will include a component that is aimed at reforming the immigration rules applied to high-skilled workers. But Moran said he hopes his bill won't be "held hostage" in the broader immigration debate and can be passed this year.
"There is broad support for what we accomplish in this bill and it ought not be held hostage for political or policy reasons," Moran said.
Google, TechAmerica, the Consumer Electronics Association and Silicon Valley Leadership Group are among the industry associations and companies that have backed the Startup Act 3.0
— A previous version of this story misidentified Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as a co-sponsor of the bill. This story was corrected at 2:19 p.m.