Obama business plan ends country-specific immigrant visa caps

President Obama’s small-business growth plan includes a proposal to eliminate country-specific caps for certain immigrant visa categories.

The proposal, which is likely to run into opposition from some members of Congress, would eliminate the caps to “attract more high skilled foreign workers, including entrepreneurs" to the United States, according to a White House statement.

Business groups, particularly in the technology sector, have complained for years about the caps, which they say prevent them from hiring skilled workers and growing their companies in the United States.

In his State of the Union address last week, Obama called for making piecemeal reforms to immigration legislation if it proved politically impossible to do a comprehensive bill.

“If election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses and defend this country,” Obama said.

Immigration remains a thorny political issue, and Obama was confronted in a Google+ online chat on Monday evening for issuing H-1B visas for skilled workers. Jennifer Weddel of Texas said during the chat that her husband was an unemployed semiconductor engineer, and questioned why the government extended visas for highly-skilled workers at a time of high unemployment.

In connection with the White House announcement, the Department of Homeland Security announced several measures it will implement to streamline existing pathways for immigrant entrepreneurs to enter and create businesses in the United States, retain more foreign-born science and technology graduates from U.S. universities, facilitate immigration by top researchers and help U.S. start-ups and other companies compete for global talent.

The immigration proposal was included in Obama’s larger request for Congress to expand tax breaks for small businesses and create a more seamless process for start-up companies to "unlock capital" and go public.

Expanding on a small-business initiative he created last year, Obama proposed a new agenda that would eliminate tax rates on capital gains for investments in small businesses and allow business owners "double deductions" for start-up expenses.

The legislative package also includes a 10 percent income tax credit on new payroll for small businesses stemming from hiring or an increase of pay.

The proposal calls for the creation of an IPO ramp, which would change how current securities and laws and regulations are phased in for new start-ups in their first years after going public.

The proposal will be included in Obama's budget proposal in February and comes on the heels of the State of the Union address, in which Obama said that most news jobs are created in start-ups and small businesses.

At the White House on Tuesday, Obama said the proposal was a "symbol of how important it is for us to spur entrepreneurship, to help start-ups, to move aggressively so that we can ensure more companies that create most jobs in our economy are getting a leg up from various programs that we have in our government."

Obama spoke before a Cabinet meeting that will include Small Business Administration head Karen Mills, whom he recently elevated to a Cabinet-level position.

In a written statement, Obama urged Congress to build on the progress of the initiative he started last year and "send me a common-sense bipartisan bill that does even more to expand access to capital and cut taxes for America's entrepreneurs and small businesses."

Obama told reporters on Tuesday that he expects Congress to pass a bill this year to accelerate financing to start-up companies, and explained that each Cabinet member is putting forth their own initiatives to support entrepreneurship.