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March 25, 2024

Global entrepreneurship program proposal sees support from legislature

HBJ Photo | Skyler Frazer Members of the state legislature’s Commerce Committee in 2024.

A proposal to expand a student-visa program that aims to bring more immigrant-entrepreneurs to the state saw unanimous support from the Commerce Committee last week and now heads to the floor of the state Senate.

What’s in the bill:

Senate Bill 250, which was introduced by the Commerce Committee, would establish a Global Entrepreneur in Residence Program in Connecticut. The proposal would have the state Department of Economic and Community Development develop a three-year pilot Global Entrepreneur in Residence Program, that would facilitate partnerships between resident entrepreneur employers and eligible institutions for employment.

What’s at stake:

Last session, the Commerce Committee created a working group to explore the feasibility of establishing the program in Connecticut that would aim to increase the number of H-1B visa holders in the state.

The concept is modeled after Massachusetts’ global entrepreneur in residence program, which allows foreign entrepreneurs to qualify for an H-1B visa through partial employment at a university.

The H-1B visa program is used by U.S. employers to hire foreign workers for specialty jobs that require at least a bachelor’s degree. The federal government, through a lottery system, issues only 85,000 H-1B visas per year.

However, universities are exempt from annual federal H-1B visa caps, which makes an entrepreneurs in residence program attractive.

Who’s for it:

Several bioscience and technology-related business groups testified in support of the bill as a way to increase the state’s workforce and entrepreneurship potential. Ashley Zane, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said the bill would help “spur economic development and keep talent in the state.”

“Each year, hundreds of international students enroll in the Connecticut public university system, complete their course of study, and return to their home country taking with them the skills, knowledge, and future income potential they have learned and could have earned in our state,” Zane said.

Who’s against it:

No one spoke out against the proposal during the committee’s public hearing session, but the University of Bridgeport asked that the committee modify the bill’s language to include all higher education institutions in the state, which was changed before the bill passed. The bill previously tasked the University of Connecticut with creating a pilot program, but now all state colleges and universities can participate.

What’s next:

The Commerce Committee unanimously issued a joint favorable report for the bill last week, moving the proposal to the Senate floor for more discussion and consideration.

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