For the past six years, Silicon Valley has been trying hard to get Washington to offer visas to foreigners who wanted to launch companies in the US, but despite bipartisan support in Congress, the effort was futile last year because “few people were willing to make it a priority,” Craig Montuori, immigration activist told Bloomberg in a phone interview.
The Obama Administration says it is preparing to commit to a compromise. An International Entrepreneur Rule proposed by the Department of Homeland Security on August 26th. It’s not a visa, and as administration officials wrote in a blog post “there is no substitute for legislation.” But, also added, “the administration is taking the steps it can within existing legal authorities to fix as much of our broken immigration system as possible.”
The measure allows foreign entrepreneurs to enter the US no longer than five years to start and grow their companies. The DHS estimates 2,940 entrepreneurs could qualify each year. Applicants must hold no less than a 15% stake in a company started within the last three years, play a key operational role in their organization, and secure at least $100,000 in government grants or $345,000 from verified US investors. There’s some leeway however, partial fulfillment of those criteria could be enough if it is evident that the company has potential for growth.
The International Entrepreneur Rule does not create new authority but instead directs Customs and Border Protection officials to use their existing authority to grant applicants a kind of parole. This temporary approval allows people to enter the country based on “urgent humanitarian” or significant public benefit grounds, a rationale already applied for everything from visiting dignitaries to court witnesses, states the proposal.
Yet two catches may trip up some founders seeking a visa. First, those trying to gain US admittance under the rule can’t leave the country without securing a second approval upon re-entry, and that approval is highly discretionary. Prior authorization for parole by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services does not guarantee founders can enter the US. That will be up to CBP officials at the point of entry responsible for screening new arrivals, although the rules presume CBP will be more inclined to grant permission. Second, parole also does not grant the permission to work. Founders will still need to apply for such authorization with immigration officials.
Once the first two years are up, founders will need to show that they are contributing to the public benefit of the US economy. The rule’s wording leaves some wiggle room, it suggests baseline of sorts to secure a three-year extension: at least 10 full-time jobs created by the startup and $500,000 in revenue.
The rule does not require Congressional approval, but will only take effect following 45 days of public comment and a date set after publication in the Federal Register.
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