Obama Administration Wants To Bring Immigrant Startup Founders To America With DHS-Proposed ‘Startup Visas’

The Obama administration is attempting to throw America’s doors further open to foreign business as the Department of Homeland Security has proposed a new “startup visa” program to lure foreign startup founders to immigrate to America. According to Wired, the new proposal, titled the “International Entrepreneur Rule,” would allow the founders of foreign startups in America to become two- to five-year immigrants if their business meets certain requirements, with an option to stay beyond their visa limit once they’ve immigrated.

The new proposal is part of the Obama administration’s ongoing attempts to circumvent congressional approval on immigration issues and bring more foreign business — and more jobs — into America. The International Entrepreneur Rule does not require Congress to approve, and will go into effect after a 45-day comment period.

“The rule advances a significant public benefit in that it promotes those enterprises that demonstrate a potential for rapid business growth, job creation, and innovation,” said Leon Rodriguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

According to the New York Times, among the qualifications for the startup visa, entrepreneurs must own at least 15 percent of an American startup, and must have received investment funds from “qualified” American investors. The business must also demonstrate “significant public benefit to the United States,” and the applicant must play an “active and central role” in the business.

The new rule plays on the powers of the existing Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows for the government to grant visa exceptions already on a case-by-case basis, for “urgent humanitarian reasons” (i.e. refugees and asylum-seekers) or “significant public benefit” — thus the wording and requirements of the new immigration rule. The position of the White House is that, in the current climate, entrepreneurs who create jobs and bolster the economy are providing a “significant public benefit” and that exceptions should be made for their entry.

The new rule is particularly beneficial to tech startups and has been one of Silicon Valley’s major political goals. Patrick Collison, Irish immigrant and CEO of San Francisco’s Stripe, called it “a big step in the right direction.”

“I think it will have major impact on U.S. entrepreneurship, and potentially on the broader economy.”

Because Silicon Valley apparently doesn't have enough tech startups.
Because Silicon Valley apparently doesn't have enough tech startups. [Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

And while there is no limit to the number of people who could be admitted to the country this way, the requirements of the new rule are fairly strict.

The International Entrepreneur Rule allows immigrant founders to apply under two different tiers; the first tier grants admission to the United States for two years, and is reversible by the government at any time. In order to qualify, the applicant must own at least 50 percent of the business and have raised either $345,000 from U.S. investors with a proven track record, or at least $100,000 from federal, state, or local government agencies. Of course, it bears noting that this means that the federal government can essentially “sponsor” any entrepreneur’s entry.

Under the second tier, which grants an additional three years of admission, the founders must continue to run their American businesses, retain at least 10 percent ownership, and either raise an additional $500,000 in investments or generate at least that in annual revenue with 20 percent year-over-year growth — or prove that they’ve created at least 10 full-time jobs in five years.

That last is bigger than it sounds; many critics of the current H-1B visa program believe that, particularly in tech, it often results in no job creation by foreign startups whatsoever.
That last is bigger than it sounds; many critics of the current H-1B visa program believe that, particularly in tech, it often results in no job creation by foreign startups whatsoever. [Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]

More than half of tech startups worth $1 billion or more had at least one foreign founder, according to a recent study by the National Foundation for American Policy. Often, the people running them found it difficult to enter the country.

If the new rule works as advertised, if it lures new business to America, it could represent a significant boost for the American economy.

[Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images]