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Obama administration proposes new visa rule for immigrant entrepreneurs

29 Aug

The Obama administration proposed new immigration rules Friday that would allow foreign-born entrepreneurs to remain in the United States for up to five years if they own a significant stake in a start-up company that has the potential for “rapid business growth and job creation.”

Immigrant entrepreneurs who hold an ownership interest of at least 15 percent and have an “active and central role” in the company’s operations are eligible to apply for parole, or temporary permission to remain in the United States, for up to two years. If granted, they can apply to extend the parole for an additional three years.

But not every engineer with a novel idea will make the cut. To qualify, the start-up must have raised at least $345,000 from qualified U.S. investors or received $100,000 in grants from select government agencies. Other “reliable and compelling evidence” of the venture’s ability to grow and add jobs may also meet the criteria.

The so-called “start-up visa” was announced Friday by the Department of Homeland Security. Those for and against the proposal have 45 days to comment before a final rule is adopted.

The proposed rule aims to address a common complaint among immigration reform advocates that existing laws force many bright and highly educated immigrants to return to their countries of origin every year. Those individuals then start companies abroad that compete with U.S. firms, advocates say, rather than building those companies here and hiring American workers.

“Immigrant entrepreneurs have always made exceptional contributions to America’s economy, in communities all across the country. Immigrants have helped start as many as one of every four small businesses and high-tech start-ups across America, and the majority of high-tech start-ups in Silicon Valley,” Tom Kalil, deputy director for technology and innovation, and Doug Rand, assistant director for entrepreneurship, at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy wrote in a blog post on Medium.

But not all immigration reform advocates support policies that specifically favor highly educated immigrants over those with less education or technical ability. They have argued in the past that both skill sets are valuable to the U.S. economy and that cherry-picking one group of people over another does not lead to comprehensive reform.

Immigration has once again been thrust into the political spotlight as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump softened his stance on deporting undocumented immigrants in recent days. But the issue has remained a persistent challenge for Congress, which has been unable to overcome partisan division to pass broader reforms.

In their blog post, Kalil and Rand touted the “start-up visa” as one of several efforts the Obama administration has undertaken to make the country more hospitable to immigrant entrepreneurs. For its part, the tech industry has long maintained that there are not enough U.S. workers with technical expertise and that highly skilled immigrants are necessary for the U.S. economy to remain robust and innovative.

“While there is no substitute for legislation, the administration is taking the steps it can within existing legal authorities to fix as much of our broken immigration system as possible,” Kalil and Rand wrote.