For years universities and venture capital firms have hosted entrepreneur-in-residence programs, in which experienced entrepreneurs and founders mentor students or evaluate potential investments. In November, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas announced an “Entrepreneurs in Residence” program for the United States. The initiative seeks to bring business leaders and academics into the agency to meet regularly with officials to improve the visa process for immigrant entrepreneurs. The goal is “capturing the full power of the laws that currently exist to attract talent to spur entrepreneurial growth, to maximize innovation — all for the benefit of our economy and the American worker,” said Director Mayorkas. He stated that “[t]his initiative creates additional opportunities for USCIS to gain insights in areas critical to economic growth,” and that the “introduction of expert views from the private and public sector will help us to ensure that our policies and processes fully realize the immigration law’s potential to create and protect American jobs.”
Under the program the agency has sought feedback and policy proposals from a group of venture vapitalists, academics and thought leaders. They found that the process of setting up a legal business and establishing residency in the U.S. was needlessly complicated for foreign entrepreneurs of small startups, leading to the impression that the U.S. did not truly welcome talent from outside its own borders. They suggested, among other things, new training for the government officials who judge foreign entrepreneur’s visa applications along with modernizing field manuals to better help adjudicators in evaluating business plans and startups.
The initiative builds upon USCIS’s August announcement of efforts to promote startup enterprises and spur job creation, including enhancements to the EB-5 immigrant investor visa program. Since August, USCIS has been:
- Conducting a review of the EB-5 process
- Working with business analysts to enhance the EB-5 adjudication process
- Implementing direct access for EB-5 Regional Center applicants to reach adjudicators quickly; and
- Launching new specialized training modules for USCIS officers on the EB-2 visa classification and L-1B nonimmigrant intra-company transferees.
While noteworthy indicators that the Obama administration is taking the potential of immigrant entrepreneurs and startups seriously, Congress’ failure to pass the Startup Visa Act ensures that the U.S. will continue to bleed talent. As the economic crisis persists traditional work visas are harder to obtain for foreign students graduating from U.S. universities. Without a visa option to stay in the U.S. upon graduation they are leaving the U.S. in greater numbers and applying their training and skills to starting and building businesses at home, rather than in the U.S. Until Congress enacts modern legislation which reflects the importance of immigrant entrepreneurs and immigrant startup founders to the economy the Administration’s best intentioned efforts will fail.