Yesterday, 36 organizations and individuals from the immigration and startup communities sent an open letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. The letter, available here, commends the administration for reviving International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP) and recommends important procedural changes to make the program easier to use.
Numerous other countries, including the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Singapore have designated visas to attract entrepreneurs, unlike the United States, which have helped them to cut into the United States’ lead in attracting talent from around the world. The IEP holds promise to be the United States’s foremost pathway for migrants to found businesses here, filling this missing gap in US immigration policy.
Changes are needed to make sure the program is effective, attractive, and efficient. Resolving the existing procedural issues could unlock the full economic potential of IEP. As stated in the letter, “if it were functioning smoothly, IEP…has the potential to create a million jobs over ten years.”
Read the full letter here.
Support for IEP
“For too long, the US has told international students and temporary workers brimming with good ideas and eager to start new ventures that they have to choose between building companies and staying in the United States,” said Jeremy Neufeld, Senior Immigration Fellow at the Institute for Progress. “These changes would unleash the potential of many stifled entrepreneurs.”
“The National Venture Capital Association was pleased to play a lead role in development of the International Entrepreneur Rule, including in the NVCA v. Duke lawsuit that challenged the Trump Administration’s attempt to delay and end the program before it began. Going forward, it is important the International Entrepreneur Rule be implemented in a way that supports the foreign-born founders who want to start high-growth companies in the United States,” said Jeff Farrah, General Counsel at the National Venture Capital Association. “NVCA is proud to stand with this coalition to continue to work with the Biden Administration so the benefits of the International Entrepreneur Rule are realized.”
“International students are vital contributors to our knowledge economy and innovation agenda,” Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration Senior Policy Advisor Jill Welch said. “The International Entrepreneur Parole program, if fully implemented, will provide a much-needed pathway for those who graduate from our colleges and universities to stay here and innovate.”
“The current visa options are inadequate to accommodate the modern practices of entrepreneurship and emerging companies,” said Tahmina Watson from Watson Immigration Law and author of The Startup Visa. “Therefore, it is crucial to implement these suggestions; otherwise, the program will remain unusable.”
The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas
Secretary of Homeland Security
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
RE: U.S. Innovation and Job Creation through International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP)
Dear Secretary Mayorkas:
As the U.S. recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that we take advantage of every opportunity for economic growth and job creation. One of the biggest untapped resources to create new opportunities for Americans is international entrepreneurs’ and students’ strong motivation to launch their startup businesses in the United States. Over half of the billion-dollar startups launched in the United States were founded by immigrants—despite the incredibly challenging and outdated immigration system.1 Immigrants also start businesses at higher rates than native-born Americans.2
We commend the Biden Administration for its recent actions reviving International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP).3 It is the last remaining action item of your predecessor, Secretary Jeh Johnson’s 2014 plan to support high skilled businesses and workers.4 This announcement strongly signaled to the world that the United States welcomes talented minds from around the globe and strives to lead the world in technological and scientific achievement.
For the United States to stay competitive and remain attractive to talented individuals all over the world, it is vital that the IEP application process be as efficient and smooth as possible. It is currently our best option to bring innovative entrepreneurs to our country and allow those who are already here to stay. Unlike many of our international rivals, the United States does not have a dedicated visa for startup entrepreneurs. There are limited pathways for international students transitioning from their student visas to start their own businesses. But, if it were functioning smoothly, IEP could fill this gap and has the potential to create a million jobs over ten years.5
Unfortunately, there are several procedural issues which make the IEP process volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. As currently situated, it is very difficult to actually use the program. Some of these barriers, such as the large backlogs at U.S. consulates, will lift as the COVID-19 crisis recedes, but others will continue to make the program ineffective.
As experienced immigration lawyers, venture capitalists, and policy experts, we have five key recommendations to improve the efficacy of IEP:
Immediately establish premium processing for IEP applications so qualified entrepreneurs can rapidly launch their businesses in the United States.
USCIS has in the past agreed to adhere to a 14-day processing time for certain cases without premium processing (e.g. O and P visas).6 Additionally, a clear procedure was established to allow applicants to follow-up should processing times exceed that timeframe. We would encourage the USCIS to implement a similarly defined and prompt timeframe for the adjudication of these cases.
Establish and communicate suitable processing systems at the USCIS service centers. Currently, IEP applications are adjudicated at the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Office. We respectfully suggest that the agency consider whether IEP applications should be redirected to officers who routinely adjudicate and are familiar with L-1 and E-2 cases as IEP applications are more similar to E-2 and L-1 petitions.
Incorporate the use of the Validation Instrument for Business Enterprises (VIBE) program to streamline the qualification process for investors. This program is already being used to validate information about companies petitioning to employ nonimmigrant and immigrant workers through Forms I-129 (for the H-1B, for example), I-140, I-360, and I-485.7
Modify USCIS guidance on the term “qualified investor” to ensure that investors with passive foreign limited partners are not unnecessarily excluded.
Restart the USCIS Entrepreneur in Residence initiative to develop routine feedback loops with stakeholders and consider a hybrid model with both virtual and in-person activities to improve entrepreneurs’ ability to participate and decrease the agency’s administrative and badging burdens.
Establish regular interaction with stakeholders in the academic, entrepreneur, legal, and investment communities to further refine the program. As the IEP program continues to develop, there will certainly be additional administrative or procedural hurdles that come to light, and the communities most impacted by these hurdles will be able to most readily and reliably recognize these hurdles ahead of time. Increased interaction can include more events hosted by the Public Engagement Division, or the creation of an entrepreneurship subcommittee for the Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council (HSAAC).8
To build our economy back better than before, we need immigrant entrepreneurs and innovative startup founders. By making these changes, the United States will have the opportunity to maintain its reputation as the top destination for entrepreneurship and innovation in the world and continue to be able to create new jobs for our citizens.
Coalition for International Entrepreneurship
American Immigration Council
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Angel Capital Association
Carnegie Mellon University Graduate Student Assembly
Center for American Entrepreneurship
Consumer Technology Association (CTA)
Digital Irish Inc
Economic Innovation Group
Federation of American Scientists
Illinois Institute of Technology
Illinois Science & Technology Coalition
Information Technology Industry Council (ITI)
Institute for Progress
National Immigration Forum
National Venture Capital Association
Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration
Washington Technology Industry Association
Katie Allen, Senior Vice President, Center for American Entrepreneurship
John R. Dearie, President, Center for American Entrepreneurship
Brad Feld, Partner, Foundry Group
Kumar Garg, Vice President, Schmidt Futures
Elizabeth Goss, Esq., Goss Associates LLC
Troy Henikoff, Managing Director, MATH Venture Partners
Jaclyn Hester, Foundry Group
Brienne Maner, Executive Director of Startup Sioux Falls
Fiona McEntee, Managing Attorney of McEntee Law Group
Blake Patton, Founder and Managing Partner of Tech Square Ventures
Nik Rokop, Coleman Foundation Clinical Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship, Stuart School of Business, Illinois Institute of Technology
Leslie Lynn Smith, National Director, GET Cities
Tahmina Watson, Immigration Attorney, Author of The Startup Visa; Watson Immigration Law
Stephen Yale-Loehr, Of Counsel, Miller Mayer
For the featured illustration, we thank Nick Matej for his great work.
This piece originally appeared in Institute for Progress
Jeff Farrah serves as General Counsel at NVCA, where he advocates before Congress, the White House, and agencies for pro-entrepreneurship policies and leads in-house legal matters for the association. He loves working at the intersection of venture, public policy, and the law. Jeff concurrently serves as Treasurer of VenturePAC, the political action committee of NVCA.