Entrepreneurs May Get Temporary Entry To US

By Kate Morrissey
The San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego

Foreign entrepreneurs who don’t have visas may be able to get temporary entry to the U.S. under a proposed rule from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The rule would allow entrepreneurs who have at least 15 percent ownership in a U.S.-based startup and an active and central role in its operations to stay in the U.S. for two years to work.

Under the proposal, the startup would qualify if it has at least $345,000 from qualified U.S. investors or at least $100,000 in government grants and if the startup was formed in the past three years.

The proposed rule would also allow the entrepreneur to request up to three additional years if the company continues to show that it is providing “a significant public benefit as evidenced by substantial increases in capital investment, revenue or job creation.”

Tim Ryan, co-founder and treasurer at Startup San Diego, said he hopes the final version of the rule — which is undergoing review and public comment — will help stop a “brain drain” of international students. He said they get degrees in the U.S. and then found companies back in their home countries because they don’t have a way to stay here legally.

Ryan said it’s especially an issue for the biotech industry, which makes up a substantial portion of San Diego’s startups.

He said the $345,000 investment requirement might be too high, and that $200,000 or $250,000 might be more appropriate.

“Overall, something needs to be done, and this is a very good step in the right direction,” Ryan said.

Bernhard Schroeder, director at San Diego State University’s Lavin Entrepreneurship Center, said he sees a lot of interest in entrepreneurship from the university’s international students. He said that for many, unemployment and wage rates in their home countries make working for startups a desirable alternative to traditional career paths.

“If they don’t take charge of their future, there ain’t one,” Schroeder said.

He said that as long as the rule does what it’s supposed to do in terms of job creation and growth, and without creating a loophole for people to stay in the U.S., he thought it was a good idea economically.

“Something like this is going to draw its fair share of political commentary,” Schroeder said. “I’m more about ecosystems, and I like talent in an ecosystem. If it’s legit and it helps create more companies, especially in San Diego or other places in the U.S. where entrepreneurs congregate, it makes those ecosystems healthier and have a more global perspective.”

Almost two years ago, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson directed the citizenship and immigration agency to propose such a rule that would allow entry of certain inventors, investors, researchers and startup founders on a case-by-case basis.

As secretary, Johnson has legal power to grant temporary entry for individuals to enter the U.S. for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.

“America’s economy has long benefitted from the contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs, from Main Street to Silicon Valley,” said León Rodríguez, director of citizenship and immigration services, in a statement. “This proposed rule, when finalized, will help our economy grow by expanding immigration options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria for creating jobs, attracting investment and generating revenue in the U.S.”

The temporary entry, formally known as parole, would allow an individual to request employment authorization once inside the U.S.

The government estimates that 2,940 entrepreneurs could be eligible annually under this rule.

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