Startup founders to Trump: Don’t rescind popular International Entrepreneur Rule
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Before it ever began, the International Entrepreneur Rule appears to be coming to an end. On July 10 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that the Trump administration will delay and plans to eventually eliminate an Obama administration rule, sometimes known as the “startup visa,” intended to “increase and enhance entrepreneurship, innovation, and job creation in the United States.”

The rule, scheduled to go into effect on July 17, would have permitted certain international entrepreneurs to enter or remain in the U.S. if they could demonstrate a significant public benefit to the U.S. and show receipt of considerable capital investment from certain U.S. investors or large government grants. Tech investors, economists and CEOs supported the rule.

While scrapping the rule won't change anyone's current visa status, it's still a setback for tech and venture capital firms and for the U.S. economy more broadly — and yet another sign of the need for thoughtful immigration debate and reform.


The reasons for reform are clear. People born outside the U.S. have founded more than half of America’s private startups valued at $1 billion dollars or more, according to a 2016 report by the National Foundation for American Policy, a nonpartisan think tank. And the Partnership for a New American Economy estimated that Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants account for 90 of all Fortune 500 companies, generate $1.7 trillion in annual revenue and employ more than 3.6 million workers worldwide.

The rule would have permitted entrepreneurs who aren't otherwise eligible for other types of visas and who met certain criteria to stay in the U.S. for an initial period of up to two and a half years to get their companies off the ground. Some of those requirements include:

  • The new startup company has been formed within the five years prior to the application being made.
  • The applicant is an “entrepreneur,” meaning that they own at least 10 percent of the company and hold an “active and central role” in the startup.
  • Qualifying U.S. investors have made investments totaling at least $250,000 in the startup or the company has received grants of $100,000 or more from certain U.S. government entities.

This status in the U.S. is only temporary, with extensions contingent upon the company’s growth — demonstrated via metrics like new hiring, revenue growth and additional investment.

In other words, job creators.

In fact, the DHS estimated that 2,940 entrepreneurs per year would be eligible under the rule. That’s nearly 3,000 job creators building and growing new companies that will employ Americans.

Many were looking forward to the rule because there is currently no straightforward path for a foreign startup entrepreneur to reside in the U.S. while building a company. This program was different from other investment visa options, as current visa offerings require a larger percent of entrepreneur ownership and a major investment of the entrepreneur’s personal funds. Other visa options, like the H-1B and L-1 programs, also under scrutiny by the Trump administration, are better suited for companies hiring employees or transferring employees from abroad.

This rule enjoyed bipartisan support from Republican Senators Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeRubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees Senate confirms Thomas Nides as US ambassador to Israel Flake, Cindy McCain among latest Biden ambassadors confirmed after delay MORE (R-Ariz.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R-Utah), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, Chris Christie battle over Fox News Trump's attacks on McConnell seen as prelude to 2024 White House bid MORE (R-Ariz.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranDemocrats face squeeze on Biden's spending bill Senators seek to permanently expand telehealth eligibility Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair MORE (R-Kan.). In a letter sent to DHS Secretary John Kelly, these Senators said the rule will "help the United States remain globally competitive with other countries that are implementing immigration policies to attract entrepreneurs, such as Canada and France."

Unfortunately, the International Entrepreneur Rule was merely a stopgap in lieu of legislation to fix our broken immigration system. The high benchmarks and investment demands would have severely limited those able to take advantage of the rule. It was not exactly a ringing endorsement for all of the best and brightest from around the world to be part of the next wave of U.S. innovation.

The imbalance of current — and possible changes to — immigration policy and the requirements of a healthy economy certainly points to a dire need for smart immigration reform which would include programs like the International Entrepreneur Rule.

There is one thing that is clear: our current immigration policies are pushing the best and the brightest entrepreneurs to create and develop the best technology and jobs overseas. A boon for them and a bust for us.

I don’t think that’s what Trump's 'buy American, hire American' had in mind.

Dick Burke is the president and chief executive officer of Envoy, a global immigration technology services provider.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.