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Is the United States Loosing Out on the Full Advantages of Immigrant Entrepreneurship?

The United States’ intricate and rigorous approach to immigration visas in order to protect American interests may very well be the thing driving away foreign born business founders and entrepreneurs.

Despite immigrants exhibiting an 80% greater likelihood to start a business and the creation of upwards of 8 million jobs from foreign born entrepreneurs since 2018, American public opinion still widely perceives immigrants as an economic strain (National Foundation for American Policy). This apprehensive outlook on immigration results in long standing stringent and protectionist visa laws for those looking to work in the United States. While there exist a handful of different categories for temporary business visas, there lacks a category for entrepreneurs looking to start their own company. Aspiring foreign born entrepreneurs typically attempt to qualify for a visa through existing categories such as E-2 ( investors in countries who hold commerce treaties with the U.S) or O-1 (those who exhibit extraordinary abilities), however, not all who apply are approved. These visas prohibit immigrant workers from self-sponsorship which binds them to a company or employer and inhibits entrepreneurship without a green card.

The strict and incomprehensive process is unfortunately turning away immigrant entrepreneurs at rapid rates. Consequently, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey noted a drop of 4,400 foreign born entrepreneurs in 2019 (Forbes). The United States’ recurrent role as a leader of economic development and innovation which has in large part been attributed to the contributions of immigrant entrepreneurship, now faces threat. Investments traditionally concentrated in the technologically prominent Silicon Valley are currently globalizing and creating an unfavorable shift for America in the global market. American companies are experiencing a significant drop in global venture capital, from receiving almost 90% at the beginning of the century to now falling just shy of half (National Venture Capital Association). Immigrants from endeavoring entrepreneurs to university students are flocking to countries that offer easier and more accommodating paths from temporary visas to citizenship such as Canada, Japan, The Netherlands, and Sweden. Permanent legislation attempts to remove roadblocks for potential immigrant entrepreneurs failed both in 2008 and 2010, but the current administration has implemented a provisional solution to help attract both high skilled immigration and investment. The program titled the International Entrepreneur Parole Program (IER) provides parole to approved applicants able to secure at least $250,000 in funding. This quick fix opportunity allows immigrant founders two years to build their companies, however, after that time period expires, they are back where they started in the whole process. The IER program offers progress for immigrant entrepreneurship, but the absence of opportunities for permanent residence and subjectivity to the support of the presidential administration cement it as an unreliable option. In good news, American legislators are cognizant and campaigning for a startup visa, but the bad news is that Congress continues to fail to pass one into law. Bills of several different formats and titles have been introduced into Congress in the past few years and yet none have been enacted into law.

This is where non-profit organizations swoop in to offer initiatives and resources encompassing financial, technological, and operational assistance targeted at immigrant entrepreneurs. Critical non-profit run programs coordinate business and development efforts for foreign born entrepreneurs, and often in their native languages, to advance business objectives and navigate legal hurdles. The impact of efforts and outreach by nonprofits and even local governments is substantive, however, only scratches the surface of the effects that federal reform could make. The current push to support immigrant entrepreneurship and promote investment is centering around legislation for a startup visa and streamlining policy to maximize aiding programs. The recognition of the critical economic role immigrant led entrepreneurship in the United States is important, but the next key step is finding ways to facilitate its success.

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