The U.S is opening its doors to foreign startup founders to help boost its economy


“America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world. That’s who we are.”

Those were the words of President Barack Obama in his final State of the Union address delivered some time in January.

The fact that the United States of America is a country of immigrants cannot be overemphasized – the number one citizen of the country today is the son of an immigrant!

These immigrants have contributed immensely to the growth of the country. They’ve started businesses that have gone on to employ millions, and have helped boost the economy.

In fact, studies suggest that more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants.

Since 9/11 (or maybe a little before then), it has become increasingly difficult to gain entry into the United States, which in some ways have affected the country’s economy.

Since President Obama came into office, he has been seeking ways to allow promising foreign startup founders enter the country, create businesses and jobs, and help boost the economy.

He tried to create a “startup visa” through the commonsense immigration reform principles, and the bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013. Due to various reasons, the startup visa thingy didn’t see the light of day!

The President seems to have found a way however through the proposed International Entrepreneur Rule (IER), which seeks to allow certain promising startup founders to launch and grow their startups within the United States.

The IER is broken into two parts. The first part grants foreign startup founders entry into the United States for two years (which could be extended to three).

To scale the first part and qualify for entry, foreign startup founders must meet the following criteria.

1. Must have raised a minimum of US$345,000 from qualified American investors such as VCs, angels or startup accelerators.


2. Must have secured significant awards or grants from certain Federal, State or local government entities.

The foreign entrepreneurs can further increase their chances if they can prove they own a significant stake in the startups (at least 15 percent), are actively involved in the running of the startup, and have the ability to grow the startup in the United States.

The second part of the IER grants the foreign founders an additional three years to remain in the country and run their businesses if the following criteria are met.

1. The startup is lawfully operating in the United States, and founders own a significant stake (at least 10 percent) in the startup.

2. The startup raised additional funding of at least US$500,000
from qualified American investors or certain Federal, State or local government entities or both.

3. The startup has generated US$500,000 in annual revenue, with average annualized revenue growth of at least 20 percent.

4. The startup has provided jobs for 10 Americans on a full time basis.

Founders that meet these requirements would be able to apply for other existing visas, like the EB-2 visa, which is employment based, so they can continue running their businesses in the country.

“The rule advances a significant public benefit in that it promotes those enterprises that demonstrate a potential for rapid business growth, job creation, and innovation,” said Leon Rodriguez, director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The IER is now open for public comment for 45 days, allowing stakeholders to provide valuable feedback to Department of Homeland Security before the final rule is ultimately published.

These stakeholders include advocacy groups, NGOs, community-based organizations, entrepreneurs, investors, other entities in the tech ecosystem of the United States, and legal representatives who specialize in immigration law.

If fully implemented, the IER, together with administrative reforms President Obama announced in November 2014, could boost the nation’s economy significantly.

The government is also trying other means to bring in promising startup founders from around the world into the country. One of such means is the Entrepreneur Pathways, a resource to help entrepreneurs navigate the country’s complicated immigration system.

The IER will complement the Entrepreneur Pathways and other such programs in the government’s quest of strengthening the economy by making it super easy for the best and brightest foreign startup founder to enter the country.

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