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Startup Visa Rules Change

How U.S. Immigration Policies Impact Foreign Entrepreneurs and Investors


Updated August 23, 2011

Foreign entrepreneurs and investors seeking a so-called startup visa from the United States government should have an easier time gaining entry into the country under changes designed to spark job creation and stimulate investment in businesses.

The policy shifts and "clarifications," announced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under President Barack Obama's administration in August 2011, were designed to streamline access to the startup visa amid high unemployment and the lingering effects of The Great Recession.

See also: Questions and Answers for New Naturalization Test

"The United States must continue to attract the best and brightest from around the world to invest their talents, skills, and ideas to grow our economy and create American jobs," said Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Homeland Security Department, which has jurisdiction over the USCIS.

Startup Visa Rules Under EB-2

Among the most substantial startup visa rule changes makes foreign entrepreneurs eligible for an EB-2 immigrant visa even though that don't have a specific job offer in the United States. Previously, immigrants seeking such a visa were required to prove they had an offer of employment in the United States.

The EB-2 visa classification applies to foreign workers with advanced degrees and those with exceptional ability in the arts, sciences and business. Under the 2011 policy changes entrepreneurs seeking a startup visa need only show that their business endeavors will be "in the national interest of the United States" to gain entry into the country.

"Current immigration laws support foreign talent who will invest their capital, create new jobs for American workers, and dedicate their exceptional talent to the growth of our nation's economy," said USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas. "USCIS is dedicated to ensuring that the potential of our immigration laws is fully realized."

Startup Visa Rules Under H-1B

The government also sought to clarify rules dealing with immigrants who obtain temporary H-1B nonimmigrant visa, typically sought by U.S. businesses that want to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations that require technical expertise such as science, engineering and computer programming.

In doing so, the USCIS made clear that such highly skilled workers in the United States on an H-1B visa can start their own companies and work for them, too - something that had been prohibited under prior interpretations of the immigration policies.

The holder of such a visa must be the sole owner of the company whose employment falls under the discretion of a corporate board of directors or shareholders.

Startup Visa Rules Under EB-5

The EB-5 visa allows foreign investors and their families to enter the United States if they spend at least $500,000 in high-unemployment and rural areas and $1 million in other parts of the United States to create at least full-time 10 jobs.

That startup visa program was created by Congress in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. As of August 2011 it had created an estimated 34,000 jobs and some $1.5 billion in capital investments.

The government awards 10,000 such startup visas every year, and the USCIS vowed to streamline the application and approval processes. The changes came at the urging of the Obama administration.

Obama Statement on Startup Visa Rules Changes

"We should make it easier for the best and the brightest to come to the United States to start companies and create jobs by providing a visa for immigrant entrepreneurs," Obama said in May 2011 statement on immigration policy reform.

"These foreign-born entrepreneurs would be eligible for a visa if a qualified U.S. investor invests in their start-up company and eligible for a permanent green card if their company creates jobs and generates additional investment or revenue."

"Further, by addressing the backlogs in the employment based immigration system and reforming country caps, we can better enable immigrants to contribute to our future growth and competitiveness," Obama said.

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