The South Asian Times

20 March 2019 19:55 PM

Will America continue to attract promising entrepreneurs?

By Doug Rand

Late last year, brothers Atma and Anand Krishna took a calculated risk: As Indian nationals with startup funding from US investors, they sent in an application to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requesting special permission to stay in the United States as promising entrepreneurs. They were among the first to take this step, having successfully sued DHS to start accepting applications under the long-awaited International Entrepreneur Rule. But last week, they and their co-plaintiffs went back to court with a new demand: Where are their applications?

Some history is in order, beginning with the obvious: Immigrant entrepreneurs have always made extraordinary contributions to America’s economy. Immigrants have helped start one in four small businesses across the country. Nearly half of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants, and the majority of today’s unicorns (private companies valued at over $1 billion) have at least one immigrant co-founder.

Yet none of these immigrant entrepreneurs came to the United States on a visa designed specifically for startup founders—because such a visa doesn’t (yet) exist. Take Jyoti Bansal, who first came to the U.S. from India on an H-1B visa, and had to wait seven years to get a green card and strike out on his own. His company AppDynamics was acquired by Cisco last year for a cool $3.7 billion.

Shouldn’t we make it easier, not harder, for world-class entrepreneurs like Mr. Bansal to start and grow their companies in the United States? That was the goal of theInternational Entrepreneur Rule, a regulation issued in the last days of the Obama Administration. (Full disclosure: In my previous job in the Obama White House, I helped lead efforts to implement this policy.)

But the International Entrepreneur Rule has faced a rocky path since then. First, the Trump Administration tried to block initial applications by entrepreneurs. The lawsuit by the Krishna brothers—joined by Indian entrepreneurs Nishant Srivastava and Vikram Tiwari and the National Venture Capital Association, among others—then led to a federal court order that compelled DHS to start accepting applications (along with $1,200 application fees) in December 2017. DHS made it clear that it still intends to ultimately roll back the program, however, and as of a few weeks ago, Bloomberg News reported an agency spokesperson suggesting that foreign-born entrepreneurs “consult an immigration attorney and find an alternative vehicle.”

Under these circumstances, it’s understandable that potential beneficiaries of the International Entrepreneur Rule have expressed "grave concerns that DHS has chosen to disregard the court’s previous order," and are now demanding answers.

Why is the current administration so unfavorably disposed toward the International Entrepreneur Rule in the first place? It’s hard to imagine a more “merit-based” immigration policy, given that the bar is so high: To qualify, an entrepreneur must demonstrate the potential for “significant public benefit” to the United States, including by attracting at least $250,000 from experienced U.S. investors or at least $100,000 in backing from U.S. government agencies. One independent analysis predicted that the International Entrepreneur Rule could create over 300,000 jobs for U.S. workers over the next 10 years, if fully implemented.

We’ll soon see what the opposing arguments are, since DHS is slated to publish its official proposal to end the International Entrepreneur Rule any day now. A full roll-back will take many additional months to take effect, however—and if a federal judge approves the latest court filing, DHS will have to explain in detail why it’s discouraging entrepreneurs from applying in the meantime.

I work with immigrant families every day—my own startup helps married couples affordably complete spousal green card applications—and I know that any given part of our immigration system is already intimidating without a shadow hanging over it. While nobody is entitled to a rubber-stamp approval, the Krishna brothers deserve to know whether their applications are getting a fair hearing. And America deserves no less than to retain its role as the most appealing place on the planet for entrepreneurs to build world-class companies.

Doug Rand is co-founder and President of Boundless, a technology company that helps families affordably navigate the immigration system. He is a former assistant director for entrepreneurship at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Update: 16 May, 2018