Posted by Tahmina Watson and Fiona McEntee | Feb 2, 2022
When the Biden Administration revived International Entrepreneur Parole in May 2021, we rejoiced! We thought that finally, we had a viable option for our international entrepreneur/startup clients.
As immigration attorneys, largely due to the outdated U.S. immigration system, we know the myriad challenges founders face in applying for existing visa options. The H-1B employer-employee relationship requirements and specialty occupation definition are not ideal for the startup CEO. The treaty country limitations and the need for personal investments in the E-2 category prevent many from being able to utilize it. And lots of would-be U.S.-based entrepreneurs do not have a foreign entity thereby ruling out an L-1 visa. Simply put, the current visa options are inadequate to accommodate the modern practices of entrepreneurship and emerging companies.
We know that Congress could solve these issues by passing a startup visa, and there is provision for this in the COMPETES Act. But until that happens, the international entrepreneur parole (IEP) could work, and we would gladly take it… with some small, but important, modifications.
Indeed, without some adjustments, IEP will remain but an option in theory. For example, there are no processing times published for these cases nor can they be premium processed. Without an idea of timelines, how can we advise an applicant to apply and wait for… an eternity? Business needs never wait for immigration to catch up, nor do the venture capitalists who may have made a sizeable investment in the immigrant entrepreneur/startup.
Stemming from our frustrations with the IEP as-is, some AILA members came together with other industry stakeholders to create a coalition – The Coalition for International Entrepreneurship – to advocate for common-sense modifications to the program. The coalition members include us both, Stephen Yale-Loehr, Dan Berger, Liz Goss, Sophie Acorn, and other notable lawyers and policy analysts. The efforts are led by Caleb Watney, co-founder of the newly established Institute for Progress.
Our coalition has been meeting regularly and our efforts have culminated in an open letter that was just submitted to Secretary Mayorkas. Essentially the letter makes a few key recommendations that could drastically improve the feasibility of the IEP program. Signatories to the letter include: AILA, FWD.us, Center for American Entrepreneurship, National Venture Capital Association, Niskanen Center, Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, Illinois Science & Technology Coalition, Illinois Institute of Technology, Angel Capital Association, Consumer Technology Association (CTA), Tech Net, Digital Irish Inc., Nova Credit, and many others. You can read the press release and letter, and see the full list of signatories here.
We hope the Administration takes our suggestions into consideration and implements the recommendations without delay. For example, we must have short and clear processing times for these cases. As immigration attorneys know only too well, processing backlogs in all categories have plagued our practices and that is a huge concern for these cases too. Startups have limited time to launch products or fulfill their mission to become profitable. Additionally, when the startup is venture-backed or government-grant funded, as is likely the case with IEP applicants, time is of the essence to grow. Otherwise, everyone in the ecosystem suffers financial loss and the high potential of the startup, and resulting U.S. jobs, could be at stake. Premium processing for IEP cases is imperative. Yet, it will unlikely be possible to add this category to premium processing without regulatory or congressional assistance. As such, we recommend that IEP cases be expedited as a matter of policy.
Additionally, during our numerous meetings, the coalition learned that the EB-5 investor unit is charged with adjudicating these cases. As immigration attorneys, we know that the officers best equipped to adjudicate IEP are those experienced in L-1s, E-2s or O-1 cases. This is because the IEP is a combination of the elements of those cases. Just because “investment” is part of the IEP requirements doesn’t mean that these cases need the same financial scrutiny as EB-5 cases. As such, the division currently in charge of the IEP is misplaced. Our letter advocates for this change.
As AILA members, we urge you to share the letter with your clients and local congressional representatives. If you, like us, are passionate about startup immigration, consider writing letters to the editor or OpEds or sharing your client’s story with the AILA Media Advocacy Committee.
We are both immigrants to the United States, from the U.K and Ireland respectively. We know the aspirations of our entrepreneur clients, and we deeply understand and appreciate the contributions they can make to innovation and to the U.S. economy.
The Biden-Harris Administration just stated that “our commitment as a nation to welcoming new talent has long provided America with a global competitive advantage, and we must continue to lead in this effort.” We cannot lead in this effort without a workable immigration option for startup entrepreneurs. The IEP – with modification – can bridge this gap until Congress passes a startup visa. We hope that you join us in advocating for these much-needed changes to the International Entrepreneur Parole program.