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Opportunity: Unleash the Job-Creating Power of Immigrant Entrepreneurs (Federal)

Foreign-born entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs face obstacles different from those of their native-born counterparts, including long delays in becoming a legal permanent resident that postpone new business creation and visa categories that do not allow for entrepreneurship until permanent residence is granted. Many foreign-born individuals enter the United States in a status that fails to guarantee they can remain in the United States on a permanent basis. Without the certainty that one can stay permanently, it is very challenging to formulate a long-term business strategy or attract investment. To remove barriers for foreign-born individuals already in the U.S. in a temporary status, such as an H-1B visa holder or an international student, and for those who would come in the future, the federal government should:

  • Increase the number of employment-based green cards and eliminate the per-country limit for high-skilled immigrants to decrease wait times.
  • Establish a startup visa with a path to permanent residency.
Supporting Evidence
  • Immigrants seeking to become a legal permanent resident wait an average of almost six years to get a green card, which is twice as long as the wait time was 30 years ago. Some wait far longer.
  • Foreign students that study in the United States are less likely to stay in the United States as wait times for becoming a legal permanent resident increase.
  • Immigrants are nearly twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a business.
  • More than half of all of America’s startups valued at $1 billion or more were started by at least one immigrant.
  • Immigrants are playing an increasingly large role as new business owners. Between 1995 and 2012, the share of employer firms started by immigrants grew from about 16% to 25%.

Canada granted residency to 510 entrepreneurs in 2019 through its Start-up Visa Program, which is for immigrant entrepreneurs who have the potential to build businesses in Canada that are innovative, create jobs for Canadians, and compete on a global scale. To be eligible for Canada’s national Start-up Visa, an entrepreneur must secure support from a Canadian angel investor or hedge fund, or be accepted into an accredited incubator program. A major component of the Canadian program is that startup proposals are reviewed by designated business entities instead of immigration or visa officials. After the business proposal has been vetted, immigration officials review the entrepreneur’s visa application. A similar program run at the provincial level in Canada also exists. Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom also have startup visa programs.