The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has announced a proposal to grant international entrepreneurs temporary admission to the United States in order to start or scale their businesses here.  On Friday, August 26, 2016, USCIS Director, Leon Rodriguez, stated that “America’s economy has long benefitted from the contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs, from Main Street to Silicon Valley,” said Director León Rodríguez. “This proposed rule, when finalized, will help our economy grow by expanding immigration options for foreign entrepreneurs who meet certain criteria for creating jobs, attracting investment and generating revenue in the U.S.”

Currently, there is no visa for entrepreneurs seeking to start a company in the U.S., which is seen as a major flaw in the U.S. immigration system.   Canada, by contrast, has such a visa, and has declared itself “open for business,” to start up entrepreneurs.  The United Kingdom, Ireland, and Italy also have similar visa options for entrepreneurs.  In the U.S. at this time, there are certain visa categories for investors, highly skilled workers, and multinational transferees.  There is also the so-called “millionaire visa,” by which a foreign national can obtain permanent residence if he or she invests $1 million (or $500 thousand if invested in an area targeted as being underdeveloped) and generates ten jobs for U.S. workers.  But none of these categories are directed towards attracting spirited entrepreneurs, who, like Steve Jobs in his garage, have a brilliant idea and a promising business plan, but lack seed funding, time, space, and access to markets to achieve success.  Under the proposed rule, the Department of Homeland Security may parole, on a case-by-case basis, eligible entrepreneurs of startup enterprises:

  • Who have a significant ownership interest in the startup (at least 15 percent) and have an active and central role to its operations;
  • Whose startup was formed in the United States within the past three years; and
  • Whose startup has “substantial and demonstrated potential for rapid business growth and job creation,” supported by certain evidence.

The proposed rule will allow entrepreneurs to be granted an initial stay of up to two years to oversee and grow their startup entity in the United States.  A subsequent request for up to three additional years would be considered if the entrepreneur and the startup entity continue to provide a significant public benefit as evidenced by substantial increases in capital investment, revenue or job creation.  It is important to note that this is not a visa.  Parole, rather, is permission to enter and remain in the U.S. without a visa, for a fixed period of time, to pursue a specific purpose permitted by the Department of Homeland Security.

This announcement comes toward the end of the Obama administration, eager to complete a series of executive actions initiated in 2014.  The new proposed rule is welcome news for many would-be entrepreneurs seeking to start a business in the United States.  However, we remind our readers that it’s still early days for this measure.  We will report the provisions of the Final Rule when it is made public.  By law the proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register and open to comment by the public for 45 days, after which USCIS will address the comments received and publish a Final Rule in the Federal Register.