May 15, 2021 - Economy & Business

The International Entrepreneur Rule is just a first step

Illustration of a stamp that reads "denied" surrounded by red stripes and white stars

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Biden administration on Monday announced that it will fully implement the International Entrepreneur Rule (IER), an Obama-era program that lets certain foreign-born entrepreneurs stay in the U.S. for up to five years.

Why it matters: The Department of Homeland Security estimates that once implemented, about 3,000 foreign entrepreneurs would qualify per year for the IER program, resulting in about 100,000 jobs being created over a decade.

Big picture: Right now, immigrants who want to start a company in the U.S. have to retrofit visas to their personal situations and hope that immigration administrators approve.

  • Many who are already here under employer-sponsored visas like H1-B or the post-college extension (F1-OPT) apply for green cards to (hopefully) be able to start their companies.
  • Some apply for the E2 visa, which requires the applicant to personally invest in the startup.
  • Others make their case for an O1 visa — for an "individual who possesses extraordinary ability" — which is best known for helping musicians and actors.
  • The ultimate goal is a green card — permanent U.S. residency — which comes with freedom for employment (short of some government jobs).

"Our portfolio founders come from 27 non-U.S. countries, [and] they’ve been on 12 different kinds of visas," says Unshackled Ventures partner Nitin Pachisia, whose firm exclusively backs foreign-born entrepreneurs and helps them with immigration.

Meanwhile: Other countries like Canada have scooped up would-be U.S. immigrants by offering more straightforward visa programs for entrepreneurs.

  • Turkish-born Omer Kucukdere, co-founder of Nestpick, tells Axios he set up his company in Germany thanks to the European Union's Blue Card visa, and a number of his employees have also used it.

What’s next: IER isn't a panacea for foreign-born founders because it gives DHS discretionary authority and is not a formal immigration status.

  • Only Congress can create an actual visa for entrepreneurs, like what's been proposed in something called The Startup Act.

The bottom line: The U.S. now has a clearer path for foreign-born entrepreneurs, but it's still not entirely clear.

Go deeper