In a time of decidedly negative press about immigration, a bright spot is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) proposal to allow international entrepreneurs special status to launch and grow their ventures in the United States.
This rule will allow international founders with ventures showing some combination of job growth, investment, or market traction to continue their work here for two years, provided the company was founded in the U.S. within the last three years. An additional three years may be granted with adequate progress, giving a five-year possible window. Of course, our students are stellar examples of who might benefit from such a change.
Unfortunately, much of the country—and world—appears determined to focus on the economic and political challenges of embracing immigrants. For example, in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party recently encountered a stumble when it was edged by the Alternative for Germany party in her home state, in part due to negative sentiment over the immigrant refugee problems. Of course, we have our own xenophobic rhetoric here in the U.S.—people who live behind large glass walls should not throw stones!
Our heritage in the U.S. is based on immigration and inclusion. At some point, we all came from immigrant lineage, and the “melting pot” status of the United States has always been viewed as a positive force in our history. We also know that businesses perform better when they have a heterogeneous workforce and diverse leadership teams and investors. In the innovation economy, diverse perspectives yield creative and novel solutions to disrupt the status quo: creating growth, economic wealth, and jobs. As noted by the Angel Capital Association, this rule change will offer new investment opportunities for early stage investors as well.
Immigrants have played a significant role in innovation in our economy. According to Fortune, immigrants launch more than 25 percent of new ventures in America and are more likely to start businesses than U.S. citizens. And these are not just self-employment shops. More than 20 percent of the CEOs of Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Businesses in 2014 were immigrants. But for the first time, this number is starting to decline as more immigrants choose to leave the United States to start their companies.
The time is coming, if it has not already, when we must not only allow international founders to start and grow their ventures here—we must compete aggressively to lure and keep them. This is necessary to continue to make the United States the best place to innovate, or we risk losing the economic engine of growth to other countries. Encouraging immigrant entrepreneurs is neither a threat to U.S. jobs nor a politically correct social ploy. It is an economic imperative for us to remain a leader in innovation, wealth, and job creation. The proposed change supported by the Department of Homeland Security and USCIS is an excellent step in this direction.
 February 2015: The Most Entrepreneurial Group in America wasn’t Born in America