According to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, immigrants are almost twice as likely as native-born individuals to become entrepreneurs. A 2016 study from the National Foundation for American Policy found that immigrants started over half of American startup companies valued at a billion dollars or more. Well-known companies such as SpaceX, Uber and Stripe had at least one immigrant founder.
However, in today’s political climate, immigrants may be finding it more difficult to obtain the visas that they need to be innovative in the United States. Startup founders are forced to play the lottery on visas that are not designed for business or are in short supply. Entrepreneurs can only become free to start a business with employer sponsorship or through familial ties.
There are options available for immigrants who want to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors. An up-and-coming alternative is the Global Entrepreneur in Residence programs which allow foreign national entrepreneurs to obtain H-1B status through university affiliation. This is productive because universities are exempt from the cap on H-1B visas. To participate, the entrepreneur mentors college student while working on their own business model.
Another alternative for establishing a business in the United States is the E-2 Treaty Investor Visas. This is ideal for persons with sufficient capital to invest from nations with which the U.S. holds an established investment treaty. Downfalls to the E-2 visa is that they are not available to nationals of China, India or Russia. In addition, it can be difficult to establish permanent residency with an E-2 visa.
If an entrepreneur is qualified, an O-1 “extraordinary ability” temporary visas could allow them to self-petition for a EB-1-1 employment-based green card thereby avoiding the need for labor certification. Another category that provides permanent residence is the employment-based 5th preference, also known as EB-5. But EB-5 usually requires an individual to invest $500,000 or more and create at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers within two years.
The L-1 visas for intracompany transferees is a viable option for receiving a work permit which will allow them to receive a work permit and found a company. This visa allows U.S. companies with affiliate, branch or subsidiary relationships with foreign businesses to transfer employees into the U.S. to perform key functions. There are two forms of the L-1 visa. The L-1A allows companies to transfer managers or executives to the U.S. in interest of establishing a new affiliate office while the L-1B allows a U.S. company to transfer employees with specialized knowledge from one of its offices in another country into the United States.
Immigrants play a disproportionate and vital role in American entrepreneurship. Immigrants account for about 15% of the general workforce, but account for about 25% of all U.S. entrepreneurs. 35%-40% of all new firms have at least one immigrant entrepreneur involved in the founding. Immigrant-owned businesses increased by more than 60 percent over the last decade, and in 2010 generated more than $775 billion in revenue, $125 billion in payroll, and $100 billion in income, and employed one out of every ten workers.
It’s clear that immigrants play a pivotal role in the U.S. economy. They’re entrepreneurship generates jobs and revenue. There are options available for immigrants who would like to start businesses even in today’s unstable political climate. With careful research and planning, the immigrant entrepreneur can select the visa and ultimately green card which is right for them.