The entrepreneurial spirit exhibited by immigrants forms an integral part of America’s identity. Since conception, the United States has drawn in enterprising individuals who left behind their native lands, driven by the pursuit of the renowned “American Dream.” Today, the immigrant entrepreneur remains vital to the American economy. However, despite the numerous benefits and economic growth that the entrepreneurship of immigrants has brought, U.S. immigration laws have been delayed in welcoming these indispensable contributors. Consequently, restrictive immigration policies that turn away innovators has hindered the emergence of new businesses and ideas, which are essential in helping the U.S. maintain its status as an economic powerhouse.
New businesses and the entrepreneurs that found them are engines of job creation for the American economy. Since 1980, business that are less than five years old have accounted for a majority of the net job creation in the U.S. economy. Further, the innovation of novel products and services serves as a catalyst of economic growth, and the source of innovation in most industries originated from newly established businesses.
When discussing entrepreneurship in America, it is impossible to overlook the significant contributions made by immigrants. Immigrant entrepreneurs create business and jobs that drive economic growth. Immigrants have started 55% of America’s startup companies that are valued at $1 billion or more.
Despite these major contributions, America’s immigration policies have made it difficult for immigrant entrepreneurs to enter and remain in the country. Restrictive immigration policies turn away immigrant entrepreneurs, and thus limiting innovation and the creation of new businesses. Traditional work permits are not equipped with helping foreign nationals start new businesses in the U.S.
For example, the H-1B visa requires competitive compensation which is often out of reach for startups with little revenue. The E-2 visa, also known as the “treaty investor visa” is only available to citizens of certain countries, with which the U.S. has maintained a treaty of commerce and navigation. For reference, Brazil, India, Russia, and China are not countries with whom the U.S. has maintained a treaty. Accordingly, innovators from those countries will not be able to leverage the E-2 visa. Further this investor visa requires that the U.S. business be majority foreign-owned. Finally, the EB-5 visa involves substantial amounts of capital investment from the foreign national seeking the visa and is an investor visa which is not very suitable for startups.
Fortunately, the Biden administration launched the International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP). This new U.S. immigration law permits U.S. startup companies that have received significant funding from U.S. investors to employ their foreign national founders and key technical staff for up to five years. The IEP is a type of work permit known as “parole” and is granted by the government, at its discretion, to foreign nationals who hold a key role in U.S. startups that have the potential for rapid growth and job creation.
To be eligible for IEP, applicants must show that they have substantial ownership interest in a startup created in the past five years in the United States. Further, applicants must have a central and active role in the startup, such that they are in a position to substantially help to grow the business. Finally, the applicant should prove that they will provide a public benefit to the U.S. based on their role as an entrepreneur in their startup. This can be accomplished by showing that the startup has already received significant capital investment from U.S. investors or that it has received grants or awards for economic development, research, or job creation.
To apply, applicants must file a I-941, Application for Entrepreneur Parole form along with the required fees and documented evidence. If approved, the immigrant entrepreneur is initially allowed 30 months of U.S. employment authorization with the startup. This can later be extended, through re-parole, but an additional 30 months for a total of five years. When applying for re-parole, applicants must provide evidence that the startup has raised additional funding, created at least five full-time jobs for U.S. workers, generated significant revenue or other evidence to prove the entrepreneur’s role within the startup provides a significant public benefit to the U.S.
What makes this advantageous? Immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators have consistently played pivotal roles in establishing prosperous U.S. startups, which in turn have driven the economy forward. IEP gives founders and essential contributors a clear path to enter and stay in the U.S. for the purpose of building a successful business. Furthermore, IEP brings benefits to venture capital firms, accelerators, and other investors by presenting an opportunity to mitigate the immigration-related risks associated with startups founded by individuals from foreign nations.
 Yasser Killawi, Preserving an Entrepreneurial America: How Restrictive Immigration Policies Stifle the Creation and Growth of Startups and Small Businesses, 8 Ohio St. Entrep. Bus. L.J. 129 (2013) [hereinafter Preserving an Entrepreneurial America].
 Stuart Anderson, “Immigrant Entrepreneurs and U.S. Billion-Dollar Companies.” National Foundation for American Policy, July, 2022.
 Preserving an Entrepreneurial America, Supra note 1.
 Andrew Greenfield, “U.S. Start-up Companies May Now Employ Their Foreign-born Founders & Key Stadd.” Fragomen, June 15, 2021, https://www.fragomen.com/insights/u-s-start-up-companies-may-now-employ-their-foreign-born-founders-key-staff.html [Hereinafter Foreign-born Founders].
 U.S. DEP’T OF STATE, BUREAU OF CONSULAR AFFAIRS, TREATY COUNTRIES, https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/fees/treaty.html.
 Foreign-born Founders, Supra note 11.
 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Form I-941. International Entrepreneur Rule (Rev. 3/17/23). Available at https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/international-entrepreneur-rule.