America should throw open its doors to immigrant entrepreneurs
The Biden administration should restore a rule that allows immigrants who have proven records as entrepreneurs to come and stay.
You might assume that even the biggest immigrant bashers would welcome bright, young people to the United States who have proven records as entrepreneurs.
That was the thinking of the Obama administration. Shortly before President Barack Obama left the White House, he created by executive order the International Entrepreneur Rule, which laid out a way for immigrant entrepreneurs to legally stay in the U.S. to start or grow new companies.
But the Trump administration, in a characteristically knee-jerk act of hostility toward immigration in almost any form, shelved the rule.
For the sake of one of our nation’s greatest historic strengths — a vibrant spirit of entrepreneurialism — the Biden administration should restore the rule, ideally through legislation rather than simply an executive order.
Parole with benchmarks
As Bob Chiarito wrote for the Sun-Times last week, the International Entrepreneur Rule is often called a kind of visa for start-up entrepreneurs, but it’s really a kind of parole that requires immigrants to meet certain business benchmarks to remain in this country for an extended period of time. To qualify, the immigrant entrepreneur must show an ownership stake of at least 10% in the company being created, as well as $250,000 in documented funding from a qualified investor or $100,000 from a government award or grant. The minimum parole period is 30 months.
If the business meets certain other benchmarks, such as creating at least five jobs and achieving $500,000 in annual revenue, the parole can be extended by another 30 months.
Those are tough benchmarks to hit, which should allay the concerns of those who worry the entire program is just a sneaky way to open the floodgates of immigration. It would seem to satisfy the demand of Republicans that immigrants enter our country “the right way.”
Trump shuts it down
Yet the rule has never been seriously implemented.
Days after he was sworn in as president, Donald Trump issued an executive order on immigration that, among other provisions, directed the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a review of its use of parole periods. Trump’s executive order made no secret of his hostility toward the whole concept of such paroles, saying he wanted to “end the abuse of parole and asylum provisions currently used to prevent the lawful removal of removable aliens.”
About a year and a half later, in May of 2018, the Department of Homeland Security proposed that the International Entrepreneur Rule be eliminated because it represents an overly “broad interpretation of parole authority, lacks sufficient protections for U.S. workers and investors and is not the appropriate vehicle for attracting and retaining international entrepreneurs.”
The notion that immigrant entrepreneurs take jobs from Americans — rather than help create jobs for all of us — is factually baseless. Tell it to celebrity entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is from South Africa. Tell it to Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, who is from Greece. Tell it to Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal and the first outside investor in Facebook, who is from Germany.
An analysis in 2018 of the largest startups in the United States — 91 so-called “unicorn” companies that have an estimated value of $1 billion or more — found that 50 had at least one immigrant founder. They employed an average of more than 1,200 workers each, according to the National Foundation of American Policy, and their collective value was $248 billion.
In 2015, the National Science Board found that foreign-born individuals accounted for about 30% of all college-educated workers in science and engineering fields in the United States.
On Feb. 5, a coalition of 16 organizations representing startups and technology fields sent a letter to President Joe Biden’s secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro N. Majorkas, asking him to push forward with the International Entrepreneur Rule.
“Immigrant entrepreneurs have made incredible contributions to the U.S. economy, including by founding both companies with an approved COVID-19 vaccine — Moderna and Pfizer,” said Bobby Franklin, president of the National Venture Capital Association, which sued the Trump administration in 2018 to protect the rule. “If properly implemented, the International Entrepreneur Rule would have tremendous economic benefits for American workers by supporting the formation of new high-growth, job-creating businesses here in the United States.”
That might be the most visceral, if purely anecdotal, argument for revitalizing the International Entrepreneur Rule. Those COVID-19 vaccinations that most of us can’t wait to get? Entrepreneurial immigrants to America made them possible.
There is Charles Pfizer, of Germany, who founded the U.S.-based pharmaceutical company that carries his name. There is Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer, who is from Greece. There is Noubar Afeyan of Lebanon, who co-founded Moderna. And there is Derrick Rossi of Canada, Moderna’s other co-founder.
Let’s keep a good thing going.
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