Startup Visa Program Proposed For Foreign-Born Entrepreneurs In The US

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has introduced a new Bill to the US Congress with an intent to provide a convenient visa that will support foreign-born entrepreneurs in the US. Called the Let Immigrants Kickstart Employment (LIKE) Act, or the Startup visa, it will allow these foreign-born entrepreneurs to start companies and thus, create jobs in the US.

Similar to the convenient immigration laws and available visa routes in countries like Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden, the Startup visa program will provide a specific immigration option for startup founders.

Given that start-up companies create an average of three million new jobs per year, this is considered a welcome initiative by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren.

History Of The Startup Visa Act

Current immigration laws only allow foreign born highly skilled labor to work in the US either on an O-1 visa meant for those with extraordinary abilities. Or under an H1-B visa that does not permit the work visa holder to start his or her own company until a green card is obtained. The current wait for a green card spans over 75 years!

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Earlier, in 2017, the Obama administration had rolled out the International Entrepreneur Rule (IER). The Trump government rescinded it and then again, earlier this year, the Biden administration implemented it fully. 

However, the IER is not a visa or status. Posing several roadblocks, the IER is not the most convenient option for the foreign-born entrepreneur to easily operate within the US. 

Moreover, many aspiring entrepreneurs are shifting to Canada due to the difficult immigration process in the US. Recently, both Rep Lofgren as well as several lawyers testified in front of the US Congress about how the brain-drain is negatively impacting the US economy. Several business leaders and highly skilled foreign workers are shifting base to other countries like Canada. 

Thus, the introduction to the Startup visa.

Startup Visa Program Proposed For Foreign-Born Entrepreneurs In The US

How Does The Startup Visa Work?

The LIKE Act proposes issuing a W visa that will grant a legitimate immigration status to the foreign-born entrepreneur. The W visa is dual intent and the applicant may self-petition for a green card as an immigrant entrepreneur. Green cards under this option would not be subject to numerical limitations under INA sections 201, 202, and 203. 

To qualify for a green card, the new founded business should have created- 

  • 10 full-time jobs and 
  • Raised funds in excess of $1.25 million or
  • Have more than $1 million in annual revenue in the 2 years preceding the application.

W-1 Visa For The Foreign Born Entrepreneur

The new proposed Startup visa or the LIKE bill will issue a temporary W-1 visa for individuals who would like to start a business entity in the US. There is no numerical limitation for this visa. Premium processing will be available for the W-1 adjudication, meaning USCIS will give an answer in 15 days. Multiple co-founders per company may qualify.

The criteria to qualify for this visa are that the entrepreneur should – 

  • Have at least 10% ownership interest in a start-up entity that has received $250,000 from qualified US investors or $100,000 from government awards or grants;
  • Play a central and active role in the management or operations of the entity; and,
  • Have the knowledge, skills, or experience to substantially assist the entity with its growth and success.

W-2 Non-Immigrant Visa For Employees

The LIKE Act creates a W-2 visa for essential employees of the start-up entity, with numerical limits per entity. The number of employees that may use this nonimmigrant visa are limited by the number of employees at the company. Premium processing will be available for the W-2 visa applicants as well.

W-3 Non-Immigrant Visa For Dependents

A W-3 visa will be available for the spouses and children of W-1/W-2 nonimmigrants.

The added advantage that comes with the W-3, dependent visa is that spouses can apply for employment authorization – EAD! 

Duration Of The W Visa

The initial approval period of the startup W-1 visa is 3 years. This can be extended for an additional 3-years followed by two further 1-year extensions. The entrepreneur has to ensure continued job creation and revenue generation to qualify for the extensions.

Current Status

The Startup Visa is just at its introductory stage. It has to pass both the House and the Senate before it can be accepted by USCIS as an official US Visa. Stay tuned to this space as we update you on the progress of this Bill.