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Us Startup Visa Goes Live

Federal judge orders the US Startup Visa program into action, overruling an attempt made by the Trump Administration to delay this Obama-era program.

The US Startup visa not actually a visa - it's a visa waiver program for startup founders to pursue growing their businesses in the USA. The program, officially known as the International Entrepreneur Rule (IER), allows qualified entrepreneurs a temporary stay in the US in order to build young, fast growing businesses that contribute to the US economy.

Startup Visa programs are meant to draw in foreign investment by providing an easy path through the complicated web of visa requirements. Countries such and Canada, France and Portugal employ similar programs to incite investment and stimulate economic growth in important sectors like technology and health care.

The IER, which was finalized by the Obama administration, was meant to go into effect on July 17, 2017. One week prior to its start date, however, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would delay the rule until March 14, 2018, with the ultimate intention of rescinding the program.

The National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) filed a lawsuit against the DHS challenging the delay, while immigration lawyers, advocacy groups and entrepreneurs spoke out against it.

The stakes were high. The US does not currently have a dedicated visa for entrepreneurs, and the IER program was created to attract foreign investors with a high growth potential to US shores. To give an example of that potential, a 2016 study by the National Foundation for American Policy noted that immigrants have started more than half (44 of 87) of US based startups that are valued at $1 billion or more. Attracting foreign entrepreneurs benefits the US economy through increased investment, new job opportunities and innovation in important fields.

Purva Gupta, the 29-year-old founder of a Silicon Valley fashion startup, admitted to having six different visas in her time in the US. Gupta would have qualified for the IER program last summer, and found herself in a difficult situation when it was delayed, and had to seek out a different visa option.

Happily for those in support of the program, on December 1, 2017, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg ruled that there was no reasonable cause for delay, and that the DHS must begin accepting applications for the IER program.

There are a few parameters to qualify for this immigration parole. The foreign entrepreneur must own at least 10% of the business and play and active role in its management, and the business itself cannot be more than 5 years old. Business must also have the potential for rapid growth and job creation.

Entrepreneurs who qualify under the program are given leave to stay in the US for up to 30 months without a green card or work visa, with the possibility of extending an additional 30 months.

Small businesses are specifically exempt from this rule. To qualify for the US Startup Visa, companies must prove at least $100,000 in government grants or $250,000 seed money from qualified investors to be considered.

Since the ruling, the DHS has made no formal comment about the IER program, nor has it provided an application form for candidates. Ultimately, it would still be at the government's discretion to grant or deny applicants into the program - originally expected to be nearly 3,000 per year.

Still, many see the ruling as a victory in an era of difficult immigration policy.

The President of the NVCA, Bobby Franklin, made a statement in response to the ruling.

“Today marks a significant victory for talented foreign entrepreneurs, the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and the U.S. economy,” he said. “The facts speak for themselves — the U.S. economy has long thrived on the contributions and innovations of immigrant entrepreneurs and we are a better country as a result. Implementation of the International Entrepreneur Rule is a commonsense approach to attracting the world’s best and brightest entrepreneurs.”