USCIS Seeks More Business Input on Visas for High-Tech Entrepreneurs

First the good news: the immigration system is turning in a more business-friendly direction. The catch? The arc of change is long and slow.

Last May, on a trip to El Paso, TX, President Obama gave a major speech on immigration, pressing Congress to enact the sweeping reforms needed to resolve a host of long-standing systemic problems. (See President Obama Urges Action on Immigration Reform, MurthyBlog, 18.May.2011.) At that point, most of the country was fixated on illegal immigration, and the national ruckus that ensued when Arizona and other states began to take immigration law into their own hands. The President addressed this hot-button issue, but also spoke to a concern that was no less important – even though it was flying under the radar of all but Washington policy wonks and tech-industry cognoscenti: the need to attract more talented entrepreneurs to our shores, and to keep more of foreign science and technology graduates here after they finish their degrees, instead of sending them – and their cutting-edge skills – back home to make someone else rich:

Look at Intel, look at Google, look at Yahoo, look at eBay. All those great American companies, all the jobs they’ve created, everything that has helped us take leadership in the high-tech industry, every one of those was founded by, guess who, an immigrant. So we don’t want the next Intel or the next Google to be created in China or India. We want those companies and jobs to take root here. (See Remarks by the President on Comprehensive Immigration Reform in El Paso, Texas, White House Press Office, 10.May.2011.)

In October, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas announced plans to create a brain trust of public and private-sector experts who can tell the USCIS how to fix our immigration system, so that more of the best and brightest foreign talents can bring their technical and entrepreneurial skills here to start businesses and create jobs.

This month, the USCIS finally launched its entrepreneurship initiative, called the “Entrepreneurs in Residence” (EIR) program, which will bring in five private-sector experts to get the agency up to speed on the latest developments in high-tech entrepreneurship. Participants will spend the next three months examining current policies in the employment-based and high-skilled visa categories, with a view to increasing their potential as engines of job creation and economic development. (See Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 22.Feb.2012.)

At the EIR launch event, USCIS Director Mayorkas acknowledged the need to take a more flexible approach to tech startups, according to the Associated Press. (See Immigration Chief seeks to reassure Silicon Valley, by Marcus Wohlsen, Associated Press, 22.Feb.2012.) As the AP reported, “The goal, Mayorkas said, is to keep the agency from applying traditional formulas to the unorthodox business models common on the startup scene.”

Not everyone is impressed. According to the Associated Press, a prominent immigrant entrepreneur and researcher, Vivek Wadhwa, “called the immigration service’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence program a patch that alone won’t fix what he calls the ‘reverse brain drain’ of foreign-born entrepreneurs leaving the U.S. to found companies back home that compete with this country’s businesses.”

Still, USCIS deserves credit for soliciting more business input to help bring its policies in line with rapidly changing economic realities. This is long overdue – not ahead of the curve, but clearly a turn for the better.


Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.