Immigrant entrepreneurs have played a remarkably outsize role in the growth of the U.S. economy. More than half of the country’s billion-dollar startups were founded by immigrants, and 80% employ immigrants in a management role or in core product design. Consider America’s first four trillion-dollar companies, which together employ nearly 700,000 people in the United States: One was cofounded by an immigrant (Google), two were founded by the children of immigrants (Amazon and Apple), and one is currently run by an immigrant (Microsoft). Immigrants to the U.S have won 39% of the country’s Nobel Prizes, hold 28% of high-impact patents, and earn 31% of the PhDs from American universities, all while comprising only 18% of the American workforce. While native-born Americans are also highly talented, America’s reputation for innovation and scientific excellence brings the world’s best and brightest to our doorstep.
But global competition for these highly skilled professionals is becoming much more intense. Many countries, like the U.K., Australia, and Canada, have implemented immigration pathways specifically for entrepreneurs or, like China, have developed aggressive talent recruitment programs. One Canadian business even launched an ad campaign in California last year to convince tech workers uncertain about their immigration status to abandon their U.S. visa applications and move north.
Despite this rise of global competitors, the U.S. has no “startup visa” specifically for entrepreneurs. While the U.S. Congress has considered but failed to pass such a measure for more than a decade, almost 40 other countries all over the world have rolled out their own programs to poach global entrepreneurial talent.
It’s not all bad news, though: The Biden administration recently announced its intention to fully implement the International Entrepreneur Rule. Initiated in the final days of the Obama administration, this measure gives the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security authority to grant temporary permission to live and work here for those who could provide “a significant public benefit” to the United States. The International Entrepreneur Rule allows promising startup founders to meet that standard by hitting milestones in U.S. job creation, capital investment, or revenue.
We are heartened that the current administration plans to embrace this important tool for retaining foreign-born innovators, especially after the Trump Administration put it on ice. We hope that implementation includes significant long-term outreach to the entrepreneurial ecosystem of founders, investors, universities, and accelerators. And policymakers should make sure that the whole process is relatively smooth and speedy for those who qualify. The stakes are high: We estimate that in the most optimistic scenario, the International Entrepreneur Rule could generate more than 1 million jobs over 10 years.
While the federal government works to publicize and improve this administrative pathway, it is vital that Congress also take action to welcome international entrepreneurs on a permanent basis—not only by enacting a startup visa bill, but also by ensuring that every would-be entrepreneur has a fair shot at success. That means providing a path to citizenship for Dreamers, H-1B workers, and other immigrants already contributing to our economy for years, as well as enough green cards to fully meet the needs of U.S. families and employers.
Our elected leaders must continue to make every effort to accelerate an equitable economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Making it easier for the world’s entrepreneurs to create jobs in America is one tool to do so, and it’s a no-brainer.
Lindsay Milliken is a policy analyst for science, technology, and innovation with the Technology and Innovation Initiative at the Federation of American Scientists.
Doug Rand is a senior fellow and director of the Technology and Innovation Initiative at the Federation of American Scientists. He is also cofounder and president of Boundless, a technology company that helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship.