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Immigration Reform Focuses on Foreign Entrepreneurs

Foreign entrepreneurs have historically been a quintessential part of the American dream, propelling the US economy forward and helping it grow by leaps and bounds. It is because of foreign entrepreneurs that we have Google, Ebay, Instagram and Yahoo, to name but a few, and we have immigrants to the USA or their children to thank for the existence of about 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies.

In recent years, there has been a decline in foreign entrepreneurs launching businesses in the USA. The most pronounced decline, according to a recent Duke University study, occurred in the US's premiere start-up region of Silicon Valley, where the proportion of businesses started by at least one foreigner plunged from 52.4 percent in 2005 to 43.9 percent. Businesses created by foreign entrepreneurs employ American workers, creating jobs which stimulate the economy, and generate substantial revenue for local communities. Many economists also believe that it's young business (as opposed to small business), more frequently created by foreign entrepreneurs, that is the source of steady employment.

The decline in the number of foreign entrepreneurs has raised concerns at the highest levels in the US government. Highly skilled, well-educated and bright individuals are being courted not just by the US, but by countries from around the world. In his speech on immigration reform, President Obama noted this concern: "Right now in one of those [American university] classrooms, there's a student wrestling with how to turn their big idea -- their Intel or Instagram -- into a big business. We're giving them all the skills they need to figure that out, but then we're going to turn around and tell them to start that business and create those jobs in China or India or Mexico or someplace else? That's not how you grow new industries in America. That's how you give new industries to our competitors."

Currently, foreign entrepreneurs have a number of options at their disposal, including the E-2 Treaty Investor visa and the EB-5 immigrant visa. The E-2 visa allows investors from treaty countries who make a 'substantial' investment in the USA and meet other requirements to obtain a temporary visa. Although the E-2 visa can be renewed indefinitely so long as the business continues satisfactorily, the E-2 is a non-immigrant visa which does not lead to a green card, regardless of the number of years an investor spends living in the USA. An entrepreneur can obtain a 'green card' through the EB-5 immigrant visa. However, this category requires, among other things, a minimum investment of $1 million ($500,000 if the investment is in a rural or high unemployment area), a sum of money which is beyond the reach of many bright individuals, no matter how promising their business ideas may be.

Calls for change are coming from a wide array of politicians, employers and entrepreneurs alike. The recently introduced 'Startup Act 3.0' proposes to create an opportunity for qualified non-immigrant investors to eventually obtain a green card. Additionally, a coalition of business leaders and politicians, backed by the likes of AOL co-founder Steve Case and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have launched a "March for Innovation" meant to draw Washington's attention to the prompt need to liberalise the visa requirements for foreign entrepreneurs. The 'marchers' are being mobilised online through social media outlets and are expected to flood lawmakers' offices with messages later on in the Spring.

The American Immigration Law Office will continue to monitor the proposed immigration reforms as legislative details affecting entrepreneurs become available.