Administration Proposes Rules to Appeal to High Skilled Immigrants

With immigration reform proposals languishing in Congress, the Obama administration announced a new set of proposed rules to allow the spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the United States. Under the proposed rules, H-1B visa holders -- highly skilled temporary immigrants working in advanced or technical "specialty" occupations -- must be in the pipeline for permanent-resident green cards in order for their spouses to qualify. However, the rules are only a small step toward what is needed to compete against countries with more open immigration policies -- like Chile, Canada, Italy and Australia -- that are actively marketing themselves to nascent entrepreneurs.

Jointly announced by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, and Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, the proposed adjustments would benefit immigrants with skills in technology and science. Homeland Security officials hope to implement the new regulations by the end of this year.

H-1B visas authorize recipients to work in the United States for up to six years. While holding these visas, their employers may apply for them to receive employment-based green cards. Yet the green card process is lengthy. The current backlog means highly-skilled immigrants must wait between six and eleven years, depending on the country of origin. Obtaining an H-1B itself is a highly-competitive process. According to the New York Times, the annual limit of 85,000 visas was reached within one week after the application period opened this year.

The H-1B recommendations came alongside others aimed to ease requirements for skilled immigrants to remain in the U.S. However, in the context of the global race for innovative talent, the rule proposals may be too narrow to have much impact on the American entrepreneurial economy -- and on immigrant founders looking to start and scale new firms in the U.S. In the meantime, 

Why so much worry about immigrant entrepreneurs? 

During last week’s announcement, Secretary Pritzker cited research showing 28% of new U.S. businesses are launched by immigrants, despite the fact they represent only 13% of the population -- and that 40% of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or their children. The Kauffman Foundation has conducted research on the impact of immigrant entrepreneurs since 2007 with a number of studies and on the topic. 

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