Foreign Entrepreneurs – The Facts

The United States has long been attractive to foreign entrepreneurs due to the county’s historically open marketplaces and tolerance for new ideas and new products. Foreign entrepreneurs have come to the United States in many different ways; however, there is still no direct “entrepreneur visa” or immigration status for entrepreneurs looking to come to the United States in order to grow a U.S.-based business enterprise. On this account, oftentimes foreign entrepreneurs will run into roadblocks while in the United States as they seek to both grow their businesses and obtain and maintain lawful immigration status.

More so, with global competition growing, the United States is no longer the default stop for the best and the brightest to set up their shops—in fact, numerous studies have shown that a growing number of would-be entrepreneurs are choosing to start and run their business elsewhere due to financial and societal incentives. Other countries are seeking to prevent their native entrepreneurs from leaving as nations such as China and India set up policies to dissuade would-be entrepreneurial immigrants from leaving their home countries.

Legal Avenues for Foreign Born Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurial Parole

On January 17, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule establishing a parole program for international entrepreneurs seeking to improve the ability of certain startup founders to remain in the United States legally in order to grow their companies and help create new jobs for U.S. workers.

On July 11, 2017, less than a week before the final rule was set to take effect, DHS delayed the implementation of the rule, foreshadowing that it would seek to rescind the rule altogether pursuant to an Executive Order (EO) signed by the President on January 25, 2017. DHS originally estimated that approximately 3,000 entrepreneurs will be eligible to apply under this rule annually. If the rule is allowed to take effect, these entrepreneurs would then be granted a stay of up to 30 months, with the possibility of an additional 30-month extension if they meet certain criteria, in the discretion of DHS.

As there are currently limited visa options for international entrepreneurs, this rule would create an avenue in our immigration system for innovators and allow entrepreneurs the opportunity to establish new businesses in the United States, contribute to the economy, and help maintain the United States’ competitive edge in the world marketplace of ideas.

E Visas

Some entrepreneurs may be eligible for an E visa, which is a visa category reserved for nationals of certain countries that have treaties with the United States. Specifically, there is the E-1 and the E-2 visa category—E-1s can be for foreign nationals who conduct “substantial trade” between the United States and their home country, while E-2s can be for foreign nationals who come to the United States in order to develop and direct the operations of an enterprise in which they have invested a “substantial amount” of capital. Also, the E visa applicant must control at least 50% of the company.

E visas are nonimmigrant visas, meaning that they are by nature “temporary”; however, there is no limit to the amount of extensions an applicant may be eligible for, and, in certain instances, it can lead to permanent residence (i.e., a green card).

H-1B Visas

Although most people probably don’t think of the H-1B visa as an “entrepreneurial visa,” with proper planning and advice the H-1B visa category can be a viable option for an entrepreneur looking to start their own company and invest in the United States. For USCIS to grant an individual an H-1B visa they must demonstrate that there is a valid “employer-employee” relationship; this can be an issue with entrepreneurs since they are more often than not their own bosses and therefore will have trouble establishing the requisite employer-employee relationship between themselves and their companies. Even so, one option for the entrepreneur would be to set up an independent board of directors for their company that can exercise control over the entrepreneur’s employment. This requires extremely careful planning and oversight and the assistance of competent counsel. Also, the fact that H-1B visas are statutorily capped at 85,000 per year makes this visa category less appealing for entrepreneurs.

EB-5 Investor Visas

The EB-5 program is a statutory program that allows for investors to obtain conditional permanent resident status (and eventually full permanent resident status) based on a qualifying investment of between $500,000 and one million dollars. The required investment amount is dependent on the type of program in which the investor is participating (whether it be participating in a USCIS-designated regional center, investing in Targeted Employment Area, or direct investment in a new or existing company); however, in any scenario, in order for the investor to eventually obtain their full-fledged permanent residency, they must be able to create at least 10 U.S. jobs within two years. If the investment is successful after the initial 2 year trial period, then the investor may apply for their permanent green card with USCIS.

EB-2 National Interest Waiver

Certain foreign nationals may be eligible for permanent residency pursuant to the National Interest Waiver (NIW) provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) if they either: (1) are members of the profession holding an advanced degree (or their equivalent); or (2) possess exceptional ability in the arts, sciences, or business, and they will “substantially benefit the national economy, cultural or educational interests, or welfare of the United States.” In most cases, such workers are also required to obtain a Labor Certification from the Department of Labor (DOL) prior to filing their petition with USCIS; however, the INA gives USCIS the authority to waive the Labor Certification requirement, in their discretion, if it is determined that it would be in the national interest to do so. More so, NIW cases allow for so-called “self-petitioners” (meaning that no job offer or employee sponsor is required), which is uncommon in U.S. immigration law. These features therefore make this category extremely desirable as it allows for both skipping the tedious and pedantic Labor Certification process and for petitioning without the sponsorship of an employer (something that is ideal for an entrepreneur seeking to start their own business in the United States).

When a foreign national’s work will be deemed to be in the “national interest” is subject to a three-part test, which includes: (1) the foreign national’s proposed endeavor has both substantial merit and national importance; (2) the foreign national is well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor; and (3) that, on balance, it would be beneficial to the United States to waive the requirements of a job offer and thus a labor certification.  This new standard—which was announced in early 2017—is less demanding than the old standard, but will still undoubtedly provide challenges to immigrant entrepreneurs seeking to utilize the category.

Conclusion

As seen above, there are several solid options for immigrant entrepreneurs seeking to enter the United States in order to start, manage, and run their own businesses. However, petitioning the United States government for any sort of immigration benefit is a complex process which requires competent counsel, proper planning and close oversight.

 

© Copyright 2018 Murtha Cullina
This post was written by Michael J. Bonsignore of Murtha Cullina.
Read more on Immigration Matters at the NLR’s Immigration Page.

US State Department Clarifies Implementation of Travel Ban Exemptions

The diplomatic cable instructs consulates on how to interpret the US Supreme Court’s direction to enforce the restriction only against foreign nationals who lack a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

This Immigration Alert serves as an addendum to our prior summary of the Supreme Court decision partially granting the government’s request to stay enforcement of two preliminary injunctions that temporarily halted enforcement of Executive Order (EO) No. 13780. As a result of this decision, foreign nationals from six countries (Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Iran, and Yemen) who cannot show bona fide ties to the United States may be denied visas or entry for 90 days starting Thursday, June 29 at 8:00 p.m. EDT.

The communication from the US Secretary of State’s office enumerates the following situations where the EO’s travel restrictions will not apply:

  • When the applicant has a close familial relationship in the United States, which is defined as a parent (including parent-in-law), spouse, fiancé, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, or sibling, whether whole or half. This includes step relationships, but does not include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, or any other “extended” family members.

  • When the applicant has a formal, documented relationship with an entity formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading the EO. This includes established eligibility for a nonimmigrant visa in any classification other than a B, C-1, D, I, or K, as a bona fide relationship to a person or entity is inherent in the visa classification.

  • When there are eligible derivative family members of any exempt applicant.

  • When the applicant has established eligibility for an immigrant visa in the immediate relative, family-based, or employment-based classification (other than certain self-petitioning and special immigrant applicants).

  • When the applicant is traveling on an A-1, A-2, NATO-1 through NATO-6, C-2 for travel to the United Nations, C-3, G-1, G-2, G-3, or G-4 visa, or a diplomatic-type visa of any classification.

  • When the applicant has been granted asylum, is a refugee who has already been admitted to the United States (including derivative follow-to-join refugees and asylees), or is an individual who has been granted withholding of removal, advance parole, or protection under the Convention Against Torture.

Applicants admitted or paroled into the United States on or after the date of the Supreme Court decision are also exempted, as are those currently in the United States who can present a visa with a validity period that includes either January 27, 2017 (the day the EO was signed) or June 29, 2017. Any document other than a visa, such as an advance parole document, valid on or after June 29 will also exempt the holder.

As described in the prior alert, any lawful permanent resident or dual foreign national of one of the six named countries who can present a valid passport from a country not on the list is not impacted by the EO. The EO also permits consular officers to grant case-by-case waivers to otherwise affected applicants who can demonstrate that being denied entry during the 90-day period would cause undue hardship, that entry would not pose a threat to national security, and that their admission would be in the national interest.

This post was written by Eric S. Bord and Eleanor Pelta of  Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.

DHS Announces Intent to Award Contracts for Border Wall “Prototypes” by Mid-April

border wall immigration DHS

On Friday, February 24, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection published a presolicitation notice announcing its intent to issue a solicitation “for the design and build of several prototype wall structures in the vicinity of the United States border with Mexico.” At least on the government procurement front, this notice marks the most concrete indication of the federal government’s intent to construct a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The notice — issued under Solicitation No. 2017-JC-RT-0001 — indicates that the resultant contracts will be for the design and build of “prototype wall structures,” suggesting that the Government may not yet be asking for the design and build of the wall itself.  And while the notice is only one paragraph long, it is noteworthy in several respects.

As an initial matter, the notice sets out a dizzyingly fast timeline for the procurement:

  • March 6, 2017: solicitation anticipated to issue

  • March 10, 2017: “vendors to submit a concept paper of their prototype(s)”

  • March 20, 2017: “evaluation and down select of offerors”

  • March 24, 2017: remaining offerors “to submit proposals in response to the full RFP,” including price

  • Mid-April 2017: “Multiple awards . . . contemplated”

Even considering the Government’s desire to take rapid action, it is difficult to see how contractors, or government personnel, will be able to comply with these incredibly tight turnarounds or if working at this pace for a project of this magnitude is in the ultimate interest of the country.  In addition, no specific funds have yet been appropriated for this project, meaning that it is unclear how the federal government plans to pay for the work that, presumably, it intends to commence shortly after awards in mid-April.

Beyond timing and funding, many other questions remain that will hopefully be answered when the full solicitation is issued, including:

  • How prototypes will be evaluated in light of the variety of terrains and concerns at different areas of the border.

  • How potential domestic sourcing preferences may be incorporated — if at all — at this stage of the project, as such requirements have the potential to impact costs, supply chain, and design, among other things.

  • How pricing will be evaluated at this stage of the process and how costs will be taken into account in the project as a whole, in light of the broad range of estimated costs that have been reported by various sources.

  • How the option periods mentioned in the notice will operate — the notice states that “[a]n option for additional miles may be included in each contract award,” although the need for “additional miles” of wall at the conceptual stage of the work is not evident.

Contractors and non-contractors alike will be keeping a close eye on this procurement and marking their calendars for March 6 in the hopes that their many questions will be answered.

© 2017 Covington & Burling LLP

DHS to Issue New I-9 Form Following Recent Penalties

i-9 violations, visaJust when employers were becoming more comfortable with the complex and lengthy Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification that was issued in 2013, the federal government has decided to turn up the heat. First, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Justice recently increased the penalties for I-9 violations. Second, DHS has announced that it will soon issue a new version of the Form I-9. These actions bring significant changes for employers.

Under the new fine schedule, employers face penalties such as the following:

  • I-9 paperwork violations:  $216 – $2,156 per Form I-9

  • Knowingly employing unauthorized alien (first offense):  $539 – $4,313 per violation

  • Knowingly employing unauthorized alien (second offense):  $4,313 – $10,781 per violation

  • Knowingly employing unauthorized alien (third or more offenses):  $6,469 – $21,563 per violation

  • E-verify employers – failure to inform DHS of continuing employment following final nonconfirmation:  $751 – $1,502 per violation

The DOJ also increased the penalties for document abuse and discriminatory practices in addressing I-9 issues. Document abuse usually occurs when an employer asks for specific documents or for more or different documents after the employee has already presented qualifying I-9 documents. This violates the I-9 rules, which require that the employer allow the employee to choose which document or documents to present from the I-9 List of Acceptable Documents. The employer then must review what is presented to confirm whether the document or documents meet the verification requirements.

Unfair immigration-related employment practices may occur when an employer treats job applicants and/or new hires differently based upon their immigration status while implementing I-9 procedures or addressing I-9 issues.

Penalties for document abuse and unfair immigration-related employment practices are now as follows:

  • Document abuse:  $178 – $1,782 per violation

  • Unfair immigration-related employment practices (first offense):  $445 –$3,563 per violation

  • Unfair immigration-related employment practices (second offense):  $3,563 – $8,908 per violation

  • Unfair immigration-related employment practices (third or more offenses):  $5,345 – $17,816 per violation

These new fine levels are effective as of August 1, 2016. During I-9 inspections, DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement and DOJ’s Office of Special Counsel will apply these new penalties to violations that occurred after November 2, 2015.  The increased penalties are a reminder of why I-9 compliance is so important.  Employers should review their I-9 procedures and conduct periodic internal audits to best defend against the risk of I-9 penalties.  For additional tips to achieve better I-9 compliance, as well as for updates on the government’s enforcement activities, please see our prior posts.

As to DHS’s announcement of yet another version of the I-9 form, there have been more than 10 different versions in the nearly 30 years during which the I-9 has been required. DHS expects to issue the newest version of the Form I-9 on or before November 22, 2016. DHS will allow employers to continue using the current version (issued in 2013) through January 21, 2017. Employers should use this two-month period to review and gain an understanding of the new Form I-9 before transitioning to it.

© 2016 Foley & Lardner LLP

Civil Penalties Nearly Double for Form I-9 Violations

Significantly Increase for Other Immigration-Related Violations

Due to the implementation of the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 (Sec. 701 of Public Law 114-74) (“Inflation Adjustment Act”), higher fines and civil penalties have now gone into effect for assessments that occur on or after August 1, 2016. These higher penalties can be applied to violations that occurred after November 2, 2015, the day the President signed the Act into law.

The Inflation Adjustment Act will be implemented by multiple federal agencies that have authority to assess civil penalties. The following is a summary, by federal agency, of the penalties covering violations for the unlawful employment of immigrant workers; violations related to Forms I-9; immigration-related discriminatory employment practices; and violations of the H-1B, H-2A and H-2B temporary visa for foreign worker programs. The increases in many categories are substantial. The penalties for Form I-9 paperwork violations are increased by an eye-catching 96 percent.

Department of Homeland Security fines:

Department of Homeland Security Fines i-9 violations

Department of Justice fines:

Department of Justice Fines

Department of Labor fines:

Department of Labor Fines

The consequence of the above is that employers should continue to aggressively monitor their immigration programs for compliance or suffer the harsher sting of these increased fines. Given that the penalties for I-9 errors are practically doubled, it is more important than ever to ensure I-9s are completed timely, correctly and are periodically audited. Moreover, most I-9 violations are considered continuing violations until they are corrected.

U.S. Air Force Testing BioBased Vehicle Oil Created From Canola Seed, Soybean, And Synthetic Petroleum

OilOn March 22, 2016, a team visited Malmstrom Air Force Base to test a new biobased synthetic oil in the base’s vehicles. The testing is sponsored by the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, with four bases chosen to use the plant based synthetic oil in vehicles. The Department of Homeland Security’s Law Enforcement Training Center has also begun testing the oil and will be monitoring the impacts on vehicle performance and engine quality over the next 12-18 months. George Handy, the project manager, stated that the use of biobased oil is not expected to result in “any change in the performance of any of the vehicles because they are already running on synthetic fuels.” If the testing goes well, the biobased oil will be available to purchase through normal channels, improving national security through the use of a domestically produced sustainable product.

©2016 Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

DHS Announces Final Rule on STEM OPT Employment Authorization

The final rule adds employer obligations to the STEM OPT program.

The US Department of Homeland Security has released an advance version of its long-anticipated final rule that expands employment authorization for foreign students with science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degrees. The rule, which will be published in the Federal Register on March 11 and take effect on May 10, 2016, will allow such students to extend their period of optional practical training (OPT) by an extra 24 months, for a total of 36 months of OPT employment authorization. Previously, students in STEM fields were allowed a total of 29 months of OPT. Foreign students with degrees in non-STEM fields will continue to be limited to 12 months of OPT.

The rule also improves and increases oversight over STEM OPT extensions by, among other things, requiring that employers implement formal training plans, adding wage and other protections for STEM OPT students and US workers, and allowing extensions only to students with degrees from accredited schools. The rule also allows US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to conduct site visits to employers of STEM OPT holders to ensure that the rule’s requirements are being complied with.

Previous 17-month STEM OPT employment authorizations issued before May 10 will remain valid until their expirations. Starting May 10, STEM students will have a chance to apply for an additional seven months of OPT.

Copyright © 2016 by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. All Rights Reserved.