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.

Administration’s Regulatory Agenda Signals Continued Push to Align Visa Programs With “Hire American” Goals

On December 14, 2017, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) released the Fall 2017 Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, which is a report on the rulemaking efforts U.S. administrative agencies intend to pursue in the near- and long-term.

If enacted, several items in the agenda have the potential to impact employers’ immigration programs. The relevant proposals include the following items:

  • U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is proposing to issue a rule that would eliminate the ability of certain H-4 spouses to obtain employment authorization documents (EADs).
  • USCIS is proposing to issue a rule (originally introduced in 2011) that would establish an electronic registration system for H-1B petitions that are subject to the annual quota (H-1B cap filings). DHS notes that the rule is “intended to allow USCIS to more efficiently manage the intake and lottery process” for these petitions. USCIS notes that this rule may include a provision for a modified selection process, as outlined in the Buy American and Hire American Executive Order, such that “H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.”
  • USCIS is proposing to issue a rule that would revise the definitions of “specialty occupation,” “employment,” and “employer-employee relationship” in the H-1B context. USCIS notes that the purpose of these changes would be to “ensure that H-1B visas are awarded only to individuals who will be working in a job which meets the statutory definition for [H-1B eligibility].” The rule may also contain provisions regarding the payment of appropriate wages to H-1B visa holders.
  • The Department of State is proposing and finalizing several rules that would enact various modifications to the exchange visitor (J-1) program. These changes include arrangements relating to the administration of the J-1 program, provisions to help ensure the safety and well-being of foreign nationals who enter the U.S. as exchange visitors, and efforts to reinforce the cultural exchange and public diplomacy aspects of the program. Changes may also include an expansion of the types of jobs that are prohibited under the summer work travel category.
  • As a “long term action,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is proposing a rule that would clarify the criteria for admission to the United States as a temporary visitor for business (B-1) or pleasure (B-2). CBP also notes that the proposed revisions would “make the criteria [for entry as a temporary visitor] more transparent.”
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is proposing to issue a rule that would effectuate a comprehensive reform of the practical training options (OPT) available to nonimmigrant students. The proposed provisions include increased oversight over the schools and students participating in the program. The stated purpose is to “improve protections of U.S. workers who may be negatively impacted by employment of nonimmigrant students.”

Employers may want to keep in mind that although the abstracts listed in the agenda seemingly have the potential to impact many areas of the immigration system, it is premature to draw conclusions about the effect of these proposed changes without first seeing the text of the rules themselves—none of which have been released, and some of which may not even be drafted. Additionally, both the agenda itself and the timing for the rules, are aspirational; in prior years, only a select number of proposals have actually turned into rules, and ever fewer have actually followed the stated timelines. As noted previously, for example, a proposed regulation on the electronic registration system for H-1B quota petitions was originally introduced in 2011, but no further action occurred.

Should a proposed rule actually be issued, the agencies must conform to the notice-and-comment protocols of the Administrative Procedure Act. Effectively, this requires the agency to issue a proposed rule that explains the agency’s plan to accomplish a certain goal or address a problem.  This is followed by a comment period, during which time any interested parties can submit comments about the proposed rule. Prior to issuing the final rule, the agency must review all comments and indicate its reasoning for either modifying the rule on account of a comment or explain why the proposed comment does not merit a revision to the rule. Rulemaking is typically a prolonged process that takes a minimum of several months to accomplish. In other words, a proposed rule (which is different than most of the abstracts found in this agenda, which only state the intent to issue a rule) would be the first step in what could be a complex and lengthy rulemaking process that may take many months before promulgation of any final rule.

Finally, employers may want to take note that many of the administration’s prior attempts to enact changes to the immigration system have been subject to lengthy and robust legal challenges. Any such litigation on a proposed rule could increase the timeline for implementation, assuming the rule survives the legal challenge at all.

In summary, although the agenda provides some insight into the goals of the administration on employment-based immigration, the publication of the agenda itself does not alter the status quo.

© 2017, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C

This post was written by Jacob D. Cherry of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

For more information check out the National Law Review’s Immigration page.

Sixty-Day Grace Period for Nonimmigrant Workers after Loss of Employment

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has promulgated a regulation affecting highly skilled foreign workers when they lose their jobs. The stated purpose of the regulation is to improve the ability of U.S. employers to hire and retain highly skilled foreign workers and to increase the ability of those workers to pursue new employment opportunities.

Nonimmigrant workers are individuals who enter the United States for a temporary period of time and are restricted to the activity consistent with their visas (those in E-1, E-3, H1B, H1B1, L-1, O-1 and TN status). Prior to this regulation, a nonimmigrant worker who was laid off or whose employment was terminated would immediately begin to accrue unlawful status. Since the beneficiary of a visa petition must be in valid status at the time of filing, a sudden loss of employment was particularly problematic in terms of transferring the visa to a new employer. While U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was somewhat forgiving if a new sponsoring employer was identified quickly, the conventional wisdom was that the USCIS would not approve a transfer petition if the beneficiary was out of work in excess of one month.

The new regulation provides for a 60-day discretionary grace period, during which a nonimmigrant worker does not accrue unlawful status. This allows nonimmigrant workers two months to locate a sponsoring employer to whom the visa may be transferred, to apply for a change of status or to wind up their affairs before departing the United States.

Employment is not authorized during the grace period, but the nonimmigrant worker may begin working with the filing of a transfer petition by a new employer. A worker may use the grace period only once for each validity period. For instance, if a worker loses his job and then uses the grace period to transfer his visa to another employer, he may still be eligible for another 60-day grace period should he lose that job. Unused days in the first grace period cannot be carried over into a subsequent grace period. USCIS has the discretion to deny or shorten a grace period if there are violations of status such as unauthorized employment, fraud or criminal convictions, among others.

The 60-day grace period is a welcome accommodation to nonimmigrant workers who find themselves suddenly laid off or their employment terminated.

© 2017Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP
Learn more on our Immigration Practice Group page.

The Agricultural Guestworker Act Gaining Ground

In October, the Agricultural Guestworker Act of 2017 (House Resolution 4092), introduced by U.S. Rep. John Goodlatte (R-Va.), was passed by the House Judiciary Committee and sent to the full House. Michigan’s lone representative on the committee, Rep. John Conyers (D), voted against it.

John Kran, national lobbyist with Michigan Farm Bureau, commented that “any farmer who’s dealt with this issue will tell you that the availability of domestic workers continues to decrease. This bill not only deals with the seasonal workforce, but the need for year-round ag workers.” The need for such legislation is clear, at least to farmers. Currently, the only way farmers can have the peace of mind about a legal workforce is to go through the H-2A program, which is so notorious for burdensome paperwork, long lead times and woefully complicated processes that Michigan Farm Bureau established the Great Lakes Agricultural Labor Services (GLALS) to help farmers successfully navigate the process.

Goodlatte’s legislation would create a new H program, called H-2C, under which a new guest-worker program would be established, allowing farmers to hire workers for up to 18 months for seasonal labor and 36 months for year-round labor, such as are needed on dairy farms, other livestock operations, and food processing, including meat packing. “Michigan dairies have a huge need for the longer visa, and poultry and hog operations have trouble finding people too,” Kran said. “The bill isn’t perfect, but it’s a good place to start.” Among the things Farm Bureau would like to see changed in the bill is a mandatory limit on the number of workers allowed in. The bill proposes that the number be capped at 450,000 per year, with an ‘escalator’ for additional need.

 

© 2017 Varnum LLP
This post was written by Aaron M. Phelps of Varnum LLP.
Read more Immigration legal updates.

Revised Travel Ban Coming?

The Trump Administration reportedly may replace the current travel ban with a country-specific set of restrictions.

In June, the Supreme Court allowed the government to begin enforcing the 90-day travel ban against individuals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen who had no bona fide relationship to the United States. The 90-day ban will expire on September 24. The 120-day ban on refugees also went into effect in June. The Supreme Court plans to hear the full travel ban case on October 10.

The Department of Homeland Security’s recently finalized classified report on screening foreign travelers may support anticipated changes to the travel ban. Substituting a new ban could change the dynamics, potentially making the case before the Supreme Court moot or leading to a remand of the case for further hearing at the lower court level.

The new restrictions are expected to be open-ended and based upon the DHS review and identification of countries with deficient security standards. More than six countries may have been identified. Additional countries could be added to the banned list, others could be removed, and still others might become subject to certain visa restrictions.

This post was written by Michael H. Neifach of Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Trump Administration Considers Elimination of J-1 Program for Some Students

The Trump Administration is considering the elimination of the J-1 Summer Work-Travel Program for students who come to tourist areas in the U.S. as temporary summer help and as participants in cultural exchanges. Like the numerical limitations placed on H-2B temporary seasonal visas, the elimination of this J-1 Summer Work-Travel Program would particularly affect the hospitality industry in areas that rely on these students to cook, wait tables, and run amusement park rides in tourist areas during the summer months.

Morey’s Pier Amusement Park in Wildwood, New Jersey, hired more than one-third of its 2017 summer workforce through the J-1 Summer Work-Travel Program. Its Director of Human Resources reported that it makes extensive efforts, including through job fairs, to hire U.S. workers, but cannot find enough people interested in the seasonal work. The Park hired 82 percent of the U.S. applicants who applied for jobs and the remaining 18 percent could not be hired because they were too young to be life guards or to serve alcohol.

Other tourist areas such as Hershey, Pennsylvania, and the Poconos also depend on the J-1 Summer Work-Travel Program. Congressman Bill Keating (D-MA), who represents Cape Cod and the Islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, is critical of the reported plan to reduce these visas for students who he believes are vital to his area’s economy.

The review and possible elimination of the J-1 Summer Work-Travel Program arises out of the “Buy American, Hire American” Executive Order. The first hint that the Program might be cut was in a draft executive order that was leaked in January 2017. That draft, “Protecting American Jobs and Workers by Strengthening the Integrity of Foreign Worker Visa Programs,” was never signed or formally released. It included specific provisions questioning the desirability of the J-1 program, the L-1 visa program, the use of parole authority, and the H-1B visa program, among others. To date, the Administration has been achieving some of the goals first set forth in that draft by conducting more L-1 site visits, scrutinizing H-1B and L-1 petitions by issuing a staggering number of post-filing Requests for Evidence (RFEs), postponing (and ultimately planning to eliminate) the International Entrepreneur Rule that relied on parole authority, and, now, focusing on the possible elimination of the J-1 Summer Work-Travel Program.

According to the State Department website, “The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program [overseen by the Department of States] provides opportunities for around 300,000 foreign visitors from 200 countries and territories per year to experience U.S. society and culture and engage with Americans.” There are more than a dozen J-1 programs. Others that are reportedly being reviewed for possible elimination are the J-1 internship and au pair programs.

This post was written by Forrest G. Read IV  of Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2017
For more Immigration News go to The National Law Review

Nonimmigrant Visa Applicants May Have Longer Waits

President Donald Trump has issued an executive order striking the 80-percent/three-week goal for interviewing nonimmigrant visa applicants following submission of applications.

Since September 11, 2001, the State Department has given priority to security over quick visa adjudications. For many reasons, including heightened security, between 2001 and 2010, the U.S. share of the global tourism market had dropped markedly. The Obama Administration, concerned about the effect on the U.S. economy, took measures to “support a prosperous and secure travel and tourism industry in the United States.” The first steps were in 2010, when the National Export Initiative and the Travel Promotion Act became law. They mandated intergovernmental cooperation to work to establish a stronger brand identity for the U.S. and to promote exports. By 2012, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to continue the process of fostering more tourism and travel: Establishing Visa and Foreign Visitor Processing Goals and the Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness Order. One section ordered Consulates to “ensure that 80 percent of nonimmigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application, recognizing that resource and security considerations . . . may dictate specific exceptions[.]”

Although the Obama EO contained a security waiver, on June 21, 2017, Trump signed his own EO, striking the 80 percent/three-week goal. This is being done in conjunction with the travel ban partially reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court and the extreme vetting procedures instituted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Pursuant to extreme vetting, if deemed necessary to determine eligibility, visa applicants may be asked to supply:

  • Travel history during the last 15 years, including source of funding for travel;

  • Address history during the last 15 years;

  • Employment history during the last 15 years;

  • All passport numbers and country of issuance held by the applicant;

  • Names and dates of birth for all siblings;

  • Names and dates of birth for all children;

  • Names and dates of birth for all current and former spouses, or civil or domestic partners;

  • Social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used during the last five years; and

  • Phone numbers and email addresses used during the last five years.

Assessing this amount of information and data obviously will take time. A White House spokesman stated that the elimination of the “arbitrary” three-week goal was needed because “[t]he president expects careful, accurate vetting of visa applicants, not a rushed process . . . .”

Business groups already troubled about possible deleterious effects from the travel ban and extreme vetting have expressed concern about additional delays in visa issuance. According to State Department’s own data, the nonimmigrant visa issuance rate has been dropping. In March, 907,166 were issued and the number was down to 735,000 in April.

This post was written by William J. Manning of Jackson Lewis P.C.