Well, that was fast. The Trump administration has reportedly set the wheels in motion to undo former President Obama’s plan to help immigrant entrepreneurs build startups in the U.S., just three weeks after the provision was finalized.
Last summer, Obama instructed the Department of Homeland Security to create an “International Entrepreneur Rule” that would allow immigrants to grow startups in the U.S. for up to five years, provided the company meets certain benchmarks of success, like capital investments and job creation. The rule was proposed as a workaround for foreign entrepreneurs because there isn’t currently a good avenue for business leaders from other countries to build companies in the U.S. Work visas, like the H-1B, only apply to skilled employees, not startup founders.
In a draft executive order obtained by Bloomberg News, the Trump administration pledges to “clarify that parole may never be used to circumvent statutory immigration policy or admit into the United States entire classes of foreign nationals who do not qualify for admission under existing immigration categories; and immediately terminate all existing parole policies, guidance, and programs that do not comport” with current immigration law.
The draft later proposes regulating and reforming the “treaty investor visa category for foreign entrepreneurs so that activity allowed for such entrepreneurs conforms to the requirements of the immigration laws.”
It’s important to note that the leaked draft is just that, and the Trump administration hasn’t confirmed if or when it will be executed. Without intervention, the International Entrepreneur Rule will take effect July 17.
“Any real businessman should see the economic merits of this rule,” Seattle immigration attorney Tahmina Watson told GeekWire shortly after Trump’s election. “If he truly cares about the economy, he should leave the rule alone.”
The leaked draft is creating a swell of anxiety in the technology community. In addition to overturning the entrepreneur parole option, it also seeks to overhaul the current work-visa program, which big tech companies use to recruit talent from overseas.
“In America, we educate some of the brightest minds in the world at our universities,” said Michael Schutzler, CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association. “Yet, we’ve been deporting them to start their companies in other countries. This recent parole policy changed that ridiculous aspect of our current laws. Why would we cut off this American job creation pipeline?”
Accolade CEO Rajeev Singh, a child of immigrants, a key member of the Seattle tech community, and co-founder of Concur, expressed his frustration with the current political climate in an interview for an upcoming episode of the GeekWire Podcast.
“Our industry is fueled by the most brilliant brains around the planet, and they don’t all necessarily come from the United States,” Singh said. “They come from all over the world and so our capacity to maintain a leadership level in innovation is required in order to be able to access the most brilliant brains around the world.”
Tech companies, like Microsoft, Amazon, and Expedia, have thrown their weight behind Washington state’s lawsuit over the executive order, outlining how Trump’s immigration policy is detrimental to their business.
The programs outlined in the draft are in line with Trump’s executive actions on immigration from over the weekend, which bar immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for the next few weeks. The Trump administration says the temporary ban will help officials study immigration policy and prevent terrorists from entering the U.S.