On immigration, a step in the right direction

One of the biggest challenges an international (or 'alien') faces in starting a company are those related to visa challenges. An article today in the Washington Post makes clear that these difficulties are not going to get any easier.

The article highlights three new possibilities -- minor tweaks to operations, rather than policy -- that may help alien entrepreneurs.
  • Under the previous interpretations of CIS rules, a highly skilled worker who is legally in the United States on an H-1B visa could start a company but could not work for it. CIS updated the H1-B guidelines to “clarify” that business owners on H1-B visas could work for their own companies, provided that they work full time for the company and are treated like an employee. For example, the company could have a board that is able to hire, fire, pay, supervise or otherwise control the worker like they would any other staff member.
  • Another significant point of clarification regards the ability of entrepreneurs who have advanced degrees or exceptional ability to be able to obtain permanent resident visas under the EB-2 category. The visa category requires employers to go through a lengthy process called labor certification. CIS published a new “Frequently Asked Questions” Web page in an attempt to clarify that certain EB-2 applicants could apply for “national interest waivers,” allowing them to bypass the labor certification process. But they have to demonstrate to CIS that their ventures are in the country’s best interest. So, a Sergei Brin or Vinod Khosla could have fewer hoops to jump through before starting a Google or a Sun Microsystems.
  • The government has also streamlined processing for the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. This allows foreign investors and their families to obtain permanent resident visas if they invest at least $1 million in a venture that creates at least 10 U.S. jobs. However, in areas of high unemployment, the investment threshold is only $500,000. This visa was not used often because of the cumbersome application process. It would take six months to a year to process these applications. CIS will now try to get these processed in weeks.