U.S. immigration chief getting serious about startups & immigrant entrepreneurs (exclusive)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Alejandro Mayorkas is getting serious about creating reforms that would make it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to settle in the US.

A group of VCs, academics and thought leaders recently petitioned Mayorkas about the roadblocks to foreigners creating startups in the United States.

To their surprise, Mayorkas responded immediately and quite positively, asking for more advice and promising swift action to welcome more foreign entrepreneurs.

Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur, academic and columnist, was on the list of signatories petitioning the director and said he was surprised at Mayorkas’ response.

In an email exchange with VentureBeat, he said, “I expected this would be a battle I would have to fight through the media and through policy makers. I believe that Alejandro is serious in his intent and genuinely wants to fix the problem. The question is whether the bureaucracy will let him.

“If he does follow through, it will make a real difference. Great job-creating entrepreneurs … won’t be deported, they will be welcomed.”

This issue has been raging since at least the Startup Visa Act was first introduced in Congress in 2010. The Act has yet to undergo judiciary committee review.

In a VentureBeat post on American brain drain, Wadhwa wrote, “During the last 20 years, we admitted record numbers of international students and highly educated foreign workers on temporary visas. But we never expanded the number of permanent resident visas that allow them to stay permanently.”

For this reason and others, Wadhwa continued, “72 percent of Indian and 81 percent of Chinese returnees said that the opportunities to start their own businesses were better or much better in their home countries.” As a result, he said, America is losing new jobs and new businesses.

Last month, USCIS announced an Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative, spearheaded by Mayorkas. The goal of the initiative was “to ensure that our policies and processes fully realize the immigration law’s potential to create and protect American jobs,” as Mayorkas said at the time.

As part of the EIR initiative, USCIS asked industry experts to recommend policy changes that would have a positive impact on American entrepreneurship. In response, a group of leaders ranging from investors such as Fred Wilson and Brad Feld to academics such as Benn Konsynski and AnnaLee Saxenian to the United States Chamber of Commerce wrote Mayorkas an open letter.

In this letter, the group recommended improved training materials and certain “changes to the Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM) to guide adjudicators in assessing petitions by prospective entrepreneurs under the Startup Initiative.” In simple terms, the group found that the process of setting up a legal business and establishing residency in the U.S. was needlessly complicated for foreign entrepreneurs of small startups.

First, the group recommended a basic training video for government officials who decide on whether or not a foreign entrepreneur passes muster. These adjudicators, the group said, needed simple education on what a startup is, its phases of development and how it grows into a full-fledged business.

Second, the group stated that the manual for adjudicators needed some changes along the same lines, “to promote and encourage foreign entrepreneurs to start businesses in the United States, as well as facilitate the process of adjudicating those petitions.”

“We believe these changes will help level the playing field for entrepreneurs interested in starting businesses in the United States,” the group concluded.

In response, Mayorkas has written, “Your ideas are excellent, and I would like to follow up on them immediately.”

Mayorkas said the training video specifically was a good idea and that he wanted “a suggested training video outline identifying the major points you believe need to be communicated to adjudicators handling entrepreneurs’ petitions.”

As for the manual for adjudicators, Mayorkas wrote, “I will schedule and host a public engagement focused on the discrete sections of the Adjudicators’ Field Manual that are most relevant to entrepreneurs’ petitions, with the goal of revising those sections as needed. If you have suggested revisions already in mind, I would appreciate receiving them.”

The director finished, “I want to move as quickly as possible. We are focused on ensuring that the law’s full potential to attract foreign entrepreneurial talent is realized.”

Image courtesy of prashant_zi.

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