Progress On The Startup Visa Movement

Yesterday there was solid progress on the Startup Visa Movement – specifically making it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to start their companies in the US. The WSJ had a good summary article titled U.S. to Assist Immigrant Job Creators that discusses two formal communications from the Obama administration.

There are additional guidelines listed in detail at the following links.

I’ve been working on this issue since I wrote the post The Founders Visa Movement on 9/10/09 (all my posts can be seen in the category summary Startup Visa on my blog). A number of colleagues throughout the entrepreneurial community (entrepreneurs, angels, VCs) joined in on the effort as it became a formal grass-roots movement, resulting in several bills being drafted in Congress in 2010 and then 2011.

While I’ve learned a lot about politics, Congress, and how Washington works in the past two years, one thing that became painfully apparent to me was that Congress was completely stalled on anything related to immigration issues. While I’ve continued to view the Startup Visa as a jobs issue (we need more entrepreneurs in the US – anyone should be able to start a company here if they want to, and that creates jobs, which is good for our economy) that’s not how people in Washington see it (“visa” – that means “immigration”).

In parallel, a number of us have been talking to key people in the White House, including the amazing Aneesh Chopra, the White House CTO. Aneesh totally gets this issue as do a number of his colleagues in the White House and the Office of Science and Technology Policy and they’ve been working on non-legislative solutions that can be implemented with policy changes in USCIS. While the changes made yesterday don’t cover every case, they make a solid step in the right direction.

In the past six months, I’ve personally been involved in about ten cases of foreign entrepreneurs trying to get valid US visas so they could either start their company here or join a US-based company that they helped co-found. After being stymied for a variety of reasons, including extremely aggressive, negative, and inconsistent behavior at the border from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, most of the folks I’ve been talking to and/or helping have been able to get visas. In all cases, they were willing to share their stories, in detail, with people on the White House staff, who I think have been extremely thoughtful and diligent about understanding what was going on, worked hard to figure out appropriate and legal solutions, and provided a constructive and empathetic ear to the very frustrated entrepreneurs.

I don’t feel comfortable naming names as most people are very concerned about confidentiality around immigration issues, but I’m proud of the efforts by many of these entrepreneurs. They didn’t give up, didn’t get angry even when they had plenty of reason to, and were willing to be very open with White House officials in trying to help figure out a more effective approach. I’m also very impressed with the folks at the White House and OSTP who I’ve been working with on this issue. The contrast between their efforts, thoroughness, and their “let’s solve the problem” vs. a “let’s be political” attitude is commendable.

There are plenty of additional things in the Startup Visa Movement that need to be addressed but I feel like we made some progress today. Thanks to everyone who has been involved – you are a force for good in the world.