The Startup Visa Shutdown

Why does the United States provide visas to people who need a job but not people who want to create jobs in the United States? That’s the startup visa question.

startup visaBrilliant minds from around the world are able to come to the United States on student visas. We gladly educate them in our best universities, then generally ask them to leave. Likewise foreign entrepreneurs with next-generation ideas and dreams of launching a new business are given no welcome mat. With no existing family in the U.S., the only way for these people to immigrate to the U.S. is through employers.

That’s right. The country that prides itself on entrepreneurial, can-do spirit provides no such avenue for immigrants that want to come here to build business and grow jobs. There is no startup visa.

Startup Visa Act

The startup visa is proposed legislation to provide a conditional two-year green card to foreign entrepreneurs who raise capital from qualified American investors and start U.S. businesses. The conditional status would be removed after two years if certain conditions are met. The immigrant would then hold a regular green card and have a path to citizenship. The concept of a startup visa has garnered broad support from venture capitalists and even bi-partisan support in congress. In fact the Startup Visa Act was first introduced in congress in 2010. The congress has never acted.

How the Startup Visa is Different

The startup visa shouldn’t be confused with existing visas such as the EB-5 or H-1B. The EB-5 visa is more of an investor visa and is only available to immigrants with financial means. The EB-5 requires a $500,000 to $1 million investment in a company that creates at least 10 jobs over a two-year period. An H-1B visa, given to highly skilled immigrants, requires sponsorship by an American employer. By definition, most entrepreneurs aren’t looking to work for someone else. What’s more, the H1-B is a non-immigrant visa, meaning there is no promise of a green card. There is no visa category for founders and entrepreneurs.

startup visa asaf darash

As a post doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, Israeli-born Asaf Darash started a company called Regpack. The company had raised $1.9 million and hired 19 employees but had to move to Israel because Darash didn’t qualify for a visa. Several American jobs were lost. A startup visa would have saved most of these jobs.

How Startup Visas Affect Americans

Quite simply, we’re making it hard for smart, industrious people to come to the United States. When U.S. immigration law prevents innovators from coming to the U.S., the innovation and the jobs will blossom somewhere else. This doesn’t stop U.S. investors from investing in these ideas in other countries. Of course, that means American dollars are being invested abroad as well.

elon musk startup visa

Born in South Africa, Elon Musk got lucky and was able to obtain a green card despite there being no startup visa. Or did the United States get lucky? Musk went on to start PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors, three companies that have literally transformed their respective industries.
Read more about Elon Musk

Proposed Requirements for a Startup Visa

Under the U.S. Senate’s most recent version of the Startup Act (S.565), visas would be provided to the following groups under certain conditions:

  • Entrepreneurs living outside the U.S.—if a U.S. investor agrees to financially sponsor their entrepreneurial venture with a minimum investment of $100,000. Two years later, the startup must have created five new American jobs and either have raised over $500,000 in financing or be generating more than $500,000 in yearly revenue.
  • Workers on an H-1B visa, or graduates from U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or computer science—if they have an annual income of at least $30,000 or assets of at least $60,000 and have had a U.S. investor commit investment of at least $20,000 in their venture. Two years later, the startup must have created three new American jobs and either have raised over $100,000 in financing or be generating more than $100,000 in yearly revenue.
  • Foreign entrepreneurs whose business has generated at least $100,000 in sales from the U.S. Two years later, the startup must have created three new American jobs and either have raised over $100,000 in financing or be generating more than $100,000 in yearly revenue.

The investor must be a qualified venture capitalist, a “super angel” (U.S. citizen who has made at least two equity investments of at least $50,000 every year for the previous three years), or a qualified government entity. If passed into law, the startup visa is expected to be coded as EB-6.

Status of Startup Visa Legislation

Along with comprehensive immigration reform, startup visa legislation is dead. Collectively the U.S. government has failed to act. This has cost the American economy in terms of jobs and money. Eventually a tipping point could send the innovators to other countries with more accommodating immigration policy.

“Despite the fact that they constitute only 12% of the U.S. population, immigrants have started 52% of Silicon Valley’s technology companies and contributed more than 25% of our global patents.”

Vivek Wadhwa, Author of The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent

Startup CitizenPath

CitizenPath, an online startup with two immigrant founders, is making it easier and less expensive to prepare immigration forms and applications. The company’s website provides step-by-step guidance through various immigration forms and helpful information not available from USCIS. It even provides alerts if an answer could be problematic. Incorrectly completed forms are routinely denied by USCIS, creating costly delays for applicants. Although applicants are able to prepare USCIS forms on their own, CitizenPath makes it quicker, easier, and gives applicants more confidence that the form is complete and accurate. What’s more, CitizenPath provides a set of simple filing instructions to ensure all of the necessary support documents, filing fee and mailing address are correct. You can select a form and even try it out with no sign up on

Additional Resources

Economics of Immigration
Watch Starting Up in America Documentary
Watch Land of Opportunity
Watch American’s Great Job Creators: Immigrant Entrepreneurs