In 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) engaged in notice-and-comment rulemaking to develop regulations for an International Entrepreneur (IE) program. The goal was to provide an avenue for start-up founders to work in the U.S., where there is no work visa category designed for foreign entrepreneurs. The final IE rule was published on January 17, 2017—one of the final days of the Obama Administration—and scheduled to take effect six months later.
Following the change in the administration, a newly reorganized DHS blocked implementation of the IE program in 2017 and delayed the effective date until March 2018. DHS was subsequently sued by an association of venture capitalists, who obtained a federal court order vacating the delay and compelling DHS to accept applications under the final IE rule. In May 2018, DHS published notice of proposed rulemaking that would remove regulations pertaining to the IE program, but never published a final rule.
On May 11, 2021, DHS published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the withdrawal of the 2018 proposal to remove the IE regulations. Instead, the IE program will continue and is expected to strengthen and grow the U.S. economy through increased capital spending, innovation, and job creation.
Under the IE program, foreign nationals submit a Form I-941, Application for Entrepreneur Parole, to USCIS and pay associated fees. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and are wholly within the discretion of DHS, as delegated to USCIS. Applicants must have a central and active role in the company and demonstrate that their stay in the U.S. would provide a significant public benefit through the cultivation of their business venture. The start-up must have been created in the U.S. within the preceding five years and have substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation. Applicants must also demonstrate that they have at least a 10% ownership interest in the company and that it received significant investment and/or grants within the preceding 18 months. Such investment may be shown in one of three ways: (1) at least $250,000 invested by qualified U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents; (2) at least $100,000 in qualified government awards or grants for economic development or job creation; or (3) the entity partially satisfies one or both of the above criteria and can present reliable and compelling evidence of substantial potential for rapid growth.
Upon approval, foreign entrepreneurs are eligible to be paroled into the U.S. for an initial period of 30 months (2.5 years), followed by a potential 30-month period of re-parole if the business is growing. Parole is not a visa, but a grant of authorized stay in the U.S. for a limited time and purpose. Parole may be granted to as many as three entrepreneurs per start-up entity, as well as their spouses and children. If granted, entrepreneurs may only work for the designated start-up company.