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Bill Analysis: Let Immigrants Kickstart Employment Act

The Let Immigrants Kickstart Employment (LIKE) Act, or H.R. 4681, seeks to establish a new class of nonimmigrant visas for international entrepreneurs and essential employees affiliated with start-up entities. The proposed W visa would be available for individuals who possess an ownership interest in a start-up entity or play a central role in its management or operations.

U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-California) introduced the LIKE Act in the House of Representatives on July 26. As of August 30, it has been cosponsored by Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), Deborah K. Ross (D-North Carolina), James A. Himes (D- Connecticut), and Marie Newman (D-Illinois).

The LIKE Act would:

Attract and retain international entrepreneurs in the United States. Most international entrepreneurs come to the United States as students. However, international students face multiple bureaucratic hurdles when seeking to study and later work in the U.S., including the lack of an entrepreneurship-based visa pathway. In response to the restrictive U.S. immigration policies, some future CEOs, inventors, and researchers have looked to study elsewhere. At least 25 other countries have some version of a start-up visa, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, and Sweden. Unfortunately, the lack of start-up visas in the U.S. combined with the Covid-19 pandemic plummeted enrollment of international students by 43% between fall of 2019 and fall of 2020. These numbers are deeply concerning for the U.S. economy, particularly considering that international students are more likely to start businesses than U.S. citizens. The bill would create a W-1 visa — that can be extended for up to eight years — for international entrepreneurs with an ownership interest in a start-up entity.

Provide new immigration alternatives to high-skilled entrepreneurs. The United States needs international entrepreneurs’ creativity and hard work to increase knowledge and innovation and, therefore, advance America’s competitiveness. The LIKE Act would open a new immigration avenue for international entrepreneurs who have a central and active role in a U.S.-based start-up; possess at least a 10% ownership stake in the start-up; and demonstrate that —within the 18 months immediately preceding the W-1 visa application — the start-up received either an investment of at least $250,000 from one or more U.S. qualified investors or government awards or grants of at least $100,000.

Incentivize migration of high-skilled immigrant STEM workers to the United States. Reforming the U.S. immigration system is critically urgent to attract and retain immigrant workers specialized in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The United States faces a worrying deficit of STEM workers and will need the help of immigrants with STEM degrees to ensure America’s competitiveness. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the importance of attracting and retaining international talent, with foreign-born scientists and entrepreneurs playing critical roles in developing life-saving vaccines. As of 2021, immigrants make up 26% of the STEM workforce in the U.S. The LIKE Act would create a three-year W-2 visa for employees of a start-up entity who are essential to its operation or administration.

Create new immigration avenues for STEM workers. To tackle the deficit of STEM workers in the country, the U.S. cannot rely solely on its domestic workforce. Most STEM immigrant workers come to the United States as students. While international students have no guaranteed path to stay in the U.S. after graduation, they have a few possible options to work and remain in the United States. These limited options include using Optional Practical Training (OPT), petitioning for an H-1B nonimmigrant visa, or applying for a green card. The LIKE Act would create a new immigration alternative for international STEM workers who possess the knowledge, skills, or experience to substantially assist a start-up entity with the growth and success of its business.

Congress should pass the LIKE Act

The Let Immigrants Kickstart Employment Act is a step in the right direction to attract and retain international entrepreneurs and STEM workers in the United States. International entrepreneurs and STEM workers are critical for the U.S. economy. Recent research suggests that international entrepreneurs and STEM workers are fueling the next generation of high-growth U.S. companies, such as Moderna, Tesla, and eBay. This is no surprise considering that first- or second-generation immigrants founded 45% of high-tech companies on the 2019 Fortune 500 List. Moreover, half of U.S. private companies worth over $1 billion have founders who first came to the U.S. as international students.

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