The International Entrepreneur Rule (IER) is a policy instrument that creates a path for foreign entrepreneurs to remain in the U.S. while launching a company. IER allows foreign entrepreneurs to obtain a U.S. visa to work in the country for up to five years so long as their startup attracts at least $250,000 in U.S. venture capital, hires at least 10 employees or meets other benchmarks.
Under IER, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may use its parole authority to grant a period of authorized stay on a case-by-case basis to foreign entrepreneurs who demonstrate that their stay in the U.S. would provide a significant public benefit through their business venture.
Under this rule, entrepreneurs granted parole may only work for their startup business. The entrepreneurs' spouses and children may also be eligible for parole. While spouses present in the U.S. may apply work authorization as parolees, children are not eligible to receive a work permit.
IER parole may be granted for up to three entrepreneurs per startup company.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
Entrepreneurs applying for IER parole must demonstrate that they:
- Possess a substantial ownership interest in a startup company created within the past five years in the United States that has substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation.
- Have a central and active role in the startup such that they are well-positioned to substantially assist with the growth and success of the business.
- Will provide a significant public benefit to the United States based on their role as an entrepreneur of the startup by showing that:
- The startup has received significant investment in capital from certain qualified U.S. investors with established records of successful investments;
- The startup has received significant awards or grants for economic development, research and development, or job creation (or other types of grants or awards typically given to startups) from federal, state, or local government entities that regularly provide such awards or grants to startup; or
- They partially meet either or both of the previous two requirements and provide additional reliable and compelling evidence of the startup’s substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation.
- Otherwise merit a favorable exercise of discretion.
A spouse or child of an entrepreneur applying for parole under this rule must demonstrate that he or she:
- Is independently eligible for parole based on significant public benefit or urgent humanitarian reasons; and
- Merits a favorable exercise of discretion.
2017: The Obama Administration proposed the International Entrepreneur Rule three days before President Obama’s term in office expired.
2017-2021: The Trump Administration opposed the program because it relies on parole, which allows the U.S. to let in foreigners without visas as long as there is a “significant public benefit.” The Administration published a notice saying it intended to terminate the program, but it never did. The program withered anyway because, according to media reports, entrepreneurs and investors interpreted the notice as a sign that the government would not approve their visa applications.
2021: In response to requests from venture capital firms, the Biden Administration is putting resources behind a program in order to create a pathway for foreign startup founders to move to or remain in the U.S. and grow their businesses.
From 2017 through 2019, USCIS received just 30 applications for the program and only one was approved. USCIS estimates that if the program were to be properly resourced and managed, about 3,000 foreign entrepreneurs would qualify each year, which would result in the creation of more than 100,000 new jobs over a decade.
On May 11, 2021, the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States still has not established a startup visa for entrepreneurs even though the idea enjoys broad bipartisan support. As a result, foreign entrepreneurs must apply through other types of visas. For example, foreign entrepreneurs have moved to the U.S utilizing student visas (Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX), family members (Pierre Omidyar, eBay), specialized workers (Adi Tatarko, Houzz), and refugees (Sergei Brin, Google).