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The International Entrepreneur Rule: What It Is, How We Got Here, and the Possibilities for the Future

Paul Monson
Updated 26.03.24 9 minutes read
ImmigrationIndustry InsightsJoorney Updates

Within the business immigration community, it is common knowledge that some of the United States’ most successful companies are founded by immigrant entrepreneurs. This impressive roster of immigrant-founded companies includes Tesla, Google, and eBay to name a few. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Joorney is founded by immigrants, and, believe it or not, our origin story involves a career-changing soccer tackle in Miami.

Surprisingly, despite the important role that innovative immigrants have played in the growth of our country, The United States still doesn’t have an Entrepreneur or Start-up Visa. However, the recently revived International Entrepreneur Rule (IER) does get us one step closer.

What Is the IER and How Did It Get Its Start?

Often referred to as the “entrepreneur visa”, the IER isn’t a visa at all. It is actually a parole program administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As a parole program, it allows DHS to waive people into the country under certain circumstances to do specific things. In the case of the IER, it’s someone who is applying to actively work on the launch and growth of a start-up that will provide significant public benefit to the United States.

If you’ve been following the IER’s development closely, you know there has been a great deal of back and forth on this program. After years of chatter, the IER was officially announced during the final days of the Obama administration in January 2017, but later that same month, under the Trump administration, the rule was called into question. Before it could go into effect, scheduled for July 2017, the IER was frozen and finally, in May 2018, DHS officially proposed its removal.

The full timeline of the IER is far more expansive but, after a turbulent history and lying dormant for three years, it was officially reinstated on May 10, 2021.

So, how does this program change the current business immigration landscape and why is it so exciting?

A Start-up Immigration Option is Needed To Fill a Gap in the Current Immigration Landscape

In part, the IER is such welcomed news because it fills a glaring gap in the current business immigration landscape. There are a number or great options that contribute to the U.S. being consistently recognized as one of the best countries for entrepreneurs. Yet, there has been no direct path to immigration for start-up founders.

Here’s some of the workarounds the U.S. currently has for founders and entrepreneurs working with a start-up venture:

  • E-2 visas for investors with existing funds,
  • EB-5 program for investors who are looking to start or invest in a business and have their own capital,
  • L-1A visa for a new office for someone expanding an existing office into the U.S., which is an entrepreneurial endeavor but coming from an existing company,
  • H-1B visa that may be used by someone to work on a start-up, but they need to be sponsored by that start-up and meet certain wage requirements that may simply not be feasible for a truly early-stage company, and
  • O-1 visa that may be used to sponsor founders, though it’s a relatively hard one to get.

In reviewing these current options, it becomes clear that while there are many business immigration visas available, one specifically meant to attract innovative start-up founders is lacking.

The IER closes this gap by creating a program meant just for start-up founders. The IER includes a list of requirements that specifically address the indicators of a successful founder and start-up venture, without the extraneous requirements under the visas listed above.

So let’s jump into these “startup visa” eligibility requirements.

What are the Eligibility Requirements for the IER and What is the Duration of Parole?

Ultimately, who is admitted will be considered on a case-by-case basis by DHS. But there are three basic eligibility requirements:

  • The entity must be established in the United States in the last 5 years and have the potential for rapid growth and job creation.
  • The applicant must have a significant ownership interest (minimum 10%) in the business, have an active and central role in the business, and have the background and skills to be successful in the role.
  • The entity must have investments from established U.S. investors, government grants, or be able to otherwise prove that they have the means for rapid growth and job creation.

Founders who successfully demonstrate they meet these requirements may be granted parole for up to 30 months. If at the end of the initial parole period it can be demonstrated that the company is providing significant benefit, creating jobs, and has the potential to continue doing so, re-parole may be granted for up to an additional 30 months.

Although this program can allow a founder up to a 5-year stay in the United States, it is still not a path to permanent residency or citizenship. If this is the goal, founders will need to find another immigration option under which to apply while they are in the country working on the start-up.

Joorney Celebrates and Supports Business Immigration and New Opportunities for Start-Ups

So, for the time being, the IER is a welcome addition to allow truly early-stage entrepreneurs to come to the U.S., grow their businesses, and contribute to the economy. Further, though it would require Congress to create a new visa program, this might turn into something more official in the future.

In the meantime, Joorney is here to provide business plans, pitch decks, market research, financial models, and more for entrepreneurs looking to start or expand their business. Whether you need documents to appeal to potential investors, apply for grants, or to strengthen an immigration application for the IER, E-2, EB-5 program, or more, our diverse and highly skilled team of business experts can give you the edge you need. Contact us to learn more!