*This article is also featured on Huffington Post.
Tahmina Watson (‘TW’) is an immigration attorney and founder of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle, Washington. She was a practicing barrister in London, U.K, before immigrating to the United States. A frequent speaker and blogger on immigration-law matters, she is author of The Startup Visa: Key to Job Growth & Economic Prosperity in America. Tahmina writes a column for The Seattle Globalist and is host of the talk show, “Immigration with Tahmina,” which airs on the Seattle South Asian radio station Desi 1250 AM. Hon. Pauline Truong (GlobePreneurs – ‘GP’) recently spoke to Tahmina Watson regarding immigration reform, the Start-Up visa and the newly proposed rule for International Entrepreneurs.
GP: Can you please share with us your immigration story?
TW: I am an immigrant from the United Kingdom. In 2005, I married a U.S citizen and later applied for my green card and subsequently, for citizenship. Growing up in London, I never dreamed of becoming an American. But America afforded me opportunities that made many of my dreams come true. In the moment I became a naturalized U.S. citizen, I realized I had achieved the American Dream.
I was a practicing barrister in the U.K and once in the U.S., I took the bar exams and virtually fell into the practice of immigration in 2006. Among my growing list of clients were many smart, entrepreneur-minded young people who had wonderful ideas for starting new businesses and many questions about whether existing immigration laws could accommodate them. Then, during the 2008-09 recession, I began receiving calls from immigrant workers in the tech-heavy Seattle market who were losing their jobs. There simply wasn’t a good solution for those who wanted to remain in the U.S. and start their own companies, if they were dependent on investor funding. I was encouraged when the first Startup Visa Act was introduced in Congress in 2009, recognizing it as the best solution for my clients. I immediately became an advocate. I founded Watson Immigration Law in January of that same year.
GP: How can the Start-Up Visa keep the U.S. in the global entrepreneurship race?
TW: There are a number of reasons why we need a Start-up Visa. Firstly, students from around the world come to the U.S to be educated and trained in the best schools. But once they graduate, they are unable to put their skills to work in the world’s largest consumer market because of a lack of visa options. So many of them return to their home countries, where they start new companies, generating new jobs and revenue. We essentially create our own competition.
Secondly, with modern technology, entrepreneurs can create new companies anywhere in the world. A Startup Visa would enable them to start those companies in the U.S., contributing to our local economy. Absent a visa, fixing our current immigration laws to recognize modern-day approaches to business creation would make it easier for them to do that.
Statistics show that 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Companies like PayPal and EBay as well as Yahoo are examples of companies with immigrant founders that have contributed not only to the U.S economy but to our very way of life. Even more can be accomplished with a Startup Visa.
GP: How does the effect of USCIS Proposed International Entrepreneur Rule (to Spur Innovation and Job Creation) compare to the Start-Up Act, if it were enacted?
TW: While we have had many variations of the Startup Visa Act in Congress since 2009, lawmakers have repeatedly failed to approve legislation. As a result, President Obama included in his immigration executive action announcement in November 2014, a provision that would allow entrepreneurs to enter the U.S. under certain conditions.
On August 26th this year, the rule was finally published and is open for comments until October 17th. It is based on an existing law known as ‘parole’ which traditionally has been used for humanitarian reasons. However, parole can also be issued for ‘significant public benefit’ and it is that prong that’s being applied to International Entrepreneurs. A summary can be found at this link.
The rule does not create a new visa, unfortunately; only Congress can do that. It does, however, create a new path of entry for entrepreneurs who want to come to the U.S. to create a business or continue building ones alongside U.S-based co-founders. That is a huge benefit given the lack of options available to them now. It does need some adjusting to be fully effective, but I trust the administration will take note of comments and edit it accordingly.
Should the rule be implemented, officials anticipate 3,000 parole applications will be filed and thousands of new American jobs will be created. And it will help demonstrate why entrepreneurs are an invaluable asset to our economy. Many countries have already recognized this and as a result have made a Startup Visa part of their own economic strategies. Australia became the latest to do so last month.
GP: Do you envision reform in the Start–Up/Entrepreneurial Visa area even if comprehensive immigration reform remains unlikely in the current political climate?
TW: The Startup Visa has always enjoyed bipartisan support. However, the subject of immigration brings out raw emotions that can be politically divisive. Given the history we have seen on this issue since 2009, it is unlikely an independent Startup Visa bill will pass Congress.
However, should the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, get elected in November, we have a strong chance for comprehensive immigration reform, which will include a Startup Visa. Clinton has promised to introduce a bill for immigration reform within her first 100 days in office. Her tech plan, recently unveiled in the Silicon Valley, specifically includes a Startup Visa.
GP: What is your advice for @GlobePreneurs who wish to advocate for immigration reform and support the Start-Up Visa Act?
TW: There is no substitute for an actual Startup Visa. Advocacy is critical to ensuring we get our voices heard. If your founder is a U.S citizen or legal permanent resident, then ask him or her to call his or her Senator or Congressional representative and explain why a Startup Visa is crucial. Secondly, share your personal story. The stories of immigrants have the power to inspire and educate people around why the laws need to change.