With the Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote last week to pass S.744 on to the Senate floor, a new proposal for spurring immigrant entrepreneurship and innovation will be before Congress. Title IV, Subtitle H of the bill creates the INVEST visa (Investing in New Venture, Entrepreneurial Startups, and Technologies) for immigrant entrepreneurs. This new visa program would allow immigrant entrepreneurs to come to the United States, start businesses, and create jobs in America. There would be two types of INVEST visas. A nonimmigrant INVEST visa would be renewable provided certain initial investment, annual revenue, and job creation criteria are met within an initial three-year period. The immigrant version of the INVEST visa would have basically the same criteria just at higher thresholds. The committee also adopted an amendment that permanently authorizes the EB-5 Regional Center Program, which has created tens of thousands of American jobs and attracted over $1 billion in investments since 2006.
While we’ve heard little about the proposed entrepreneur visa programs amid the broader comprehensive immigration reform conversation, they are important to include due to the substantial contributions immigrant entrepreneurs make to the United States. Immigrant entrepreneurs have founded some of the most successful large businesses in the United States. And immigrant small business owners operate establishments in local communities from coast to coast and throughout America’s heartland.
The contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs and small business owners are clear. For example, the Fiscal Policy Institute reports that immigrant-owned small businesses employed 4.7 million people in 2007 and generated an estimated $776 billion in receipts. Immigrants make up 37 percent of restaurant owners and 43 percent of hotel and motel owners in communities across America. Furthermore, a report for the Partnership for a New American Economy shows that immigrants started 28 percent of all new U.S. businesses in 2011 but only accounted for 13 percent of the U.S. population, and the rate at which immigrants started new businesses grew by more than 50 percent from 1996 to 2011.
Amid the wealth of evidence on the positive benefits immigrant entrepreneurs bring to the United States, local places are beginning to take note and highlight these contributions. Cities across the Rust Belt and Midwest, for instance, are implementing various “welcoming” initiatives aimed at integrating immigrants and immigrant businesses into their communities. As these communities experience demographic change and native-born population decline, they’re seeking ways in which to attract immigrants to settle, start businesses, create jobs, and spur economic growth. Examples of such initiatives include Global Detroit, Welcome Dayton, Global Cleveland, Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, and the Chicago Office of New Americans, among others. As these programs recognize, immigrant business owners often play a critical role in helping revitalize local communities that may otherwise have succumbed to blight and decay. Ultimately, places of welcome are places that thrive. Welcoming initiatives throughout the country – from small towns to large metropolitan areas – are poised to encourage an environment where immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs can help reinvigorate aging populations, renew communities, and revitalize local economies.
While there is always room for improvement of proposed immigrant pathways, the INVEST visa represents progress for immigration and entrepreneurship. And while immigrant business owners may come through all immigrant channels, a visa program that effectively encourages and facilitates more entrepreneurship and job creation is economically beneficial.