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How foreign entrepreneurs are making it work

When an individual makes the choice to start their own company, they know from the outset that it will take a significant investment of time, money and energy. Indeed, as difficult as the process of forming a lucrative startup can be for the average U.S. citizen, it can be even more difficult for an immigrant.

That's because there are immigration laws to consider. Specifically, immigrant entrepreneurs generally don't have an employer to sponsor them, and there is really no such thing as a startup visa. 

Both of these realities make it almost impossible, say experts, to secure the necessary funding, as backers are hesitant to invest in an enterprise whose foreign-born founder has an uncertain immigration status.

Interestingly enough, some foreign entrepreneurs appear to have found a viable and perfectly legal solution to this problem -- the Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence program.

What is the Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence program?

The Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence program, first launched in Massachusetts in 2014, enables universities to sponsor foreign entrepreneurs for H-1B visas. As we've discussed on our blog, there is a cap on the number of these visas for highly skilled workers. However, this limit applies only to companies, not educational institutions.

In exchange for sponsoring a foreign entrepreneur, he or she provides services to the university, such as teaching courses, reviewing startup proposals of students and even serving as mentors.

Is the program popular?

When it first started in Massachusetts, the program had only two participants, but has since grown to over 24. Furthermore, it has since expanded to 14 universities in five other states -- Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois and Missouri.

The head of the Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence Coalition indicates that discussions are currently underway with potential university partners in Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

How does the federal government feel about this?

While the federal government has yet to take any action, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has expressed frustration with this notion of "hacking the immigration system."

Indeed, he penned a letter to U.S. Customs and Immigration Services last year calling the Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence a "cynical exploitation of loopholes in the law."

It will be interesting to see if any sort of crackdown is pursued or whether the program continues its expansion.

Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you have questions relating to the H-1B visa program or would like to learn more about other employment immigration matters.

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