Tensions Rise in Silicon Valley Over Trump Decision

Silicon Valley is reeling over a decision this week by the Trump administration to delay and most likely kill a new avenue for entrepreneurs to come to the U.S.

The International Entrepreneurship Rule, which the Obama administration set in motion, was supposed to go into effect this month.

It would have allowed entry into the U.S. of as many as 3,000 foreign entrepreneurs annually for 30-month stays. To qualify, applicants would have to show they would create U.S. jobs and had reputable sources ready to invest $250,000 in their businesses.

This week, the Trump administration said it was delaying the implementation of the rule until March 2018 with the expectation that it would be rescinded.

Even though the administration’s decision was widely anticipated, it still came as a blow to the tech industry.

‘Clearly a mistake’

Silicon Valley leaders frequently tout immigrant founders as key to the region’s success. Many hoped that President Donald Trump, who spoke about finding ways to attract high-skilled talent to the U.S. as a candidate, would allow the Obama-era rule to be implemented.

“This is clearly a mistake,” said Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a tech-industry-backed group focused on immigration reform. He said more than 300,000 jobs would have been created by the program. The rule would have been “an economic win-win-win,” he said.  

Some tech executives argue that the entrepreneurship rule would have given the U.S. a boost at a critical time. Silicon Valley has to compete with other regions around the world that are building strong digital economies, they say, and it may one day lose its spot as the top global tech draw. Countries such as Canada and France currently offer special avenues for entrepreneurs.

“If we don’t encourage entrepreneurs to come here from around the globe, they’ll go elsewhere,” said Kate Mitchell, a venture capitalist and past chair of the National Venture Capital Association. “That may be a benefit to the rest of the globe. But it will be a loss to Silicon Valley where there happens to be a special mix between capital and risk taking and understanding what it takes to build great companies.”

Canada has been actively recruiting U.S. tech talent. Last year, it launched a “Go North” campaign with events in San Francisco and Seattle. Last week, the Ottawa government enacted a new visa program that allows companies to bring foreign workers to the country within two weeks.

Critics of the U.S. rule say that Washington should create a legitimate avenue for foreign-born entrepreneurs and not rely on an exception that effectively grants newcomers “parole” from formally entering the U.S., a route that would not lead to citizenship.

In its filing, the administration said it needed to reconcile the entrepreneurship rule with a January executive order that spells out how the Department of Homeland Security can grant parole only on “a case-by-case basis” and only when “an individual demonstrates urgent humanitarian reasons or a significant public benefit derived from such parole.”

“The International Entrepreneur Rule has sometimes been referred to as an entrepreneur visa or startup visa, which is inaccurate,” said a spokesman with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. “Only Congress can create a new visa program, and it has not done so.”

‘We can do better’

Russell Harrison, director of government relations at IEEE-USA, a group that represents American tech workers, said he “sheds no tears with the demise of the rule.”

But Harrison added that the administration should do something to help entrepreneurs get to the United States.

“We have to let them into the country as citizens, not as parolees,” he said. “If we are counting on these people to create jobs for hundreds of Americans, we can do better than that.”

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