By: Caroline Murphy
There has been a lot of talk on the news, during the presidential debates, and in
the House and Senate, on immigration law reform to handle foreign talent entering the United States labor market. While candidates shout out their proposals and news outlets discuss the issue on a daily basis, American academic institutions have been quietly operating in the background to provide foreign entrepreneurs entry into the country to drive technological innovation in the United States market.
WHY IT’S A HOT ISSUE
As democratic and republican presidential candidates travel to communities throughout the United States to win the hearts of voters, several candidates are discussing how they will improve immigration laws in the United States if they are elected to be President. At the forefront of these candidate discussions on immigration law is the H-1B skilled visa program. The H-1B Visa program provides employers in the United States to hire foreign nationals from outside the country who have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience in a specialty occupation such as science, technology, engineering and math. Republican candidate Donald Trump proposes to further restrict the current H-1B visa program, which only grants 65,000 regular H-1B visas a year to employers who are subject to the cap. Other candidates oppose Trump’s policies on the H-1 visa program. Presidential candidates, like Marc Rubio and the potential third party candidate Michael Bloomberg, propose to expand the H-1B visa program to bring in more foreign talent who make up a significant percentage of the American workforce driving technological innovation within the United States. The current immigration laws do not provide enough visas for employers to hire foreign nationals with specialized skills in technology. Last year, U.S. employers sponsored 233,000 foreigners to apply for an H-1B visa to be lawfully admitted into the United States to work for the employer for a certain set of years. Of the 233,000 applications, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services granted only 65,000 of the regular H-1B visa applications subject to the cap. Most U.S. employers are subject to the cap, so a large percentage of employers are denied visas to hire the foreign nationals with the specialized skills in technology they are looking for to become or remain competitive on the global market.
UNIVERSITIES STEPPING UP TO THE PLATE
Higher education institutions, non-profit organizations, and government research
organizations are the only employers not subject to the H-1B cap. H-1B cap exempt employers are granted a limitless number of H-1B visas. Unlike most employers, these institutions do not have to worry about USCIS denying foreign talent into their workforce. Universities, non-profits and government research employers can be granted H-1B visas after the 65,000 cap is filled in April of each year with the option to sponsor foreign nationals for an H-1B visas at any time of the year. Universities recognize the influence they can have in the U.S. technology market with the H-1B cap exemption. Current immigration laws do not provide a specific visa for foreign entrepreneurs to remain in the United States to create tech start ups despite the fact that immigrants make up a significant percentage of the founders of technology companies in venture capital hub spots like Silicon Valley. The visa programs available to foreigners prevent many entrepreneurs from bringing their talents to drive technological innovation in the United States. First, the H-1B visa program was created for employees rather than founders of startups. Second, several entrepeneurs that began start ups as a student at an American university on the student visa program had to take their startups outside the United States when their legal status expired upon graduating. Third, the high demand and low supply of H-1B visas subject to the cap have denied many entrepreneurs entry to bring their innovation into the United States. Academic institutions are responding to these weaknesses in the current immigration laws by taking matters into their own hands by providing foreign entrepeneurs H-1B visas under the institution’s H-1B cap exempt status. In recent months, universities like City University of New York (CUNY) have created programs to sponsor foreign entrepreneurs for H-1B visas to create technology start ups in the United States. On February 18, 2016, The City University of New York (CUNY) and the New York City Economic Development Corporation announced the launch of the International Innovators Initiative (IN2NYC) in partnership with Immigraiton Solution Grourp, PLLC. The IN2NYC program will provide eighty international entrepreneurs work under the academic institution’s program to build start up technology business, or to continue to build the start up that he or she began while studying in the United States on a student visa. Prior to the launch of IN2NYC, University of Massachusetts at Boston and the University of Colorado at Boulder partnered with the Global Entrepreneur in Residence Coalition to retain foreign talent by securing H-1B visas for entrepreneurs in technology related fields. After the launch of programs like IN2NYC and the Global Entrepreneur in Residence Coalition, more universities are likely to create similar partnership programs in order support the important role foreign entrepreneurs play in driving technological innovation in the United States.
Caroline Murphy is a Staff Member of the Journal of High Technology Law. She is a 3L at Suffolk University Law School with an interest in Business Immigration Law. She holds a B.A. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Caroline is currently President of Suffolk University Law School’s Immigration Law Association.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.