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White House Proposes Loosening Restrictions For Immigrant Entrepreneurs


Trying to start a new business is tough enough. Doing it while navigating U.S. immigration laws is even tougher. Some Silicon Valley business leaders have complained that immigration laws for foreign-born, high-tech workers effectively discourage them from starting new businesses or innovating here in the U.S. The Obama administration is trying to change that with a new proposal called the International Entrepreneur Rule, and we dig into that in today's All Tech Considered.


CORNISH: Nitin Pachisia is co-founder of Unshackled Ventures, a venture capital firm that exclusively funds immigrant entrepreneurs. And he is an immigrant from India.

Welcome to the program.

NITIN PACHISIA: Thank you. Glad to be here.

CORNISH: Now, I understand that you came to the U.S. in 2005 on an HB1 (ph) visa for skilled employees. It's a popular visa in the tech industry.

What happened when you tried to start your own company in the U.S.? How difficult was that?

PACHISIA: The first thing, when I spoke with immigration attorneys - I was told was I cannot do this because I'm - I cannot start my own company because I'm on the H-1B visa. That led me to talk to a number of other attorneys to find a way to be able to do it. And I had to stay in my day job and maintain that while working on my startup concept nights and weekends, until I was in a position to quit my job and be able to legally stay in the country.

CORNISH: Now, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. What do you say to Americans who are thinking, do immigrants really need help in this regard, seems like they're breaking into the business world just fine?

PACHISIA: A lot of these companies were formed before the 2007 timeframe. What's shifted in 2007 was it took much longer to get to permanent residency, which when you get to permanent residency, you're free from the conditions of visa.

I came to U.S. in 2005. I'm still on my H-1B, and I'm years away from becoming a permanent resident.

CORNISH: So do you know anyone who's actually decided to open up their company in another country because of U.S. immigration laws?

PACHISIA: I think one of the most popular examples is a company called Snapdeal, where the founders were at Microsoft and had to leave U.S. because they couldn't do this here and went to India and have created one of the largest e-commerce companies in the world.

Personally, I know a number of founders who left U.S. to go to New Zealand or Singapore or Canada to start their companies because they were more welcome or the immigration policies there were more welcoming to entrepreneurs. And they all want to come back and do this in Silicon Valley. But they couldn't find a way to do this here.

CORNISH: That was my next question. I mean, given the capital - the venture capital, given the culture of Silicon Valley and the market there, is the U.S. really going to lose business to other countries? It seems like part of it is kind of locked into the place itself.

PACHISIA: There is a lot of attraction. And that's why I think we bring in the top talent from all over the world. The culture and the ecosystem that we have throughout the U.S., not just Silicon Valley, is beyond comparison anywhere else in the world.

But if the founder is forced to spend an inordinate amount of their time dealing with immigration policy, they will have to find an alternative way. And that's why some of these founders either left the country or they decided to stay as employees at big corporations. And what that does is, as a country, we end up losing opportunities of job creation because these talent people wanted to quit their jobs and start companies which create tons of jobs.

CORNISH: Now, this startup rule from the White House - applicants have to show that they've raised at least $345,000 from U.S. investors. And they also have to have a certain amount of indication that they're going to hire X amount of workers - right? - show that they're going to grow.

How do you think this rule is really going to make a difference? It has pretty narrow perimeters.

PACHISIA: We don't think every startup will fall into meeting the criteria laid out by this International Entrepreneur Rule. But we think this is one more pathway that founders who meet the criteria can use. It's not a fix-all solution, but it's a step in the right direction.

CORNISH: Nitin Pachisia, thank you so much for speaking with us.

PACHISIA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.