Editor’s Note: Kenya Wiley is a former counsel and senior policy adviser for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. She is the founder and CEO of the Fashion Innovation Alliance, a collective focused on public policy, access to capital, inclusion and innovation in fashion tech and beauty tech. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
As immigrant rights groups and activists continue to fight for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, another Obama-era immigration policy is quietly being dismantled by the Trump administration. The International Entrepreneur Rule, also known as the “startup visa,” which gives immigrants the chance to start businesses in the United States, now has an uncertain future.
The startup visa program was set to go into effect in July. But, just days before its implementation, the Department of Homeland Security abruptly decided to push back the program’s start date to March to give US Citizenship and Immigration Services time to review, and possibly cancel, the program.
The delay prompted the National Venture Capital Association, entrepreneurs and startup companies to file a lawsuit against DHS in September, which resulted in a federal court ruling that the program must be implemented in December. Now, however, DHS has proposed to repeal it altogether.
The startup visa was intended to allow a path for immigrant startup founders to work in the United States for 2½ years, with the possibility to renew. It was structured to include criteria ensuring that immigrant startup founders permitted to work here would provide a “significant public benefit” to the United States, requiring proof of capital investment from US investors and job creation. But beyond the concrete benefits reaped through the program are the intangible cultural advantages that create thriving companies and foster innovative thought.
Diversity and inclusion are buzzwords common to many companies’ public relations campaigns. But real progress in diversity and inclusion involves more than head counts for race and gender; it takes into account geography, culture and the specialized knowledge and skills of people with diverse backgrounds. Immigrant founders are a cornerstone of building this authentic inclusion.
As founder of the Fashion Innovation Alliance, I’ve experienced firsthand the benefits of working with startups and enterprise companies from around the globe. The inclusiveness and cross-disciplinary exchange typical of the innovative companies I’ve worked with in fashion, tech and retail not only help harness creativity, but they also lead to investments and technological advancements that drive the global economy. Winning company culture of this kind is more easily achieved when US immigration policy reflects these values.
Billion dollar startups founded by immigrant entrepreneurs continue to help advance the US economy, but immigrant entrepreneurs have also played a key role in helping enterprise companies expand and remain relevant in the current tech revolution.
Neutrogena’s partnership with artificial intelligence startup FitSkin is a case in point. As more global beauty brands integrate tech tools to increase sales, FitSkin’s Canadian founder is helping Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena brand stay competitive in the beauty innovation market.
The companies co-developed a mobile app and phone accessory duo that collects and compiles data on consumers’ skin to provide personalized skin care regimen guidance. Though Neutrogena is already a well-established company, a clear visa path for international entrepreneurs will facilitate future collaborations that can bring fresh ideas to American startups in their infancies. The startup visa program paves that path.
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When the startup visa delay was announced in July, I reached out to an immigration attorney and asked if she planned to submit public comments in opposition to the program’s delay. She wasn’t sure if the comments would have any effect on the Trump administration’s decision, but nevertheless, I knew it was important for those who knew the benefit of international collaboration to make our opinions known.
Activism can take many different forms – from organized protests and rallies to public participation via submitting comments on proposed rule changes. For the health of innovation in the United States, it is critical that our voices are heard, and that we follow up and keep pushing until we effect real change. The future of American startups depends on it.