If you’ve got a great idea for a start-up and access to U.S. funding to kick it off, you’ll be glad to know that the international entrepreneur parole program is back in action.
For more than half a decade, a program created to give foreign nationals with an entrepreneurial spirit an opportunity to build and grow businesses in the U.S. has been on pause. Now, in another turn of events, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced the revival of the international entrepreneur parole program (IEPP), which allows the USCIS to give “parole” — the official term for permission to enter and stay in the U.S. — on a case-by-case basis to foreign nationals with strong plans for business ventures and a significant investment from a qualified investor.
What is the international entrepreneur parole program?
This little-known program, initiated in the latter days of President Obama’s second term, was put on hold — and moved toward removal — by the Trump administration. The IEP program recognizes that creativity and hard work come from all over the world; at the same time, it recognizes that the U.S. is a rich soil where many start-ups take root, and the combination of great ideas and infrastructure can be mutually beneficial.
Unlike investor visas, which require those who want to live and work in the U.S. to put up the funds themselves or be an employee of a treaty investor, the IEP program allows for entrepreneurs to have secured funding from other qualified sources, removing a significant barrier for many enterprising spirits who want to call the U.S. home for a while.
The IEP program is a temporary and discretionary parole program, not a path to permanent residency. This means that approved applicants are simply being given temporary permission to live and work in the United States which can be renewed.
Who qualifies, and under what conditions?
Under the IEPP program, parole can be granted for up to three entrepreneurs per start-up, who will be eligible to work only for their business, not any other. The IEP program allows foreign entrepreneurs to include their spouses and children in their applications as well. As part of the parole benefits, spouses may apply for employment authorization in the United States, but entrepreneurs’ children are not eligible for work authorization under the IEP program.
The IEP program allows entrepreneurs and their families up to five years of parole, but the initial approval period is 30 months. After the initial approval period, you need to reapply for the remaining 30 months if you wish to continue working with your start-up in the U.S.
In order to prove eligibility for the IEP program, entrepreneurs must be able to provide evidence that they
- Possess at least 10% ownership in a start-up entity that is no more than five years old and has potential for rapid growth and job creation
- Play a central, active role in the start-up, and that they are well positioned to play a role in the start-up’s growth and success
- Provide a significant public benefit to the U.S. as an entrepreneur
If you want to be eligible for international entrepreneur parole, it’s not as simple as having an attractive business plan. When it comes to the business venture itself, the key lies in your ability to provide hard evidence of success with either
- A qualified investment in the 18 months immediately preceding the filing of your application of at least $250,000 from one or more qualified investors, or
- One or more qualified government awards or grants totaling at least $100,000 within the 18 months immediately preceding the filing of your application
If your start-up partially meets one or both of the previous two requirements, you may provide additional “reliable and compelling evidence” of your start-up’s potential for rapid growth and job creation, which must include
- A substantial level of investment (although less than $250,000), or
- A substantial level of government funding (although less than $100,000)
Moreover, you must demonstrate that that the investor has, during the 5 years prior to the date of filing your application for parole based on an investment from such individual or organization:
(1) Made investments in other U.S. business entities in exchange for equity or convertible debt or other security convertible into equity commonly used in financing transactions within their respective industries comprising a total in such 5-year period of no less than $600,000; and
(2) Subsequent to such investment by such individual or organization, at least 2 such entities each created at least 5 qualified jobs or generated at least $500,000 in revenue with average annualized revenue growth of at least 20%.
Furthermore, you need to “otherwise merit a favorable exercise of discretion” when it comes to the review of your application. Keep in mind that international entrepreneur parole is granted on a case-by-case basis, so the stronger a case to the U.S. government that you, your spouse, and your children meet the criteria, the better your chance of your application being approved.
Finally, as a condition of entrepreneur parole, you must maintain household income that is greater than 400% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines as defined by the Department of Health and Human Services. Failure to comply with this, or any other condition of parole, may result in a termination of your parole.
How does one apply to the international entrepreneur parole program?
To apply for parole into the U.S. through the IEPP, you need to file Form I-941 to request consideration for parole for yourself.
If your Form I-941 application is approved, you must visit a U.S. consulate abroad to obtain travel documentation (e.g., a boarding foil) before appearing at a U.S. port of entry for a final parole determination. A Canadian national traveling directly from Canada to a U.S. port of entry may present an approved Form I-941 at the port of entry without first obtaining travel documentation.
To complete the application process, you will need to make sure you properly provide
- Application signatures
- Filing fees
Each entrepreneur applying on behalf of a start-up — up to the three-person limit — must complete a separate application. In addition, your qualifying spouse or children need to file Form I-131 to apply to accompany you. Their applications may be filed at the same time or separately.
The application for entrepreneur parole can be filed from within or outside of the U.S. If you are outside the U.S. when you apply for parole through the IEP program, once approved, you may request parole at any U.S. port of entry after arriving from outside the U.S.
How can an attorney help when applying for the International Entrepreneur Parole Program?
The IEP program allows many different kinds of people to start successful businesses in the U.S. However, being successful as a start-up is an already competitive venture, and it’s possible that the same level of competition will translate to the IEP program.
Notice all the times words like “certain,” “substantial,” “qualified,” “significant,” “reliable,” and “compelling” are used in the eligibility requirements. It’s not enough to decide on your own interpretation of those words. In some cases, USCIS has already decided on what that criteria looks like for entrepreneur parole — you just have to dig through all the paperwork to find it. For example, did you know that you will not be approved for the IEP program if your seed money comes from a first-time investor?
Consulting with an immigration attorney is always a great way to get additional information. But with a virtually brand-new program like this one — with no way to crowdsource information about the best way to go about applying — speaking with someone who has experience working with USCIS is an especially important path toward your success.
For more information about the international entrepreneur parole program or similar employment-based visa options, like the E-2 visa for treaty investors and the L-1 visa for intra-company transfers, contact Farmer Law today.