Universities, in their traditional roles, aim to equip students with all the tools necessary to forge successful careers upon graduating. Many of these students—including the hundreds of thousands of foreign students who study at U.S. universities—will opt to bring these tools to startup-friendly cities like San Francisco, New York, and Boston.
But some universities have embraced a program that enables students to bring the startup culture right to their college towns. It’s called the global entrepreneur-in-residence program (Global EIR), and it allows foreign students with business ideas to build their companies in the U.S. after graduation.
Capitalizing on elite foreign students with business ideas has a wide array of benefits. Not only is it a way to create new jobs, but it helps spread elite international talent outside of major innovation hubs like San Francisco and New York.
The U.S. educates hundreds of thousands of foreign students annually. However, our immigration system lacks accessible work options for these graduates. The high-skilled visa, the H-1B, is given to just 85,000 immigrants per year, despite annual demand of 250,000 visas in recent years— a demand that is usually met before the end of the first week applications are open. Although there are 94 available types of visas, options are very limited for entrepreneurs trying to build U.S.-based businesses.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted several “cases in which entrepreneurs attempting to establish very early-stage technology start-ups were unable to obtain H-1B or other work visas for themselves and either relocated the project abroad or had to abandon the start-up.”
This failure results in the loss of talent, wasted resources, and reduced productivity.
Aside from potentially losing the economic benefits we could get from new companies, we also risk making it easier for other countries to take advantage of talent that was fostered in United States. In fact, twelve other countries have start-up visas for entrepreneurial immigrants—including France, which recently announced plans to launch its new program. Yet legislation to provide similar visas in the U.S. has repeatedly failed.
Take the case of Kunal Bahl. A Wharton graduate, Bahl started working at Microsoft after graduating. However, due to visa issues, he was left with no choice but to leave the U.S. Bahl subsequently founded Snapdeal, which employs thousands of people, and is now valued at over $6.5 billion. Our broken immigration system essentially pushed this valuable company overseas.
However, global EIR programs that offer new possibilities to international students that study at American schools, can potentially prevent cases similar to Bahl’s to happen again.
A little known fact about the H-1B program is that universities and other institutions are exempted from the total cap. Therefore, Global EIR programs can legally offer foreign graduates the ability to teach and mentor at the school part-time, triggering the exemption, and allowing them to spend the rest of their time building their business.
Fifteen universities across six states, including Alaska and Missouri, currently have Global EIR programs, and nearly 30 more universities are considering launching their own. Students from sixteen different countries, from Nigeria to Peru, are utilizing this option. In less than two years, global EIR programs have helped 24 companies get off the ground in less.
Global EIR is unique for two main reasons. First, companies are wary of investing in new ideas if they are spearheaded by someone who does not yet have a visa, is currently in the application process, or who is authorized to only stay in the U.S. for a short while. By removing risk associated with visas, the private sector can focus solely on the opportunities associated with early-stage startup funding.
Secondly, global EIR programs provide university towns new jobs for local American workers. They will benefit from the entrepreneurs’ business acumen through new jobs and products, and lower prices for goods and services. Some EIR programs have signed collaboration agreements with their schools to ensure internship and job opportunities are delivered to local students.
Additionally, these programs give students at participating universities access to new company founders, and prepares them to join the innovation economy. This, in turn, amplifies the culture of entrepreneurship and innovation on campus.
The private sector already has processes to identify and invest in successful startups, but cannot actually offer visas. The government can offer visas and wants to empower job creation but doesn’t take investment chances on early stage ventures. Global entrepreneur-in-residence programs fuse the two together, creating a powerful public-private partnership that fosters job creation for locals, while giving recent graduates mentorship and networking skills.
We need to overhaul the current immigration infrastructure that turns away job creators and future business leaders. Launching programs that cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship on campus and benefit the American people in local economies is one way to do it.
Note: Craig Montuori, Executive Director of the Global EIR Coalition, co-authored this post.