Silicon Valley Helps Streamline the Immigration Process

PHOTO: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services launched a website that aims to ease the immigration process for entrepreneurs.

The U.S. government is trying to make it easier for foreign-born entrepreneurs to start businesses and work in the United States.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services launched a website on Wednesday at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship in Cambridge, Massachusetts that aims to ease the immigration process for entrepreneurs.

The site is the result of months of collaboration between immigration officials, including USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, and entrepreneurs. Described by a USCIS spokesperson as a "one-stop shop" where would-be immigrant entrepreneurs can learn about the application process and what documents are required, the site does not alter immigration procedure in any way. It simply aims to "close the information gap between USCIS and the entrepreneurial community," according to the USCIS website.

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"Through our innovative Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative, we are working to realize our current immigration system's full potential to attract and retain startup enterprises that promote innovation and spur job creation in America," Mayorkas said in a statement.

The initiative was launched earlier this year in Silicon Valley, California and pays special attention to the unique situation of entrepreneurs working under somewhat temporary, at least initially, conditions. For example, the new site clarifies that in some instances, a letter from a business incubator program verifying that an entrepreneur is participating satisfies certain documentation requirements.

Paul Ford, vice president of strategic and community development and chief ecosystem builder at Texas-based SoftLayer Technologies, an independent internet hosting company, works with startups and entrepreneurs "to get a leg up with getting crazy technology ideas off the ground."

Even with high unemployment and people struggling to find jobs, companies, especially those in the science and technology fields, often have trouble finding qualified employees.

Ford says he knows firsthand the frustration company executives feel because they have difficulty "getting high-level tech talent into the system."

"There are so many entrepreneurs that want to be part of the ecosystem," he said, adding that he decided to participate after discussing with a venture capitalist friend the "pain" both foreign startup entrepreneurs and tech companies experience as they navigate the immigration process.

Ford participated in the discussion and gave input on how the site should ultimately look.

"I'm really pleased to see how far we've come," he said. While USCIS ensured that the content was accurate and up to legal standards, Ford praised the agency for "letting us run with what it should look like and how it should flow."

The site, called "Entrepreneur Pathways," is divided into three sections – getting started, which provides general information about the immigration process; visa guide, which details different ways of immigrating to the United States; and outreach, which provides a way for people to comment on immigration issues specifically related to foreign-born entrepreneurs.

About 300 USCIS employees have received training in California and Vermont on helping entrepreneurs understand the immigration process, and training is scheduled for officers in Texas and Nebraska. The training will eventually be taught at the USCIS training academy in Dallas.

"This stuff isn't really rocket science," Ford said. "It was just, 'How do we streamline this process?' If we can get more entrepreneurs in the country…it fosters an ecosystem that will bring us up and keep us running."

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