The rule had yet to make much of an impact. A spokesperson for USCIS said it has received about 12 applications for IER but hasn’t issued any final decisions. Brad Feld, an investor and an entrepreneur who advocates for a start-up visa, blamed the low numbers of applicants on the administration’s chilling actions. “Not surprisingly, the Trump White House stated relatively early on that they wanted to kill it. The second they did this, they made it unattractive to anyone, as the risk of it vanishing one day unexpectedly made it an extremely high-risk option,” he said. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy—if the current administration won’t support it, it’s not an attractive option.”
Along with IER’s folding, the Startup Act remains stuck—at least through this Congress. A bipartisan group of senators reintroduced the Startup Act last year, but the bill has gotten tied up in broader immigration politics. Neither party is willing to move on passing what they both want unless the Startup Act is bundled with either enhanced border security, for Republicans, or a pathway to legal residency, for Democrats, said John Dearie, the president of the Center for American Entrepreneurship. “Both insist on the ‘whole loaf’ rather than accepting half—and so nothing happens,” he added.
Meanwhile, since lawmakers in the U.S. first introduced the start-up visa eight years ago, other countries have followed their lead: Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, and the United Kingdom now all have versions of a start-up visa or other initiatives to bring in foreign workers.*
Silicon Valley may have written the script for how to build a start-up, but those practices are now global, said Natalie Novick, a sociologist and an ethnographer at the University of California at San Diego who studies start-up ecosystems around the world. Ten years ago, nearly 75 percent of the world’s venture-backed funding flowed into the United States; in 2017, the United States received 45 percent. Meanwhile, investment has grown enormously in Asia—especially in China, which now rivals the United States in VC funding and has three of the world’s five most valuable unicorns. India trails other countries in venture-capital flow, but when the United States denied Kunal Bahl, an Indian-born co-founder of the online retailer Snapdeal, an H-1B visa after he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, he returned to his home country and helped create more than 5,000 jobs with his new company.
As immigration reform remains at a standstill, and the Trump administration eyes even more restrictionist immigration policies, many in Silicon Valley are worried the United States is losing its competitive advantage—just what they were hoping to guard against with a start-up visa. In May, the Stanford Graduate School of Business’s career center hosted a “Working in Canada” event—organized largely because of student panic about jobs and visas, said Maria Pasos-Nuñez, the business school’s associate director for international-student career development. In addition to canceling the IER, the Trump administration has unveiled a new draft policy that may make it easier to force international students to leave if they’ve violated the terms of their visa. It also recently declared it wants to reform the popular practical-training program that gives foreign students a year or more to stay in the United States and work after college. Participation in the program grew by 400 percent among graduates with STEM degrees from 2008 to 2016, according to the Pew Research Center; it’s widely considered a pipeline that helps international students to eventually become U.S.-based entrepreneurs. While some people speculate the administration may eliminate the program altogether, Carissa Cutrell, a public-affairs officer for ICE, said the exact reforms to the program are still under discussion.