By Brittany Thomas

Twitter: @immigrationista

Now is a great time to be an immigrant entrepreneur in America. Immigrants are natural entrepreneurs and USCIS is hoping to encourage and harness their energy by creating a new initiative that will increase the job creation potential of employment-based and high-skilled visa categories. They have dubbed this program Entrepreneurs in Residence ("EIR"), which is an initiative that uses policy efforts within the framework of existing immigration laws to promote and help grow the U.S. economy and American jobs. The new USCIS outlook on this valuable group may lead to new laws that fix the ill-fitting organization of current Federal laws and policies across the agency.

USCIS began by seeking external experts including entrepreneurs, business leaders, and academics to work in-house reviewing USCIS policies, practices and training. As one of the first federal agencies to embrace this tool for government innovation, USCIS has focused this inaugural initiative on foreign entrepreneurs and startup enterprises.

One word that the EIR team hopes to be known for is "pragmatic," which is a rarity in the world of immigration. The EIR team is focused on business realities and assesses current policies, practices, and training across a range of existing nonimmigrant visa categories used by entrepreneurs to provide pathways that are clear and consistent. Their work has led to a greater understanding within USCIS of the characteristics and challenges of foreign entrepreneurs.

The EIR team attempts to make the complicated world of immigration understandable and in many ways does so. The most visible change is the newly launched Entrepreneur Pathways web portal, which can be found here. The web portal provides information to immigrant entrepreneurs regarding the visa process and the different types of visas available to them. The layout and information is very user-friendly which is a refreshing change from the USCIS and National Visa Center websites. Of course, immigrants should always consider consulting with an attorney in order to submit a top quality application.

The EIR team has also focused on training officers who focus on entrepreneurs and the environment for startup companies and early-stage innovations. They have also modified Request for Evidence (RFE) templates for certain nonimmigrant visa categories to incorporate new sources of evidence related to entrepreneurs and startup companies into the adjudicative process.

USCIS has extended the EIR initiative through April 2013. The EIR team will continue to expand its work to existing immigrant visa pathways that may enable foreign entrepreneurs to create businesses and pursue a path to permanent residency in the U.S.

Hopefully, as Congress begins to consider comprehensive immigration reform, they will create a new visa specifically for this valuable group of immigrants to continue the momentum that is growing with these EIR developments.

About the author: Ms. Thomas received her B.A. from Pennsylvania State University in 2009, and her J.D. from the University of Tennessee in 2012 where she was Director of the College of Law's Pro Bono Program. Before coming to GKH, Ms. Thomas worked at several immigration non-profits and created the College of Law's U Visa Alternative Spring Break Program. She is a member of GKH's Immigration Group and focuses on all types of immigration matters including Deferred Action for DREAMers, family based immigration petitions, and employment based petitions. Ms. Thomas is committed to providing personalized, cost-effective immigration services.

This blog is not intended to create an attorney/client relationship or provide legal advice. Please contact the author if you have any questions or comments regarding the subject matter.