USCIS announced the Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative at a meeting of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness in October 2011 and formally launched the initiative at a national stakeholder summit in Silicon Valley in February 2012. The initiative was spearheaded by USCIS, working in close coordination with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. USCIS was only the second Federal agency to embrace this tool for government innovation.
Reflecting on the last year, the EIR program has been a great success. By leveraging talent from the private sector and empowering government employees in an unprecedented way, the EIR initiative has proven to be an effective model to focus and address a critical challenge faced by government. In the coming months, USCIS intends to expand the EIR concept to a broader range of industries that it serves, including performing arts, health care, and information technology.
This webpage highlights the successes of the EIR program. We’ve also compiled a full report which details the evolution of EIR and measures its impact.
How it worked
USCIS recruited both startup experts from the private sector, using DHS’s Loaned Executive Program, and internal immigration experts from across the agency. Working within the framework of current immigration law, the team set out with the overarching goal of optimizing existing visa categories used by entrepreneurs to provide pathways that are clear, consistent, and aligned with business realities.
The USCIS EIR effort began as a 90-day sprint focused solely on nonimmigrant visa categories. To build on the initial successes achieved, the team volunteered to continue its work and recruited new internal experts to expand the focus of the project to relevant immigrant visa categories. Over the course of a year, the EIR team convened on a regular basis at USCIS headquarters in Washington, D.C., service centers in California, Vermont, Texas, and Nebraska, and at stakeholder engagements around the country.
What it did
The EIR team worked collaboratively to develop the most effective solutions for USCIS. For each of its three main goals, the team produced a range of signature deliverables, detailed below.
1. Produced clear public materials to help entrepreneurs understand which visa categories are most appropriate for their particular circumstance.
- Launched Entrepreneur Pathways. In November 2012, the EIR team launched Entrepreneur Pathways, a custom-designed resource for immigrant entrepreneurs that provides them with the tools and information to determine which visa category is most appropriate for their particular circumstance.
- Improved outreach to student entrepreneurs. Though USCIS does not have primary jurisdiction over student visas, the team focused on identifying better ways to reach student entrepreneurs and disseminating information about the immigration pathways that may allow these students to stay in the United States to start a business after completing their education. This included cross-linking USCIS resources with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) Study in the States website, sharing information with ICE and DHS on top university and private incubator programs, and identifying and collaborating with universities as a preferred venue for community engagements.
2. Equipped USCIS’s workforce with tools to better adjudicate cases in today’s complex and rapidly evolving business environment.
- Developed and delivered Startup 101 training. The team developed a comprehensive training course for USCIS on the startup landscape. Piloted with a small group of immigration officers in June 2012, the team subsequently delivered the training to nearly all employment-based immigration officers at the four USCIS service centers. The training curriculum covers such topics as the history and anatomy of a startup enterprise, business fundamentals, stages of a startup, and funding and sources of capital.
- Trained specialized core of immigration officers. While nearly all employment-based immigration officers at USCIS’s four service centers received the Startup 101 training course, a smaller subset of officers at each center received more detailed document-based training and case study workshops.
- Created startup resource library. To complement the Startup 101 training and ensure that immigration officers have continued access to a range of evolving tools to assist their adjudications, the team developed an internal USCIS website with all EIR-related resources.
3. Streamlined USCIS’s policies and practices to better reflect the realities faced by foreign entrepreneurs and startup businesses.
- Engaged with entrepreneurs nationwide. The EIR team prioritized gathering feedback and strategic thinking directly from entrepreneurs. In addition to the summit in Silicon Valley, the team held engagements with entrepreneurial communities in Atlanta, Boston, and Washington, DC. USCIS partnered with such academic institutions as Georgia Tech and MIT that have a vested interest in issues connecting immigration and entrepreneurship. In 2013, USCIS will host additional engagements in startup hubs across the country, beginning with the University of Chicago.
- Revised Request for Evidence (RFE) templates. To help officers better communicate with startup companies, the team explored alternative forms of evidence that the agency has not traditionally asked for and that an entrepreneur or startup may be more able to provide to meet the eligibility criteria for particular visa classifications. The team revised specific templates to make them more user-friendly and reflective of current business trends.
- Reviewed H-1B policies. Based on internal and external feedback, the team evaluated the challenges and limitations faced by entrepreneurs in filing for and obtaining H-1B visas enabling them to work for their own or other startup companies. After undertaking an in-depth review of the policy parameters and operational considerations related to the interplay between the H-1B visa requirements and startup enterprises, the team proposed changes to current policy that remain under consideration by USCIS.