House Passes Bill that May Benefit Immigrants in STEM Fields and Entrepreneurs in Start-Ups

The House of Representatives recently passed the America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength Act (known as the America COMPETES Act of 2022). The bill is designed to improve U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace. Title III of the COMPETES Act adds immigration provisions to the bipartisan U.S. Innovation and Competition Act that was passed in the Senate in June 2021.

The immigration provisions of the America COMPETES Act include the creation of a new W nonimmigrant (temporary) visa for entrepreneurs with ownership interest in a start-up entity, as well as a direct path to permanent residence for STEM Ph.D. graduates seeking to work in the United States in a field related to their doctoral degree.

W Nonimmigrant Visa:

The W nonimmigrant visa for entrepreneurs requires at least a 10% ownership interest in a start-up that was formed in the 5-year period before application. The W visa has eligibility requirements regarding levels of investment from qualified investors and a showing that the applicant has knowledge and skills that would substantially assist the start-up. The W visa would allow an initial validity period of three years with additional extensions available, depending upon whether investments and job creation meet certain standards. The W visa would also allow nonimmigrants to have dual intent - an important distinction enabling the visa holder to seek permanent residence without compromising their ability to hold the nonimmigrant W visa.

Benefits for STEM Ph.D.s:

A very welcome inclusion in the America COMPETES Act is a provision that would enable foreign nationals with Ph.D. STEM degrees, whether from the United States or foreign equivalent degrees, to be exempt from annual green card limits. This update in the law would drastically reduce the processing times for permanent residence for many visa applicants, particularly those from India and China.

The immigration provisions in the House bill are a giant and positive step forward in the recognition that our country must do more to encourage entrepreneurs and those with Ph.D.s in STEM fields to remain in or come to the U.S. without artificial roadblocks that disincentive highly qualified individuals from making the U.S. their home. However, it must be reconciled with the Senate version. If the immigration provisions make it through that process and are passed by the Senate, the U.S. will greatly increase its competitiveness for foreign talent with other countries that make entry and permanent residence for select individuals much easier.

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