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3 Ways to Be a Better Advocate For a Startup Visa

Here's how you can make a difference.

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For generations, immigrant entrepreneurs have made important and game-changing contributions to the American economy. Some are household names, like Nordstrom, Bose and Levi’s. Other more contemporary success stories include founders and co-founders of companies like Zoom, SpaceX and Moderna. 

However, for every enterprising immigrant who lands a win in this country, there are untold numbers who never get that opportunity because they never get to the U.S. Why? Because U.S. immigration laws are archaic, dating back to the 1950s when the current framework was established. They do not reflect how the world and modern-day business practices have changed. And neither does our alphabet-soup visa system that was created in the 1990s, more than three decades ago. While globalization and technology have changed the world we live in, the United States is still where many startup founders want to be.

While there have been attempts over the decades to change and update this country’s immigration laws, we continue to come up short. But there is momentum and a window of opportunity at this moment that we can benefit from. It will require buy-in from many fronts, though, especially if you are an immigrant founder. If you're anyone in the startup ecosystem, your voice is essential. Here are three ways you can have it be heard.

1. Join some advocacy groups

Some organizations focus only on policy matters. They research substantive issues, gather statistics, write reports and are advocates for policy change. Some focus specifically on startup issues, including immigration policies related to startups. Among them are groups like Center for American Entrepreneurship, Engine, FWD.us, The National Foundation for American Policy and many others. Get to know them, become a member, lend your voice, attend their meetings and help as opportunities arise. The side benefit is that your network will expand, and you will meet more like-minded people.

Related: The 5 Advantages You Have If You're an Immigrant Entrepreneur

2. Share your stories

It’s not easy to put yourself out there, especially when you have faced a rocky path — whether that’s related to immigration, funding or simply life getting in the way. However, sharing your story can be a powerful way of humanizing complicated issues, especially when your audience might have no stake in the game. You can share your stories with organizations advocating for the cause, like the ones above, or with reputable news media, or simply among your peers. It serves to shine a light on complex problems so that others can learn and advocate for change.

Related: The Immigrant Edge: How Immigrant Millionaires Succeed in Business

3. Educate yourself

There’s no better way to learn than by doing something. So, if you have first-hand experience with a particular immigration issue, like being unable to find the right visa category for you or your co-founders, learn about the options that exist and why they don’t necessarily work for the modern-day entrepreneur. Maybe you are a policymaker who needs to know more about the real-life effect of our inadequate immigration laws. Educate yourself so you can share and advocate more effectively.

Advocacy is a team sport. It’s crucial to join forces, especially when there are significant problems to solve. While the Biden administration recently revived the International Entrepreneur Rule, a pathway for entrepreneurs able to prove that their companies would be of significant public benefit to the U.S., it is not a long-term fix. A startup visa passed by Congress would create a clear, legal path for international founders who want to create businesses in the U.S. and help the economy grow jobs and prosper.

Related: 5 Important Lessons from Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Tahmina Watson

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Tahmina Watson is an award-winning attorney and the founder of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle, where she practices U.S. immigration law focusing on business and investment immigration.