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Immigrant Business Owners Are the Key to Supercharging America's Economy Foreign-born entrepreneurs are crucial to a robust economy, but immigration policies stand in the way.

By Richard Burke Edited by Bill Schulz

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The U.S. was named the world's most entrepreneurial country in 2021, thanks in no small part to the talent of foreign-born entrepreneurs. However, this title will not hold for long if current immigration policies persist.

More than half (55%) of U.S. startups worth $1 billion or more have at least one immigrant founder. Foreign-born entrepreneurs have historically played a key role in driving innovation and job growth in North America and their efforts are critical in creating a more resilient economy.

Related: 5 Latin American startups that exceeded expectations in 2021

Immigrant-founded companies are key to growth

Research shows that private-sector job growth is significantly higher in regions with more startups and they created more than 3 million new jobs in 2020 alone.

With more than 4.3 million business formation applications coming in last year — and the likelihood that number will be even higher this year — there's hope the 40-year downturn in entrepreneurship is coming to an end. But we need foreign-born business owners to help us reverse course.

From Pfizer to Uber, many of today's largest companies began as immigrant-founded startups. So did many of the companies whose products people have relied on during the pandemic, including Zoom and Instacart.

Immigrants are also 80% more likely to start a business than those born in the U.S. Those businesses create 42% more jobs in this country than those started by native-born owners, but America isn't the beacon of hope for immigrants it once was.

Related: The Man Behind the Government of India's Startup

Current immigration policies are a barrier

Antiquated immigration policies continue to present obstacles to foreign-born founders. The fundamental issue is that the U.S. doesn't provide a specific visa category for startup owners. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants compete for a limited number of visas, like the H-1B.

We are also starting to see the long-term effects and the lack of meaningful reform. Over the past decade, immigrants have turned to countries where startup visas are more easily accessible, like Singapore and the U.K.

In May 2021, President Biden reinstituted the International Entrepreneur Parole Program (IEPP), which allows admittance for foreign-born entrepreneurs who can prove they will offer significant benefits to the public.

While the restoration of this program is a good first step, there's still a long way to go in improving the visa process for international students who will eventually become business owners.

Attending U.S. colleges and universities is a common path entrepreneurs take to begin their journey. But many international students who attend schools in the U.S. are not able to stay after graduating due to current U.S. policies. Significant policy reform is crucial in keeping the talent of these individuals in the country after graduating. Additionally, the pandemic, global competition and lengthy visa processing times are placing the country at a disadvantage in retaining skilled international students and workers.

The need for easier access to visas intensifies

Foreign-born entrepreneurs are critical in today's economy. For this to become a reality, the U.S. needs to develop easier pathways to residency, provide more startup visas and create responsive, employment-based immigration policies. These are the conditions that will set the stage for continuous innovation and growth in the economy.

Related: 2021 was the year with the highest foreign investment in the history of Mexico: It already has 8 new unicorns

Richard (Dick) Burke is president and CEO of Envoy Global. He is responsible for the development of the overall company strategy, marketing, sales, finance, business development and technology, while managing day-to-day operations.

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