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What is international entrepreneur parole and how is it different from a visa?

3 entrepreneurs smiling in their business attire

As detailed here, the Department of Homeland Security announced in 2021 that it has relaunched the International Entrepreneur Parole Program, which permits foreign entrepreneurs to create and develop startup entities with high growth potential in the United States. In our earlier post, we detail the requirements for international entrepreneur parole, along with specific examples of evidence that can be submitted.

Entrepreneurs who are approved through the IEP Program are allowed to remain in the U.S. for up to 60 months through a benefit called “parole.”

In this post, we will discuss what parole is, how it is different from a visa, and what this difference means for those who are approved under the International Entrepreneur Parole Program.

What is parole?

“Parole” is a benefit that the United States government has discretion to grant to individuals in order to allow them temporary entry into the United States. The government has the discretion to grant parole to individuals who do not have a visa or other official permission to enter the country. Oftentimes parole is granted to a person for a limited period of time, and for a specific purpose. Under the IEP Program, that purpose is for the individual to grow their startup company.

Importantly, when a person enters the U.S. on parole, the government does not consider this a formal “admission” for the purposes of immigration law. There are a number of consequences that stem from this, including the inability to change or adjust status within the U.S., which we will discuss further below.

How is parole different from a visa?

Parole is not the same as a “visa,” and the International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP) Program does not provide visas to those who are approved for the program.

A visa usually gives a person the ability to enter the U.S. multiple times until the visa expires. Also, each time a person with a visa enters the U.S., they are typically formally admitted into the country, and they usually have the ability to change or adjust their status to another visa status.

In contrast, those who are granted parole under the IEP Program are allowed to physically enter the U.S. (but not be “admitted into” the U.S.) one time, and for the specific purpose of developing their business. Each time the individual seeks re-admission to the U.S. the border officer will make a determination as to whether to grant parole for the remaining period of time until the parole period ends (typically a 30-month period).

What are the practical consequences of parole not being a formal “admission” into the U.S.?

Because someone who enters the U.S. on parole is not considered to have formally been “admitted” into the U.S., entrepreneurs who receive parole through the IEP program cannot adjust or change their status inside the U.S. As a result, if the entrepreneur were eligible for another immigration benefit (such as an E-2 visa, or the EB-2 National Interest Waiver), they would need to depart the U.S. and obtain this visa at a consulate.

What does it mean that parole is “discretionary”?

Parole is discretionary, meaning that determinations are made on a case-by-case basis that considers the totality of the circumstances. The U.S. government has no obligation to grant parole to an individual — even if the person appears to satisfy all of the requirements of the IEP Program. Also, even after a person is conditionally approved for parole (meaning that their I-941 is approved), the person must still appear at a port of entry in order to be granted parole. The government officer at the port of entry has discretion to deny entry even if the the I-941 has been approved.

Additionally, parole can be revoked at any time, such as when the company is no longer in operation or otherwise ceases to provide a significant public benefit to the U.S. Also note that the denial of parole is not subject to judicial review, meaning that there is no appeal before a judge if the parole is denied.

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