The Department of State announced that it had relaunched the International Entrepreneur Parole (or IEP) Program on May 10, 2021. The response from many immigration advocates – including our firm – was extremely positive. The IEP program, which was initiated in the final days of the Obama administration and was relaunched in spite of efforts by the Trump administration to eliminate it, promised to be a viable program for foreign entrepreneurs wanting to create and develop startup entities with high growth potential in the United States.
Unfortunately, as of the time of writing in April 2022, the IEP Program appears to be stalled, and the promise of the program has been left unfulfilled.
What are the requirements and benefits of IEP?
The IEP Program gave USCIS authority to grant parole status to international entrepreneurs who can demonstrate that they would provide a significant public benefit to the U.S.
In order to receive parole under the International Entrepreneur Parole Rule, applicants must be a 1) qualifying entrepreneur that has a 2) qualifying startup that has received a 3) qualifying investment. For a full description of the IEP requirements, please visit our earlier posts here and here.
Applicants who are approved can be paroled into the U.S. for a total period of five years to develop their startup business. This includes an initial period of up to 30 months; an additional 30-month period of parole may be granted if the applicant satisfies additional qualifications.
Who would benefit from IEP?
IEP fills a gap that is not fully addressed by other investor visas, including the E-2 and EB-5 visas. Specifically, IEP does not require that the applicant be a national of a treaty country or own at least half of the business, as does the E-2 visa; it does not require a substantial personal investment, as does the EB-5 visa and the E-2 visa; it does not require an employer-employee relationship, as does the H-1B visa; and it does not require that there exist a foreign business entity, as does the L-1 visa. In summary, IEP is designed for the startup founder who does not expect to retain majority ownership and has not invested significant personal funds into the business, but who does expect that the startup will grow rapidly.
What is the current status of IEP?
Unfortunately, the IEP Program appears to be entirely dormant. Our firm is not aware of USCIS adjudicating a single application since the program was relaunched in 2021. Given the fanfare surrounding the program and the potential benefit it could give to applicants, this is truly an unfortunate state of affairs.
What alternatives to IEP exist?
Those considering IEP do likely have options – the most suitable likely being the E-2 visa or EB-5 visa.
The E-2 investor visa permits the owner of a business to come to the U.S. to develop and direct the business. The E-2 investor visa does require that the applicant own at least 50% of the business at all times and be a national of an E-2 treaty country, but this can be a surmountable requirement through citizenship by investment options offered by some E-2 treaty countries. The E-2 investor visa does require that the investor actually commit funds to the business, but the required amount can be as low as $100,000 (or possibly lower, depending on the type of business and where the application is filed). Also, the source of these funds can be a gift or loan from a family member or friend.
The EB-5 investor visa, on the other hand, is a green card that only requires that the owner own some percentage of the business, even if minimal. It also does not have a nationality requirement. On the other hand, the EB-5 requires a substantial investment of at least $800,000, and these funds must directly lead to the employment of at least 10 U.S. workers.
Neither the E-2 nor EB-5 visas directly address the shortcomings that IEP was created to address. However, given the apparent stalling of the program, these and other options should be considered by anyone who was previously considering IEP. With some patience and creativity, and the guidance of a qualified immigration lawyer, alternatives to IEP could enable the startup entrepreneur to ultimately realize their dream of building a successful business in the United States.
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