Recently, I had the pleasure of going to Washington, D.C. to advocate for much-needed changes to startup immigration. It was such an amazing trip, and I’ve summarized the highlights below.


Who Came to D.C. & Why We Were There

The trip was organized by Global Detroit, a national leader in advocating for and executing strategies to drive equitable local, regional, and statewide economic growth through immigrant inclusion. Global Detroit recently received a grant from the Kauffman Foundation to advance startup immigration initiatives, and this trip to Washington, D.C., was in furtherance of that mission.


Our D.C. group included Steve Tobocman and Ernestine Lyons from Global Detroit; Supriya Tamang from Global Cleveland; Bryan Wright from Cincinnati Compass; Becky Strauss from Federal City Council; Craig Montuori, Co-Founder of Global Entrepreneur in Residence (Global EIR); and immigration attorneys Tahmina Watson and me.


Our group aimed to discuss two main aspects of startup immigration:

  • Advocacy for a startup visa
  • Promoting the newly created National Global EIR Peer Network to leverage uncapped/cap exempt H-1Bs for immigrant startup founders


Who Did We Meet With in D.C.?

Our first meeting of the day was extremely well attended and included:

  • Amy Nice from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Amy Nice

Amy Nice from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • Doug Rand, Senior Advisor to the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), who played a leading role in creating International Entrepreneur Parole under the Obama Administration
Doug Rand

• Doug Rand, Senior Advisor to the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services



Also in attendance during the morning meeting were Ben Johnson, Executive Director, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, Policy Director at the American Immigration Council, Jeff Lande, representatives from Institute for Progress, Center on American Entrepreneurship, Economic Innovation Group, Center on Rural Innovation, Niskanen Center, and more.


We can’t share specifics of the meeting, but we left feeling assured that the challenges – and the opportunities – of startup immigration were appreciated by all.


Our group also met with the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, and the VP for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship at George Washington Universities to discuss the practical aspects of the Global EIR program.


Later in the day, on the congressional side, we had the honor of meeting with:

  • The House of Representatives, Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Immigration
  • Congressman Steve Chabot’s Office (Republican, Ohio)
  • Senate Judiciary Committee, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Dick Durbin’s Office (Democrat, Illinois)


Fiona standing in front of the Hearing Room for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.


It was not lost on me that our meeting with Manpreet Teji, Counsel for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, was held in THE Hearing Room for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. I first moved to the U.S. over 20 years ago as an exchange student, and I never could have dreamed that I would have the privilege of meeting in this sacred room to discuss how to improve startup immigration options. As a now naturalized U.S. citizen and immigration lawyer for 15 years, my American Dream is to try to make the immigration system more accessible for immigrant startup founders, and meetings like this will hopefully one day make that a reality.

Fiona and other attendees, Senate Committee on the Judiciary Hearing Room


Why Does the U.S. Need a Startup Visa?

The U.S. needs to create a startup visa to remain competitive on a global basis. Unlike many of our international peers, the current U.S. immigration law does not provide a specific immigration option for startup founders – commonly known as a “startup visa.” Instead, immigrant entrepreneurs are left to navigate an antiquated system that is largely rooted in employer-sponsored visas.


I’ve spoken and written extensively on this and you can read the recent piece Tahmina, Jeff Farrah former General Counsel of the National Venture Capital Association, and I wrote for the Seattle Times.


“More than 20 other countries have adopted startup visas to recruit international entrepreneurs. More importantly, the pandemic has accelerated the rate at which startups are growing exponentially within their own countries… Overall, the U.S. is losing out on talent, job creation and innovation.

This is a massive loss to the U.S. economy and workers as Congress is focused on our country maintaining its competitive edge. To address this challenge, Congress should make sure to include a startup visa for foreign-born entrepreneurs in this legislation.

Foreign-born entrepreneurs have been an incredible driver of the U.S. economy, despite the challenges presented by the current system. Immigrants are more likely to start businesses than native-born Americans, almost twice as likely according to a recent Kauffman Foundation report. This statistic is readily apparent in the “startup” ecosystem. Although immigrants constitute approximately 17% of the workforce, 55% of America’s startup companies valued $1 billion or more had at least one immigrant co-founder. Immigrants also started 33% of U.S. venture-backed companies that became publicly traded between 2006 and 2012.”


The meetings we had in D.C. allowed us to share some of this critical information with members of Congress and other stakeholders in this space. We’re going to continue advocating for a more modern immigration system, one that includes a specific startup visa and we hope this becomes a reality in the not-so-distant future!


What is the National Global EIR Peer Network?

Our second item on the agenda was discussing the National Global EIR Peer Network.


Frustrated by the lack of startup visa action in Congress, the original “Global Entrepreneur in Residence” (GEIR) Coalition was created back in 2015 by Craig Montuori, Brad Feld (Foundry Group/Techstars), and Jeff Bussgang (HBS/ Flybridge).


GEIR programs leverage the “H-1B cap exempt” nature of specific employers like universities and certain types of non-profits, and enable immigrant startup founders to work for/at these institutions whilst also working for their startups. If you want more info on how this works, please contact us and also sign up for our forthcoming free eBook on U.S. Immigration Options for Startups: Accelerate Your American Dream.


The GEIR program has been extremely successful in a few locales, and now there is renewed effort, led by Global Detroit, to create a National Global EIR Peer Network.


Tahmina wrote a great article for Above the Law that outlines how the GEIR program can be used to harness international talent to drive economic growth to American cities everywhere. You can read all about that here.


The statistics from the GEIR program speak for themselves.


The University of Massachusetts — Boston’s Venture Development Center – paved the way in its GEIR program:

  • It has facilitated 81 immigrant founders
  • Founder have raised $1.5 billion in venture capital
  • Startups from the GEIR program have created 2,500 jobs


Global Detroit also has impressive statistics from its own GEIR programs run through the University of Michigan, Wayne State University, and the College for Creative Studies. In the past 3 years, these programs have facilitated 8 founders from 7 companies who have raised over $15 million and created over 50 jobs.


We are hoping that other cities and states see how creating a GEIR program can bring tremendous benefit to their economy. And while GEIR applicants do not have to be international students who have studied in the city/state, they often are. Establishing a GEIR program can enable an immigrant founder to stay in the U.S. and work on their startup while also providing mentorship and support to a local university or other institution.


Global Detroit has also recently published a report on International Students in the Michigan Workforce. You can read that here.


Some key findings are that:

  • Michigan is home to the 9th largest international student population in the country and these students are estimated to account for $828.7 million in economic activity in the state.
  • International students and foreign-born faculty contributed to approximately 75% of the patents from the nation’s top research universities, like the University of Michigan.
  • International students have dominated the STEM fields at U.S. colleges and universities, especially among advanced degree (Masters and Ph.D.) programs:
    • Almost ½ of all international students are studying in STEM disciplines, roughly twice the rate of domestic students.
    • International students account for less than 5% of all the students in the U.S. but they account for approximately ½ of all the graduate students enrolled in STEM programs.
      • Specifically, international students comprise more than 70% of all the graduate students in electrical engineering, computer and information sciences and industrial and manufacturing engineering—fields critical to the future of the Michigan


The Global Detroit report makes it clear that international students play a key role in innovation and in filling critical talent shortages especially in STEM fields. We hope this further encourages the expansion of the National Global EIR Peer Network.



We left D.C. feeling energized and motivated to continue working to advance startup immigration initiatives.


Throughout my career, I’ve been honored to have advised and represented thousands of immigrant founded/run startups. I’ve seen first-hand how much they bring to the U.S., and I’m determined to continue working with Global Detroit and our D.C. group members to make the U.S. immigration system more modern and accessible.


If you’re a startup founder who is interested in setting up a consultation with me, please call us at (773)828-9544 or click HERE to set up a consultation.


Please feel free to reach out if you want more information on startup visas, immigration options for founders, or on setting up a GEIR program.


I hope you’ll join us in this important and rewarding mission!

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