Dear Sophie: How does the International Entrepreneur Parole program work?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

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Dear Sophie,

I’m the founder of an early-stage, two-year-old fintech startup. We really want to move to San Francisco to be near our lead investor.

I heard International Entrepreneur Parole is back. What is it, and how can I apply?

— Joyous in Johannesburg

Dear Joyous,

Today for the first time, international startup founders can sigh a breath of relief because there is new hope for immigration! This hope comes in the form of a little-known pathway to live and work legally in the United States. This pathway is now possible because, effective today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) withdrew the proposed rule to remove the International Entrepreneur Parole Program. This development is FANTASTIC for startup founders everywhere!

DHS believes that “qualified entrepreneurs who would substantially benefit the United States by growing new businesses and creating jobs for U.S. workers” should be able to benefit from “all viable” immigration options. The National Venture Capital Association is “thrilled” at the news, and so am I!

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP) allows founders to request a 30-month immigration status, with the possibility of a 30-month extension as well. Spouses of those with IEP can qualify for work permits. There’s no limit to the variety of fields in which startups can qualify — we’ve had interest from founders in everything from autonomous drone delivery to AI for law enforcement; anticancer drug discovery to satellites.

To qualify, you need to show that:

  • Your startup is less than five years old.
  • You own at least 10%.
  • Your role is central to the startup and you will actively operate it.
  • The startup company has received at least $250,000 from qualified U.S. investors (or at least $100,000 in government awards or grants).

IEP is one of many potential avenues we recommend when identifying the best immigration strategy for every unique startup founder. One inspiring immigrant is Xiaoyin Qu, who recently shared her startup journey. She obtained an EB-1A green card and from there started Run the World, a leading events startup that has raised almost $15 million from major venture capitalists including a16z and Will Smith. She has gone on to earn a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 of 2021 and Inc.’s third annual Female Founders 100. Xiaoyin offers this advice to entrepreneurs: “A lot of times you don’t have a role model — and that’s okay. Be the role model yourself. Do something that no one thought was possible!”

Currently, my team is representing startup founders seeking IEP from India, Canada and Germany, but anybody from any country can qualify. These founders’ startups have participated in world-renowned accelerators and collectively raised tens of millions of dollars from leading U.S. venture capital firms. Some have received U.S. federal government economic development, research and technology grants. They are working on new fintech solutions, biotech and health discoveries, and some are focusing on some of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic to create jobs for Americans.

One IEP client, Neel Popat, founded Donut, helping Americans save for a rainy day using DeFi, or decentralized finance. They’re building a more inclusive financial system in America by providing people with access to new forms of emerging finance. Another client, Glen Wang, founded The Third Place. It connects communities to the offerings of local small businesses such as restaurants, which were hard hit by the pandemic, through subscription boxes. Our clients’ startups have already created many jobs for Americans and are poised to raise additional capital and rapidly scale.

To further support the cause of international entrepreneurship in the United States, I’m even working with a member of Congress to support the drafting of a new Startup Visa law that (we hope!) will be introduced into the House of Representatives. We envision a world where everybody has the chance to follow their dreams, regardless of their country of birth.

With International Entrepreneur Parole now fully secured, the United States can begin to take its place in the world as a modern country that welcomes innovation, diversity and the contributions of immigrants. We can start to benefit from the gifts that people around the world want to provide by lending their blood, sweat and tears to create new ventures in the United States. Ventures that will serve Americans to improve health and well-being; and ultimately create more jobs in a time when we need them.

Indelibly, the U.S. is open for business. Through IEP, founders are now given even more opportunity to thrive, especially in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs across the U.S.

Cheers to new possibilities, Joyous!


P.S. What is parole and how does it differ from a visa?

Parole is a different legal status than a visa. It is not a multiple entry visa and travel will be limited. Also, you are not eligible to seek a Change of Status from a nonimmigrant status to International Entrepreneur Parole while you are in the United States. Instead, to activate the status, you need to enter the U.S. from another country.

To fly to the U.S. and enter using Parole, founders may need to seek a “boarding foil” from the U.S. Consulate in their home country to board an airplane. It’s also possible to enter using parole paperwork by crossing a land border with Mexico or Canada, assuming you have permission to enter one of those countries first.

When a founder is inside the United States on IEP, in order to travel internationally, Advance Parole is required. It can often take six months or more to obtain. For many international founders, the consensus is that it’s better to be “stuck” inside the United States than outside.

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The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!