| What the COMPETES Act of 2022 Means for Immigrant Businesses and Visas

What the COMPETES Act of 2022 Means for Immigrant Businesses and Visas

visas for startups

The United States House of Representatives just passed a landmark resolution.
H.R 4521, the COMPETES Act of 2022, was built with one overarching goal: to help America lead the world in innovation. 

For decades, the U.S. has lost top talent to countries like England, Canada, and China. 

As President Joe Biden exclaimed in January

Together, we have an opportunity to show China and the rest of the world that the 21st century will be the American century – forged by the ingenuity and hard work of our innovators, workers, and businesses.”

While such rhetoric may seem to prioritize domestic employment and growth, President Biden and his legislation have a different focus.

Indeed, immigrants are at the heart of the COMPETES Act of 2022. 

More specifically, immigrants in STEM fields — the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — are the top priority of the COMPETES Act (an acronym for Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength).

While the initiative itself is over 3,600 pages long, its mission is clear: to attract and retain top global STEM talent with groundbreaking visa programs and pathways to permanent residence. 

Note: Though the House of Representatives passed the COMPETES Act of 2022, the U.S. Senate has yet to do so. They began debating the bill in early April. 

Introducing An All-New Visa Category

The COMPETES Act would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act in one fundamental way. It would deliver startup visas under an entirely new category: the “W” visa.

This would provide a dedicated visa classification to innovators from around the world.

While other nations have long offered visa programs to attract entrepreneurs, the U.S. has been slow to follow suit.

According to the National Foundation for American Policy,

“A major gap in U.S. immigration law is the absence of a “startup visa.” There is no visa that allows a foreign national to gain lawful permanent residence by founding a business, attracting investment and/or employing U.S. workers.”

This has shocked the international community, considering immigrants founded or co-founded 55% of America’s billion-dollar “unicorn” companies

Companies like SpaceX, Moderna, and Uber are all part of this elite club. 

By creating a new visa, the COMPETES Act aims to bring more visionary entrepreneurs to America. 

The “W” Visa: Explained

The proposed W visa would be classified into three separate categories: W-1, W-2, and W-3. 

For starters, the W-1 visa would be given to foreign nationals with an ownership stake in a startup. 

According to the legislation, ownership interest constitutes at least 10% of a company formed within five years of the visa application. 

As an ancillary stipulation, the start-up must have received “at least $250,000 in qualifying investments” or “at least $100,000 in qualifying government awards or grants” in the eighteen months prior to the visa application. 

Secondly, the W-2 visa would be made available for staff deemed “essential” for the operation of that startup. 

Finally, the W-3 visa would be provided to the spouses and children of W-1 and W-2 visa holders. 

The initial W work visas would be valid for three years and could be extended an additional three one-year periods if the startup meets or surpasses certain economic standards, including:

– If the individual/startup has received at least $500,000 in “additional qualifying investments
– If the individual/startup has created “at least 5 qualified jobs
– If the individual/startup has “generated not less than $500,000 in annual revenue in the United States and averaged 20% in annual revenue growth.”

While the potential impact of the COMPETES Act might seem obvious, the facts bear repeating.

For one thing, there are over 1.4 million skilled immigrants currently stuck in green card backlogs — nearly ten times the amount of new green cards issued annually. 
With the new W visa, however, entrepreneurs, innovators, and workers would be able to escape the backlog, expedite the approval process, and begin working in America. 

And that’s only one of the many benefits the COMPETES Act could offer. 

Permanent Residency for STEM PhDs 

Under the proposed legislation, STEM Ph.D. graduates seeking to work in the U.S. would be given a direct path to legal permanent resident status. 

The key prerequisite is clearly defined: foreign nationals must hold STEM Ph.D. degrees from either a U.S. school or from an equivalent program overseas. 

STEM Ph.D. applicants that meet this criterion would be exempted from annual green card limits. Plus, their immediate family members would also be eligible for permanent legal residency. 

This provision would be truly life-changing for countless immigrants across the STEM field. 

According to the Department of Education, immigrants comprised nearly 50% of all STEM Ph.D. students at American colleges and universities in the 2019-2020 academic year.  

The COMPETES Act would allow Ph.D. students to become legal permanent residents after graduation and seamlessly continue their careers in the United States. 

Note: All W-1 visa holders and STEM Ph.D. applicants will be required to pay a one-time fee of $1,000. This assessment will be directed to help fund STEM scholarships for low-income American students. 

Looking Ahead

Earlier iterations of the COMPETES Act of 2022 had lofty ambitions that may finally be realized.

In fact, studies predict that the proposed legislation could create “1 million to 3.2 million jobs over the next decade if enacted into law.”

Of course, that last qualifier — “if enacted into law” — is perhaps most important. 

The COMPETES Act of 2022 is not yet enshrined in law, as it must first be ratified by the U.S. Senate

This will play out in the coming weeks and months. 

Though changes to the bill are inevitable, we remain hopeful the legislation will pass, providing a safe haven for immigrant STEM entrepreneurs to innovate in America. 

As this story develops, and as the COMPETES Act of 2022 approaches a vote in the Senate, UniTeller will keep you informed of the latest news. 

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