Proposing a Locally Driven Entrepreneur Visa

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I. INTRODUCTION

"The history of the United States is in part made of the stories, talents, and lasting contributions of those who crossed oceans and deserts to come here." (1) The economic contributions of the immigrant population are renowned. Immigrants are more likely to own a business than are nonimmigrants, (2) "[m]ore than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant or the child of one[,] ... [and] immigrants were more than twice as likely as nativeborn Americans to start a new business in 2010." (3) Immigrant entrepreneurs generate nearly twelve percent of U.S. business income. (4) This historical trend may very well persist, but the backdrop against which it will play out has changed significantly and will continue to do so. In the face of a difficult and shifting economic landscape at both the national and local levels, the need for widespread revisions to U.S. immigration policy is clear.

The conventional narrative surrounding U.S. immigration policy and, given its current state, the U.S. economy as a whole, often features an overextended nation with too few jobs and too few resources -- in short, a view that there simply is not enough room for an influx of immigrants. (5) Nevertheless, a defining trait in many declining U.S. cities today is a vast supply of vacant space. For example, according to the 2010 Census, Detroit's population has dropped to below 800,000, (6) a twenty-five percent decline since 2000, representing one of the largest population decreases by percentage in a large urban area in U.S. history. (7) While Detroit's decline may represent the most striking example, its story is part of a larger phenomenon, with many cities across the United States experiencing significant population decline and a corresponding decrease in economic activity. (8) Meanwhile, "roughly 14,000 [federal government] buildings and structures [are] designated as excess and thousands of others ... are underutilized" across the country. (9)

This Note proposes and examines a method to help struggling localities (10) take advantage of their abundance of space to spur local economic activity: an entrepreneur visa allowing for entry into the United States of individuals of any skill level who commit to creating and sustaining small and medium-sized businesses under the sponsorship of a qualified local government entity. This "Entrepreneur Visa" program would be implemented by the federal government with much discretion afforded to participating localities. The primary goal would be to enhance economic activity in areas facing difficult economic conditions and declining populations. (11) The program would aim to stimulate economic growth by leveraging the immigrant population -- a group that has been an important contributor to the U.S. economy -- to create businesses where others may be less willing to do so because of the localities' decline. A secondary aim would be to make more effective use of the thousands of government buildings across the country that are underutilized and contributing to urban blight by making these buildings available to the new business owners as part of the implementation of the Entrepreneur Visa program.

Part II of this Note summarizes the current landscape of United States visa programs involving investment, entrepreneurship, or employment. Part III details the proposed Entrepreneur Visa program and discusses the benefits of including immigrant entrepreneurs of low and ordinary skills among those potentially eligible for the visa, as well as the respective roles of localities and the federal government in the program. Part IV considers the legal issues pertaining to the proposal, particularly the balance of power among federal, state, and local entities. Part V examines the main virtues of an Entrepreneur Visa program, Part VI considers several concerns about the proposal, and Part VII concludes.

II. THE CURRENT LANDSCAPE: EMPLOYEE, INVESTOR, AND ENTREPRENEUR VISAS

There are four existing employee-, investor-, or entrepreneur-based visa regimes that are most relevant for the purposes of this Note. …