Bloomberg Businessweek: “Trump Booted Foreign Startup Founders. Other Countries Embraced Them”

by Joseph McKeown


As the Trump administration sought to end the International Entrepreneur Rule created by the Obama administration for immigrant entrepreneurs and has made obtaining H-1B visas more difficult, other countries have sought to attract tech talent and entrepreneurs. Although immigrants and children of immigrants have played critical roles in many of Silicon Valley’s top companies—including Google, Tesla, eBay, Stripe, Apple, Oracle, and Amazon—immigrants are now being drawn to visa programs with a range of perks in such countries as the UK, China, Japan, Israel, Germany, Estonia, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The fight over tech talent is not something that is coming in the future. It’s happening right now,” Kate Mitchell, founder of Scale Venture Partners in Foster City, California, tells Bloomberg. “And we are losing.”

Mezyad AlMasoud, an immigrant from Kuwait who holds a master’s degree from Yale, had angel investments in his startup but had to leave the US when he learned he was not able to obtain a visa through the International Entrepreneur Rule. Although initially disappointed (he wondered how he would tell his five-year-old daughter that he had failed), AlMasoud soon become one of the first individuals accepted under a startup visa program in Canada, where his financial technology startup, Flair Inc., is now in the process of hiring engineers to develop his money-management online services for professional athletes. While AlMasoud says that his first choice was America, his startup is now one of the 130 new companies created by immigrants who have been afforded an opportunity under Canada’s new visa program since February.

Countries throughout the world are offering different kinds of perks under their specific visa programs for immigrant investors and startup companies in an effort to attract talent and new companies. As a result, startup companies are doing a lot more venue shopping than ever before, according to Merilin Lukk, who runs Estonia’s recruiting program that has brought at least 160 company founders to Estonia in the last year. This recruiting program has created approximately 440 jobs in Estonia. A new program in Israel also offers perks for immigrant investors and company founders. These perks include $20,000 relocation bonuses, a local accountant, Hebrew classes, annual flights to visit their countries of origin, cellphone bill payments, low-interest loans, six-day visa processing, and most importantly, their equivalent of a Green Card. Many in the US under H-1B status who have been waiting years to obtain a Green Card have applied in Canada, where wait times for permanent residency can take months.

The US has not matched these offers and programs. Instead, the Trump administration derailed the Obama administration’s International Entrepreneur Rule before it was set to begin. A spokesperson for the agency claims the program did not protect US workers and investors. As a result, immigrant entrepreneurs are seeking visa programs in other countries. AlMasoud tells Bloomberg that he is hoping to receive permanent residency in Canada soon. “It had always been my dream to start a business in the U.S.,” AlMasoud says. “Because of what Trump has done, now I have to hire Canadians.”