There have been efforts in Congress to approve what's called a "startup visa," which would be given to entrepreneurs who commit to certain levels of investment and job growth. But as with other immigration bills, it's gotten nowhere.
In the absence of congressional action, President Barack Obama's administration Friday said it will create a startup visa-like program, and said it can do so without congressional approval.
Entrepreneurs who can deliver a startup plan backed by significant investment can be "paroled" -- an immigration term -- to live and work in the United States, said White House officials.
The U.S. believes as many as 3,000 people may take advantage of this program, called the International Entrepreneur Rule.
"While there is no substitute for legislation, the administration is taking administrative action, where possible and consistent with current law, to fix our broken immigration system," said Tom Kalil, deputy director for technology and innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in a press briefing today describing the proposal.
The Department of Homeland Security has authority to extend immigration parole -- a way to remain in the U.S. without a work visa or permanent residency -- on a case-by-case basis for either humanitarian reasons or for "significant public benefit."
The White House argues that foreign entrepreneurs offer significant public benefit, if they meet certain investment and job creation goals.
This parole status will be available for up to five years and can be revoked at any time by the DHS secretary. After that period, officials said the person would be able to move from parole status to permanent residency or to some other type of visa.
To get parole status, the entrepreneur will have to demonstrate "significant investment of capital" -- at least $345,000 from "certain qualified" U.S. investors with a track record of successful investments, or $100,000 from certain federal, state or local government entities.
The startup will also have to demonstrate compelling evidence of the startup entity's substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation.
The administration doesn't have a lot of time to act. Over the next few months it will publish the rules, open them up for a 45-day public comment period, and finalize the rule by the end of year, a timetable that brings it within weeks of Obama's last day in office.