Immigration is a critical component of the American economy, with employers constantly petitioning to bring employees here from abroad for particular jobs. This is especially true, for a variety of reasons, in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Several studies released in the past few months demonstrate the extent of immigrant involvement in the economy, particularly in business startups. Immigrant founders now account for more than one-fourth of all new startups, as well as over half of startups valued at $1 billion or more. Immigrants also make up a significant portion of New Jersey entrepreneurs. Several methods of immigration are available for aspiring U.S. entrepreneurs.
The type of visa most commonly associated with the high-tech field is the H-1B visa. This is a nonimmigrant visa, meaning that it is officially only available to people who do not intend to remain in the U.S. permanently. An employer must petition for the visa on behalf of an employee. Federal law caps the total annual number of visas at 65,000, plus another 20,000 for people with advanced degrees. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting H-1B petitions for fiscal year 2016 on April 1, 2015, and it reported that the number of petitions received exceeded the annual cap six days later. For a total of 85,000 available visas, the agency reported receiving almost 233,000 petitions.
The H-1B visa is valid for three years, and it may be extended for another three years. Various provisions allow an H-1B visa holder to change jobs, or to extend their stay if they are working toward seeking permanent residence, but the overall purpose of the visa is a temporary stay. It is therefore far from ideal for someone who wants to start a new business. Employment-based (EB) immigrant visas allow a person to come to the U.S. for a job with the intention of adjusting status to that of a permanent resident. EB immigration also requires a petition filed by an employer, and it is subject to annual numerical limits. Unlike H-1B visas, however, they are far less subject to backlogs.