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Immigration Executive Action Could Help St. Louis Foreign-Born Entrepreneurs


President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration could impact foreign-born entrepreneurs looking to invest in St. Louis.

At a panel discussion Wednesday, legal experts addressed the potential benefits of the executive order and current visa options for foreign investors. The event was part of the Advance St. Louis Seminar Series, a collaboration between the Center for Emerging Technologies and the Polsinelli law firm.

Doreen Dodson, a senior partner at Polsinelli, said Obama’s executive order on immigration could help ease some of the frustrations facing international entrepreneurs.

“The order shows that there’s real recognition of the need to foster a better climate for entrepreneurs,” Dodson said.

Flyer from event listing Proposed Actions from the Obama Administration Relevant to Entrepreneurs

The Mosaic Project's director Betsy Cohen said helping foreign-born entrepreneurs navigate the immigration system is essential for St. Louis growth.

“We know from research that foreign-born people create business at a faster rate than native born and that is one of the ways that our region can grow,” she said. “We grow by foreign-born people who are here creating small or large business and hiring native-born people that are here. They are part of the growth engine for our region.”

To continue to be a part of that growth, foreign-born entrepreneurs must qualify for one of several visa options.

Potential VISA options for Foreign Born Entrepreneurs-- Optional Practical Training (OPT), Curricular Practical Training (CPT), Treaty Investor (E-2), National Interest Waiver (NIW), Specialty Occupations (H-1B), Immigrant Investor(EB-5), Extraordinary Ability (O-1A)

Dodson says even though there are many ways to apply, obtaining a permit to work in the U.S. is still difficult.

“There are options but it is confusing and it’s expensive,” she said. “I think that most of us, unless you deal with the immigration program, don’t really understand how long it will take to get a visa, how difficult it is, how tough the restriction are and the criteria in order to have someone actually come to work for them.”

Leslie McIntosh is the interim director of the Center for Biomedical Informatics at Washington University School of Medicine.  She said that although she is in science-engineering fields which benefits from targeted visa programs, she's still run into immigration issues during hiring. Of the three people McIntosh has tried to hire, two have had immigration issues.

“When I’m trying to hire people, I just want the best person, but if they … are a foreign national … it’s a challenge because their degree and job title have to be very close for them to qualify for a visa.”

McIntosh says it's been a really frustrating and unpredictable process to try to figure out.

“Tell me what I’m doing. If I can't hire someone, tell me why and tell me what are the criteria,” she said.

Dodson says she hopes programs like the seminar can offer some relief.

“Even if the actions in Obama’s executive order are not enacted or don’t change much, there are tools in the immigration program now that we need to explore talk to schools and employers about for internationals who want to stay here,” she said. “ We have to make sure they understand the options and see if we can work with them.”

Dodson says if the St.Louis region doesn't make efforts to help foreign national entrepreneurs thrive, it will miss out on a vital investment.

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