Putting the president’s executive order into perspective

In the absence of congressional action to fix our broken immigration system, President Obama in November issued an executive order that, among other things, expanded opportunities for foreign-born entrepreneurs to build their businesses in the U.S.

While we don’t endorse the decision and take no position on his actions related to illegal immigration, in a city that has increasingly become stymied by stalemate and dysfunction, you have to take a victory where you can get it. Although highly controversial and limited in scope, let there be no doubt, the order is a victory for the entrepreneurial ecosystem and should be viewed as such, regardless of how it was achieved.

Immigration reform has long been a top priority for NVCA and, more recently, we have pushed for the creation of a visa category for VC-backed entrepreneurs called Startup Visa. Developed by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO), Startup Visa aims to create a new visa that provides immigrant entrepreneurs with the ability to raise angel or venture capital to build their businesses in the U.S.

While the executive order doesn’t codify into law the creation of the Startup Visa specifically, it uses existing visa categories to expand opportunities for foreign-born entrepreneurs who receive venture funding and meet other criteria, such as job creation and certain levels of revenue growth.

The executive order itself does not specify the details of how these opportunities will be made available to immigrant entrepreneurs. It’s now up to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the federal agency responsible for enforcing our immigration laws, to put meat onto the bones and provide guidelines on the specifics.

The good news is that the NVCA has already discussed with the White House and the DHS how to ensure that the rules are written in such a way that they achieve the intended results for the startup community. Based on the conversations we’ve had, we believe immigrant entrepreneurs will be asked to achieve certain milestones to remain in the U.S. and, if successful, they will be placed on a pathway to securing a green card. Importantly, based on our intelligence, this program does not have an artificial ceiling in place that caps the number of entrepreneurs that can start a business in the U.S. and it allows them to remain in the country for an unlimited amount of time as they grow their businesses.

So what does this all mean for the entrepreneurial ecosystem? For the venture investors, it means they can expand the scope of their deal flow to begin seriously considering more foreign-born entrepreneurs to invest in and mentor. For the entrepreneurs, it means they can come to the world’s epicenter of innovation without fear of being run out of the country after their visa expires or forced to relinquish their role as CEO of the company they built with their own blood, sweat and tears.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that none of these gains are set in stone. Because of the nature of an executive order, all of this can be undone with the stroke of a pen by the next occupant of the Oval Office. For that reason, it makes it all the more important that as we celebrate this victory for the entrepreneurial ecosystem we should also redouble our efforts to secure a legislative solution to reform our immigration system.

We believe that congressional action is the best and only way to deliver meaningful and substantive reform that will finally address the problems plaguing our antiquated immigration system. In the months ahead, that’s exactly what NVCA plans on doing. We will continue with our outreach efforts on Capitol Hill and at the White House to secure a legislative solution. Despite what the naysayers will tell you, we do believe it’s still possible to find some common ground in divided Washington and remain hopeful comprehensive immigration reform can be achieved in the year ahead.

Bobby Franklin is president and CEO of the National Venture Capital Association.