Legal loophole good for economy, according to colleges.
Babson and at least five other U.S. schools are using a new approach with H-1B visas to retain entrepreneurs that critics describe as exploiting a legal loophole, reported the Associated Press.
Employees of universities – or outside workers who provide services to universities – are exempt from the annual of cap 85,000 H-1B visas – including 20,000 reserved for students who graduate from US universities – and can obtain H-1B visas directly.
Using that exemption, schools are creating “global entrepreneur in residence” programs that let some graduates work part-time on campus, often as mentors, while they develop their businesses, reported AP. That allows the graduates to say they’re providing a service to a U.S. university, which can qualify them for the exemption and a smooth route to a visa.
“This movement came about because of challenges that student visa holders were beginning to face when they had completed a program,” said Bill Stock, a Philadelphia attorney and president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “There really aren’t a lot of other visas that would allow someone to work temporarily.”
Congress created the exemption partly to help colleges hire researchers, prompting some critics to say that schools are now exploiting a loophole. In a February letter to the U.S. immigration chief, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa blasted the practice as a “backhanded attempt” to skirt federal rules. He called it a “seemingly unlawful” interpretation of the law.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has broadly opposed H-1B visas, saying they take jobs from American workers and should be banned.
College officials say they’re simply using flexibility in the law’s language to address a growing problem. As more international students come to U.S. schools, many want to stay in the country to start their own businesses. But with few legal routes beyond the H-1B lottery, entrepreneurs are routinely forced to go home.
“Every year, we figure Massachusetts says goodbye to over 1,000 graduate students who otherwise want to stay and start a company,” said William Brah, who leads a program to help foreign entrepreneurs at the University of Massachusetts’ Boston campus. “I mean, it’s stupid. You couldn’t come up with a more flawed immigration system if you tried.”
The UMass program is open to graduates from any U.S. college. Since it started in 2014, it has helped 20 graduates get visas, and their businesses have created 260 jobs, the school says.
Smaller programs have recently formed at the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University, which accept a combined six graduates per year. Babson is now taking applications for up to 10 entrepreneurs.
At the City University of New York, a new program aims to draw 80 business owners from around the world – not just graduates of U.S. colleges.
Colleges say the new programs are good for their local economies, but they also can help schools with recruiting international students – a group that is charged full tuition, unlike many U.S. students.