Is immigrating to the US really that hard for foreign entrepreneurs?


I keep reading about the high percentage of tech startups in the US that are founded by immigrant entrepreneurs (39% in California ). I also keep reading about how hard immigrating to the US is for immigrant entrepreneurs - i.e., people without prospective traditional employment. Can somebody explain this apparent contradiction? How is it that so many startups are founded by immigrants if it's so hard for them to stay in the country to do so?

I ask because I'm Canadian and I'd like to look into starting a software/biotech company in the US after college (I've heard about the proposed startup visa, but clearly plenty of immigrant entrepreneurs are doing just fine without it).

Getting Started Foreign Legal

asked Apr 6 '13 at 16:01
24 points
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  • Maybe if you can provide sources for the numbers that are more reliable than "I keep reading" it would be easier to answer the question. – Littleadv 10 years ago
  • for the percentage of startups with non-US founders. As for difficulty immigrating, I can't really provide a single source. Google "Blueseed" - that should illustrate how hard it apparently is. – Tyler 10 years ago
  • But that's "immigrant entrepreneurs", not "foreign". Not the same thing. – Littleadv 10 years ago
  • Sorry, when I say foreigner I mean foreigner who successfully immigrated. Edited. – Tyler 10 years ago

4 Answers


The answer is time.

When we today talk about successful companies, we're often mentioning companies which were actually founded 10, 20 or more years ago. On top of that, many successful founders first had a couple of failed attempts before before the successful one they're known for.

So when we look at 'successful companies founded by immigrants' the person behind them often immigrated to the US surprisingly long time ago -- perhaps in the 1980's, or 1970's.

As a few examples:

Back then immigration laws were different. Today, after 9/11, the War on Drugs, and especially the Global Financial Crisis, attitudes to immigration have shifted. Perhaps we will not be talking about 'successful companies founded by immigrants' in the same way in 2030, 2040...
answered Apr 6 '13 at 19:15
Jesper Mortensen
15,292 points


The article is talking about "immigrants" behind startups, not "foreigners". These founders first immigrated to the US, then started their companies. They're (mostly) doing it after reaching the permanent residence status.

Many of them immigrated through various available paths such as employment immigration, family ties or asylums (for example Sergei Brin of Google, who immigrated to the US from the USSR with his parents as an asylum seeker).

answered Apr 6 '13 at 16:18
5,090 points


As discussed in my post Visa Basics for Foreign Entrepreneurs Coming to the U.S., foreign entrepreneurs who want to start businesses here typically must be in either of the following categories:

  • E-2 (investor) visa - requires a six-figure investment
  • L-1 (intracompany transferee visa) - requires an established company in the foreign country

Disclaimer: This information does not constitute legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

answered Apr 9 '13 at 03:13
Dana Shultz
6,015 points


It is hard because it is very difficult to get a valid Visa that allows you to work in the USA.

In my case, I'd love to launch my new startup in the US, create jobs, pay taxes, buy a home and raise my family, but there is not a valid Visa path for me, from the UK.

Hopefully, the new Startup Visa will happen soon, which will allow UK entrepreneurs to go to the USA to start companies and work for them.

answered Apr 6 '13 at 17:12
Steve Jones
3,239 points

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