Law School professors draft policy reform proposal to help foreign entrepreneurial students

Kynslie Otte

The legal ability to remain in the U.S. after graduation has become complicated for international students.

A standard F-1 visa allows students to stay in the country for up to 60 days after graduation or for 12 months if the student works under the Optional Practical Training program.  However, current immigration laws and the   F-1 visa’s parameters do not account for students who plan to stay in the country to open independent businesses.

In spring 2011, UMKC School of Law professors Anthony Luppino, John Norton and Malika Simmons set out to solve this problem. Luppino, Norton and Simmons joined forces with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to draft a proposal that would reform several immigration laws, allowing student entrepreneurs to launch job-creating ventures in the U.S. The final draft was released in August 2012.

The proposal was inspired by international UMKC students who struggle with the limits of immigration laws and visas.

Student Sai Srikar Kadiyam possesses an F-1 student visa that is only valid for three years, which makes finding a job after he graduates an urgent matter.

“When I graduate, I have to find a job with a company that guarantees a visa sponsorship in the future,” Kadiyam said. “If I don’t, I’ll have to return to India and go through the painful visa interview process again. I might get it, but there’s also a chance I might not.”

The proposal stemmed from a pre-existing bipartisan legislation known as the Startup Act 2.0. This act would create a new conditional permanent resident status opportunity for foreign students who hold master’s or doctorate degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). It would also include a conditional visa for entrepreneurs who either hold an H-1B visa, which allows U.S. businesses to employ foreign workers in certain occupations, or who are completing a graduate level degree in a STEM field.

Luppino, Norton and Simmons’ proposal aims to broaden the parameters of the Startup Act to also include undergraduate students.

“We have a lot of undergraduates looking to start businesses too, and if you look at some big companies that have been started in the U.S., there have been undergraduates involved,” Luppino said. “We’re trying to have the regulations changed so that you can have the Curriculum Practical Training include starting your own business, and then have the extension to Optional Practical Training changed so that it’s not necessarily limited to (students with) STEM degrees.”

The reforms suggested in the proposal would allow both graduate and undergraduate students who are actively involved as employees or owners in viable businesses related to entrepreneurship to obtain a Startup Visa, regardless of their area of study.

Dane Stangler, Kauffman Director of Research and Policy, suggests reform in immigration laws would ultimately benefit the country as a whole.

“We could likely give a huge boost to entrepreneurship, and thus the economy, by allowing international student innovators studying in all disciplines at all levels of higher education to launch and grow their companies in the United States,” Stangler said.

Though the proposal would make remaining in the country much less complicated for foreign students, it does not provide them with what some immigration critics would consider a “free pass.”

“People are worried that instead of actually starting a legitimate business, some students will just say they’re starting a business as a way to try to stay longer than they’re supposed to,” Luppino said. “We built into our proposal something where the school would have to additionally have someone involved with entrepreneurship that can say it looks like a legitimate business plan.”

The proposal also includes a follow-up plan for students who receive a Startup Visa. To ensure the terms of the visa are upheld, an administrator would be responsible for tracking the progress of the student’s business.

Luppino, Norton and Simmons are optimistic about the future for foreign entrepreneurial students, and intend to continue striving for more inclusive immigration laws.

[email protected]