2017 Year in Review: Immigration Reform

This post is one in a series of reports on significant issues for startups in 2017. In the past year, the startup community's voice helped drive notable debates in tech and entrepreneurship policy, but many of the startup world's policy goals in 2017, such as immigration reform and an open internet, remain unfulfilled. Check back here for more year-end updates and continue to watch this space in 2018 as we follow policy issues affecting the startup community.

2017 YIR.png

2017 Year in Review - Immigration

The debate over immigration policy intensified in 2017 as the new administration issued several executive orders aimed at curbing the flow of immigrants to the United States. Engine led the charge in pushing back against many of these measures, including a letter signed by over 200 startups opposing the Administration’s Executive Order banning citizens from seven countries. Skilled immigrants, especially those admitted under the H-1B program, bolster the country’s capacity for innovation and provide immense benefit to its economy at large. What’s more, foreign talent has fueled America’s thriving culture of entrepreneurialism and played a central role in making our country the leader in technology startups.


In April, the President ordered federal agencies to “review” the various policies that allow foreign workers to enter the United States as part of his “Buy American, Hire American” initiative, which has a particular focus on scaling back the H-1B program. Presently, 85,000 highly skilled immigrants are admitted via H-1B annually, many of which supply startups with the talent they need to grow. The Trump administration’s Executive Order directed the State Department to change the H-1B entry requirements, curtailing the number of visas granted under the program and prioritizing the most highly-paid or qualified immigrants. Subsequent directives handed down by the White House and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have extended this increased scrutiny to H-1B renewal applications as well, threatening to deport any of the 900,000 current visa holders living and working in the U.S. today for similar reasons. The administration’s actions deny startups, which often lack the resources to meet wage requirements and other demands, an essential source of expertise that helps them drive innovation and job creation.

Legal Battles

Engine is one of many organizations who raised skepticism over the President’s immigration-related executive orders on legal, moral, and economic grounds. As a result, we signed onto amicus briefs outlining these arguments in each of the two major lawsuits that challenge the lawfulness and constitutionality of the Administration’s restrictions on migration from seven countries: Washington v. Trump and Hawaii v. Trump. The latter is now on appeal to the Supreme Court.

Engine also pushed back against the Administration’s decision to reevaluate the International Entrepreneur Rule, also called the “Startup Visa.” This visa allows startup founders to start their business and in the United States after meeting certain requirements. Engine is working with the National Venture Capital Association in their legal battle with the Administration to protect the Startup Visa.

Pending Legislation on Skilled Immigration Reform

  • Rep. Lofgren (D - CA) introduced the High-Skilled Integrity and Fairness Act of 2017. The bill proposes the abolition of the “per country” cap on the number of employment-based visas granted, allowing all workers to compete fairly for slots on the basis of merit. What’s more, it reserves 20 percent of the annually allocated H-1B visas for startups and small businesses, ensuring that these entities have equal opportunity to compete for high-skilled foreign workers as their larger counterparts. The bill remains in the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.
  • Senator Grassley (R - IA) and Senator Durbin (D - IL) also introduced a bill pertaining to the H-1B program in January, the H1-B and L-1 Visa Reform Act. The bill seeks to establish an H-1B allocation system which prioritizes immigrants with advanced degrees in the STEM field and caps the proportion of H-1B employees a company can have at 15 percent. The bill also halves the length of H-1B visas from six to three years. It’s currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • Rep. Darrell Issa (R - CA) introduced yet another H-1B reform bill in January, the Protect and Grow American Jobs Act. The proposed legislation would raise the annual salary threshold requirement for H-1B workers from $60,000 to $100,000, making it significantly more challenging for startups to use the program to secure foreign talent. The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill in November.

Looking Ahead

The President’s proposed repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, otherwise known as DACA, prompted backlash from a multitude of leaders in the technology sector. Companies, including Microsoft and Apple, disclosed the “DREAMers” among their ranks and defended the Obama-era policy’s positive economic impact. With a March 2018 expiration date for the program looming, pressure to resolve the issue is growing in both parties. While there was some speculation that a DACA compromise could be rolled into a year-end spending bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the future of DACA is a matter to be discussed 2018.