SBA Administrator Addresses Immigration Questions During Resarch Park Tour
Trump administration cabinet member Linda McMahon toured EnterpriseWorks, the University of Illinois’ technology and science startup incubator, Thursday morning. The Small Business Administration head addressed questions about the Trump administration's immigration policy, including the accessibility of visas for international entrepreneurs.
James Langer, co-founder of Serionix, a company based at EnterpriseWorks that creates air filters, said his business partner is originally from China and came to the U.S. on a student visa. While his business partner now has a green card, Langer said uncertainties regarding his co-founder's immigration status created challenges for the startup.
"The terms of the agreement in the visa make it really difficult for foreign students to start companies while they’re here," Langer said. "Because they’re at risk of violating the terms of their visa, and that in turn can compromise their immigration status.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Trump administration awarded about 40 percent fewer student visas to international students last year than the Obama administration awarded in 2015.
Speaking to reporters after her tour of the facility on the U of I campus, McMahon said the administration is reviewing ways to keep highly skilled immigrants in the country.
“We do want those really bright and sharp minds, and especially those who come in under visas who come to our colleges and universities,” McMahon said.
She said the Trump administration’s proposed merit-based system of immigration could help remove some of the barriers for immigrants to start businesses in the U.S. But critics of that policy say a more effective way to draw those workers to the U.S. would be to keep the International Entrepreneur Rule, which grants a period of stay to some foreign entrepreneurs who would provide a significant public benefit through their business. The Trump administration is considering doing away with the rule, according to an NPR report.
McMahon’s visit to EnterpriseWorks was part of a nationwide tour to hear from small business owners and to highlight the work of the U.S. Small Business Administration, which provides resources and support for comapnies to grow their workforce.
Serionix, which designs filters that remove toxins from the air and change to bright colors when they need to be replaced, benefited from the SBA’s Small Business Investment Research program. The company was founded in 2011 by a University of Illinois material science and engineering professor and two graduates.