Each year, state governors set out what they want to achieve in the coming months and, in New York, Kathy Hochul is keen to ensure the region retains international entrepreneurs and supports them to launch start-ups in the state.
In New York’s wide-ranging State of the State 2024 policy outline, the governor pointed out that while more than 44% of STEM graduate degrees from the State University of New York are awarded to international students, securing a visa to stay and work can be a challenge. Many “are forced to leave New York and start companies abroad”, she said.
Hochul wants to create new avenues for immigrant entrepreneurs, including international students.
Specifically, she proposed offering grants to research universities and colleges to help international entrepreneurs remain in New York and launch start-ups.
Participating graduate and doctoral students would be able to access university-sponsored visas to continue commercial research – a key barrier for international students hoping to start their own companies.
A 2022 study from the National Foundation for American Policy found that a quarter of billion-dollar startup companies in the US have a founder who first came to the country as an international student, and each of those businesses has created an average of 860 jobs.
NFAP also emphasised the importance of international students to America’s growing AI sector, with 42% of the top US-based AI companies having a founder who was previously an international student.
But students are, for the most part, forbidden to start businesses while in the US on an F-1 visa. While they can conduct market research and plan funding options, they would need to be enrolled in Optional Practical Training to actually work for a start-up.
“Create a startup visa for entrepreneurs”
Policy groups have called on the US government to change the visa system to give international students and graduates more opportunities to work and start businesses in the US.
“To help more international students remain in the US, the best solution is for congress to exempt from employment-based green card limits students with master’s degrees and PhDs, particularly in STEM fields, eliminate the per-country limit, raise H-1B numbers and create a startup visa for entrepreneurs,” said Stuart Anderson, executive director at the NFAP.
Hochul also acknowledged the additional barriers immigrants typically face when setting up a business in the US, and proposed creating a virtual centre to consolidate helpful resources and allow immigrant entrepreneurs to access services, including business support programs run by SUNY.
Anderson added that more states should consider programs like the one proposed in New York.
Andrew Chen, CEO of F1 Hire, which aims to simplify the job search process for international students in the US, also welcomed Hochul’s proposal, saying it has “the potential to be a transformative force”.
Recent research from F1 Hire found that only 1.6% of US job openings are “friendly to global talent”.
“These statistics highlight the necessity for initiatives like governor Hochul’s, aiming to create a more inclusive environment for international student entrepreneurs, ultimately enriching the state’s innovative capacity and economic strength,” Chen said.