Is EIR a sustainable model for work visa workaround?

The concept of a Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence is one many in Kentucky probably don’t know about. The first time many in the state may have heard of such a thing was last fall when Gatton College at the University of Kentucky announced the appointment of a native son to just such a role.

Those with experience overcoming immigration issues may have a better handle on the concept, especially in the wake of recent efforts to expand the application of who can potentially fill an EIR role to include non-immigrants seeking to see their dreams become a reality.

A ‘hack’ for foreign entrepreneurs

The model began as an experiment in Massachusetts. Now, five other states are employing the practice. The way it works is this. A foreign entrepreneur – perhaps one who has been studying in the U.S. on a student visa – is brought on by a college as an EIR. As the student visa expires, an H-1B visa is obtained.

Companies looking to bring in uniquely skilled talent they can’t find in the U.S. look to the H-1B visa to get what they need. However, policy caps the number of such visas for businesses. Colleges don’t face the same limits so the use of such visas by schools appears to be growing. In exchange for entrepreneurial mentoring services and perhaps some teaching, foreign EIRs have a chance to develop their own business.

Immigration advocates argue that as many as half of the most successful startups in the U.S. were the brainchildren of immigrants and that employing the H-1B visa system in this way is a win-win-win. But not everyone agrees. One leading senator in Washington complains that such a use of the program is a “cynical exploitation of loopholes in the law.”

The senator might be right. That’s not our call to make. However, many legal observers would likely agree that if loopholes exist, the way to close them is for lawmakers to correct the situation through legislation.



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