The Trump administration is delaying a key program for foreign entrepreneurs

Tony Romm
President Trump shakes hands with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

The Trump administration took its first step Monday toward potentially unraveling a government program that would have paved the way for more foreign startup founders to come to the United States.

Its target is the International Entrepreneur Rule, an effort implemented by former President Barack Obama to allow foreigners who seek to build new companies — and already have capital and experience — to come to the United States on a 30-month trial without obtaining a visa.

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The rule, which had broad support in Silicon Valley, had been slated to go into effect on Friday — but in a notice to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would delay its implementation until March 14, 2018.

For its part, the Trump administration portrayed the decision as part of a broader, government-wide review of all existing federal immigration programs. "During the delay, DHS will be soliciting public comment on a proposal to withdraw to the rule, and individuals will not be able to apply for parole under the International Entrepreneur Rule," a spokesman said.

But the White House initially contemplated nixing the rule entirely as part of an executive order tightening border security that Trump signed in January. Ultimately, the president's directive did not scrap the program — but tech and investment leaders remain fearful the new delay announced Monday precedes its inevitable end.

The Mark Zuckerberg-backed immigration advocacy group, FWD.us, blasted the move as "unquestionably a setback for the United States in the global race for talent."

Mark Zuckerberg announced in April 2013 the formation of FWD.us
Bloomberg | Getty Images

"Members of the tech and business communities made their voices heard on the necessity of the IER, and we are dismayed that the Administration has chosen to ignore the advice of so many job creators," continued Todd Schulte, the group's president, in a statement.

The National Venture Capital Association, meanwhile, pledged it would try to "continue to educate the Trump administration" on issues related to immigration, stressing that the government's move "represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the critical role immigrant entrepreneurs play in growing the next generation of American companies."

The delay comes just weeks after Trump huddled with the leaders of companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google — and pledged to help them recruit the workers they need.

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