Congress Passes the America COMPETES Act, Creates a New Visa Category

Congress Passes the America COMPETES Act, Creates a New Visa Category

BY: Kyra Aviles & Sarah Salarano 

“It’s beyond time for the U.S. to place itself on a path to compete at a global level in the modern era..,” Peter DeFazio (Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair) 

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed the America COMPETES Act, which creates a new visa category for foreign investors and allows certain immigrants to bypass green card quotas, amongst other provisions. The COMPETES Act, short for “America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology, and Economic Strength,” is aimed at preserving the U.S.’s dominance in the realm of scientific research and technology, as well as strengthening the U.S. supply chain, all while supporting strong labor standards. Find the full legislative text here.  

A new visa category for foreign investors 

The COMPETES Act has adopted the LIKE Act, “Let Immigrants Kickoff Employment,” originally proposed by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) in July 2021. The LIKE Act encourages foreign innovators to establish and develop venture capital-backed start-up companies in the United States to stimulate economic growth, create jobs in the U.S., and enhance the country’s competitive advantage on the world stage. The act creates a new visa category – the W visa – allowing foreign entrepreneurs to stay in the U.S. for a period of three years. To qualify for this visa, one must:   

  • Possess ownership interest in a start-up entity that has received the requisite amount of qualifying investments or government awards or grants;   
  • Play a central or active role in the management or operations of the entity; and   
  • Possess the knowledge, skills, or experience to substantially assist the entity with its growth and success   
  • The start-up entity must have $250,000 from qualified U.S. investors or $100,000 from government awards or grants 

For a full breakdown of the LIKE Act, please read our previous blog post summarizing the bill and how it complements the EB-5 and E-2 programs. 

Ph.D. holders with STEM degrees are exempt from green card quotas 

Highly qualified foreign nationals with Ph.D.’s in STEM fields can obtain permanent residency in the U.S. without first applying for a green card, an impediment faced by other investors due to extensive backlogs. This provision particularly benefits Ph.D.’s from India and China, who face extreme wait times for green cards. 

The definition of what constitutes as “STEM” is broadened in the bill. This initiative mainly applies to those who hold Ph.D.’s in the traditional science, tech, engineering, and mathematics sectors. However, it is also expected to benefit foreign doctors who completed their residencies and fellowships in the U.S. 

The legislative path for the COMPETES Act 

The COMPETES Act passed the House of Representatives with 222-210 votes. The bill now makes its way to the Senate, where Senate leaders can either approve the bill as is or make their own adjustments and amendments. In June 2021, the Senate approved the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021, which shares the COMPETES Act’s goal of bolstering the country’s STEM research and development. However, the Senate bill does not contain any immigration provisions in its current form. The COMPETES Act is seen as the House’s counterpart to the Senate bill, and now these two bills must be reconciled into one before they can be signed into law by the president.  

“It’s beyond time for the U.S. to place itself on a path to compete at a global level in the modern era, and that includes creating long-term economic growth and quality jobs for the American people,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio. “The strategic, bipartisan investments in this bill will enhance protections for consumers, promote competition in our economy, and strengthen scientific research and development for generations to come. Our nation will benefit greatly from this historic legislation, and I look forward to its swift passage,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler. 

About the Authors

Kyra Aviles is a paralegal at Mona Shah & Associates Global. She graduated from Oberlin College in May 2021 with a degree in Political Science and Law & Society.

Sarah Salarano is a paralegal at Mona Shah & Associates Global. She graduated from Emory University in December 2020 with a degree in Political Science and English.