Amid a summer of constant headlines in Washington, elements of a major overhaul of the U.S. immigration system have been moving forward. In July, the Trump administration announced its plans to delay (and possibly rescind) the International Entrepreneur Rule, which would permit immigrant start-up founders to work in the United States for an initial period of up to 30 months.
The administration kept the comment period on this rule open for only 30 days, while many were on summer vacations (more typical is 45 to 60 days of public comment). In August, right before Congress left for recess, Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) introduced the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act (or RAISE Act) with the support of President Trump. This bill would replace the current employment-based categories for entry with a points-based system that gives priority to those with advanced degrees in STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math.
And finally, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which has granted temporary protection from deportation to certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as minors — is also at risk of being phased out in September after 5 years.
Whether it’s ending DACA, blocking the IER, or the RAISE Act’s changes to employment-based immigration, consequences for fashion and tech will be severe. American creativity will suffer. Innovators will leave the United States. And women entrepreneurs will miss out on meaningful business opportunities.
Inclusiveness is necessary to fuel creativity and help advance the American economy, particularly for fashion and tech.
As founder of the Fashion Innovation Alliance, I’ve experienced firsthand the inclusivity of the fashion tech community. It is an exceptionally diverse sector in terms of gender, background and geographic diversity in the U.S. and abroad. This inclusiveness and cross-disciplinary exchange not only helps to harness the creativity of fashion tech globally, but it also leads to new collaborations and technological advancements that benefit the entire U.S. economy.
These innovations have ranged from stylish wearable accessories and apparel for health, fitness and safety to retail platforms making shopping and delivery simple and accessible. While engineers and coders are important to the delivery of these products, it is leadership rooted in the arts and humanities that imagines, designs and beautifies them and connects with consumers with creative branding and marketing. As Scott Hartley explains in his new book “The Fuzzy and the Techie,” those versed in the liberal arts add great value to technological innovation.
The RAISE Act, as currently introduced, would stifle this innovation fueled by the arts and humanities by giving immigrants with a background in STEM fields priority over other talented professionals. Delaying and rescinding the International Entrepreneur Rule would go even further and hurt both sides of innovation — the start-up founders focused on science and engineering as well as those with a strong background in the arts and humanities.
Immigrant start-up founders — including women entrepreneurs — will find funding globally and create jobs outside of the United States.
France, the United Kingdom and other countries are increasing their investment in innovation using visa programs for immigrant start-up founders. If international start-ups cannot get funding and the stability to work in the United States, they will go elsewhere. Silicon Valley and the venture capital community has been criticized heavily for being hostile to women, but a side effect of these sectors’ aggressive lobbying for the International Entrepreneur Rule is that it would be a great benefit to many women entrepreneurs.
For example, the New York Fashion Tech Lab — which invests in fashion, retail and technology start-ups led by women — has seen a significant increase in applications from entrepreneurs outside the U.S. since its launch in 2014. However, given the delay and possible removal of the International Entrepreneur Rule, it remains unclear if the NYFTL will be able to accommodate the increased interest.
In its most recent cohort, the fashion tech program had two start-ups from Israel, one from the U.K. and one from Russia. The program expects to hear from even more international entrepreneurs when their application period opens again in October 2017. Many female start-up founders from outside the U.S. would significantly benefit from the NYFTL’s network and resources, but they will miss out on the opportunity, and the U.S. will miss out on the jobs they will create if no legal path for start-up founders to work in the United States exists.
Both the fashion and tech industries were built by immigrant entrepreneurs. This American inclusiveness has helped to build the United States’ economic power. As we continue to push American innovation forward, we must look in the mirror, consider the consequences of changes to immigration policy and ask, is this the fashion statement America wants to make?
Kenya N. Wiley is founder and chief executive officer of the Fashion Innovation Alliance. For more information about the FIA, see: www.fashioninnovation.org.
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