How To Make American Dream great again – As a Jeb Bush donor, I don’t often find myself in agreement with the Obama Administration. However, the recent proposal that will enable foreign entrepreneurs to come (or stay) in the United States while starting a company is worthy of a standing ovation. And I should know. As a two-time startup founder and immigrant, I’ve experienced first-hand the bureaucratic red tape and legal jargon that make navigating this process virtually impossible – until now.
The Obama administration’s new initiative to unlock business opportunities for immigrants circumvents many problems foreigners who want to start a company in the U.S. face when trying to get here or stay here legally. The proposed plan outlines very reasonable fundraising requirements for someone to be able to apply for a special status that would allow them to stay in the U.S. for up to two years. Then, it goes one step further to encourage immigrants to launch their companies progressively in order to qualify to stay in the U.S. longer.
- This plan will have an extremely positive impact on our economy and could very well lead to a creation of another great tech icon. But before I celebrate the potential move forward with my fellow entrepreneurs, there are a few things the Administration needs to clarify:Will the spouses of program participants be allowed to work? This is important because many startup founders actually pay themselves very little in the beginning and often rely on financial support from their spouses through early funding efforts.
- Will the participant simultaneously be able to apply for a green card through the regular employee sponsorship process? Ownership in a company is a requirement to be eligible for the Administration’s new program, so it should be clear whether the stipulation can also be used against the founder in the standard green card process.
- What will the costs of this process be for immigrant founders? It is important for this to be a low cost process. It is awesome that CRV, a storied venture capital firm, is now paying for visa costs of all their founders, but that does not help everyone, and legal bills can be prohibitive in early days!
Applications, Aspirations and Complications
This is a very personal issue for me.
In August 1992, I came to the United States to attend 9th grade. My trip to the U.S. for school was the start of a nearly 20 year saga of jumping through hoops to maintain my immigration status as “legal” until I eventually got my green card. During those two decades, I also started a company, which is something most foreigners on employment visas cannot do.
I was fortunate because my previous employer, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), where I was on an H1B at the time, enabled me to go on a “secondment” while the first company I co-founded was getting started. After 6 months, I was able to transfer the H1B successfully, and I am forever grateful to BCG for enabling me to do this. (How To Make American Dream great again)
From my earliest days in the U.S., I knew that I wanted to become an American. However, the reality was (and still is) that unless you get a “genius visa,” seek asylum, or win a lottery, there are only two ways to get a green card: either through family sponsorship (I didn’t have any family in the U.S. and didn’t want to get married just for a green card) or employment sponsorship (which can take over a decade to get approved if you don’t have a Master’s degree or years of work experience). After being in the U.S. for nearly 15 years, I eventually was able to apply, as soon as I had enough work experience to get approval through the quicker green card route. At the time, I was working as a founder of Taxi Magic, my first company.
But here’s the amazing thing: my green card application was rejected because I owned too much equity in my company. I found out that the Labor Department, which has to approve the first step in the green card process, didn’t think that we were building a real business. This, despite the fact that we had raised millions of dollars in capital, secured over a dozen investors (including a publicly traded company) and hired over two dozen employees.
In order to stay “legal,” I had to leave my company, but was fortunate to get a green card through a different employer sponsoring me.
Things Look Promising. Let’s Keep It That Way.
Now for the good news: times are changing. This proposal by the Obama Administration opens new doors for immigrants who want to be entrepreneurs. And I hope that the Silicon Valley venture community comes to appreciate what an amazing chance this is to attract founders to the U.S. In particular, this creates a great opportunity to attract technical founders – a rarer breed of innovators – since there are awesome engineers all over the world, and many want to come to the U.S., but bringing them here to help start a company is very hard.
At my current company, Shift, our CTO and I are both immigrants. We are both used to having to deal with visas a lot. Because of this, our company’s policies are built to guide immigrant employees and offer advice for navigating government-mandated processes. As I write, we have five green card applications pending for people on our corporate team. Every individual going through the motions plays a critical role and their ability to work directly impacts our success.
The upcoming election presents a looming threat to the Obama Administration’s fresh progress in clearing the path for immigrants to pursue their business dreams. Afterall, immigration does exactly the opposite of what Trump tells us – it helps our economy.
Instead of pursuing policies that will help boost our economy, on the immigration front at least, Trump nativism will significantly damage technological innovation, which will only hurt the very people he claims to want to help. Remember Mr. Trump, there would be no Google without Sergey Brin, no Telsa without Elon Musk and certainly no Fox News without Rupert Murdoch.
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