Dear Sophie: How will this election nail-biter affect immigration?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

The last 24 hours have been a nail-biter; I feel powerless and I’m angry that we’ve come to this. I’m worried things won’t improve and I’m confused about where we even stand.

Sometimes I just feel so very, very tired of the struggle. I am just so ready to let go. I want to live in a world where we can create harmony, peace and opportunity for all. Can I still find that in the United States?

— Wanting in Walnut Creek

Dear Wanting,

I hear you.

The good news is that there is great potential, even as the world watches the U.S. presidential election results. If anything, what the last four years have taught me is that two clichés are really true: necessity is the mother of invention, and, where there is a will, there is a way. I can relate to many folks around the world because I know what it’s like to have the world of Silicon Valley feel so close, yet so far away, at a time when I felt powerless to make a difference.

Looking back over the past four years, amazing things have been possible for our clients and my team at Alcorn Immigration Law. I founded the firm out of my kitchen just years ago when my kids were toddlers. I would look out my kitchen window hand-washing tiny baby dishes. I can still remember the feeling of the suds on my fingers as I gazed longingly at the tall building on Castro Street in downtown Mountain View where 500 Startups used to sit on the top floor. YC was just down the street.

I felt so powerless. I desperately wanted to make the world a better place, and reaching the world of Silicon Valley, even though it was just past my backyard, seemed like getting to Mars.

From those humble beginnings to now, as I founded and bootstrapped Alcorn Immigration Law on my own journey of becoming a single mom, I know what’s possible, even during the last four years of the Trump administration. We’ve had amazing success — claiming thousands of victories in supporting companies, people and families to live and work legally in the United States. If I was able to grow my firm during the last four years, I know that it’s possible for anybody to follow their heart and succeed. It’s our human essence to long to be a creator in this world, and anybody can and deserves to make a difference.

And here is what else I know: immigration law is created by acts of Congress and signed into law by the president. Mere tweets may be intended to try to bend the rules, but they cannot break them. That is what democracy is about.

In democracy, we have agreed to abide by basic laws, such as the inviolable dignity of the human being and that we want to agree on procedures for how we make decisions, like the process of passing a law about immigration. Democracy is not about majority tyranny. Democracy is about the fact that we uphold a few principles and we agreed on a decision-making process. When Trump ignores our basic laws and he ignores our legal processes, democracy is in peril.

But democracy does not need to be disrupted, it only requires small adjustments to thrive. In any group it is possible to make jointly supported decisions, taking the needs and resources of all into consideration. “Although the world is complex and decision making is complex, the components of decision making are simple,” according to Richard Graf, founder of K-i-E. Simple tools like the DecisionMaker can allow a miracle to happen — in an environment of openness and anonymity, we can all safely share our needs and concerns so that proposals can be formed based on collective best practices, knowledge, experience, intelligence and intuition. Even if it’s a complex situation, the way forward can immediately become clear.

And in our democracy, the paths to live and work in the U.S. will always remain viable, even if we need to remove a branch or navigate around a new boulder. Here at Alcorn, despite the furor and fear-mongering present in the world surrounding immigration, we are continually securing real victories for our clients. Not a client yet? Global founders can still create a startup, pitch it to investors and secure pathways to live and work legally in the United States with visas, green cards and citizenship.

So I know this and will repeat: Whatever the election results, there will still be many ways for people to legally navigate the U.S. immigration process and access the opportunity and security of life here. For more insight on these ways, please join my Election Results Webinar next week.

In the meantime, here are my thoughts on how the election results will affect the future of U.S. immigration:

Looking ahead, if Biden takes the victory, he has pledged to undo all Trump-era immigration regulations in the first 100 days and support comprehensive immigration reform. He promised to promote immigrant entrepreneurship, which could finally mean a startup visa! He also wants to speed up naturalization, rescind the Muslim travel bans, pass legislation to expand the number of H-1Bs, increase the amount of employment-based green cards, exempt international STEM PhD graduates from needing to await a priority date, create a new type of green card to promote regional economic development and support immigrant entrepreneur incubators.

Alternatively, we can expect that a Trump administration would continue restricting immigration, leading to litigation and judges deciding the fate of many recent policies. We can foresee a continued COVID freeze on green card interviews at consulates.

Also, DHS recently announced its intent to remove the randomness from the H-1B lottery and prioritize the annual H-1B selection process from highest to lowest wage starting in spring 2021. I’m sure there will be litigation about this; in the meantime, Alcorn Immigration Law continues to recommend that all employers proceed with registering employees and candidates in the lottery as usual. These details will take time to shake out and we don’t want anybody to lose a chance at being selected.

In other updates, immigration is just continuing along and there is actually some great news for folks: The State Department recently released the November Visa Bulletin and it stayed the same from October. (If you think your priority date is current or may be current soon, please contact your attorney as soon as possible to discuss filing your I-485 this month to avoid the possibility of retrogression in December!)

And if you need the freedom to build your startup, but were told that you don’t yet qualify for an O-1A visa, EB-1A or EB-2 NIW green card, you can join me in Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp with promo code DEARSOPHIE to receive 20% off.

We’re optimistic about the future. Life always offers us opportunities to grow through contrast and uncertainty, and we remain passionate about our mission to create greater freedom, empowerment, knowledge and love in the world.

Sophie


Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

Dear Sophie: Is it easier and faster to get an O-1A than an EB-1A?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

Is it easier and faster to get an O-1A extraordinary ability visa than an EB-1A extraordinary ability green card? What are the pros and cons of each?

—Outstanding in Oakland

Dear Outstanding:

Thanks so much for your timely questions about the extraordinary ability visa and green card. The short answer to your first question is yes, the O-1A visa is generally easier and faster to get than an EB-1A green card. In fact, I once helped a client get an O-1A approved in three days — of course, that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

We recently launched “Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp,” a new, 15-module online course that takes a deep dive into the O-1A extraordinary ability nonimmigrant (temporary) visa, the EB-1A extraordinary ability green card, the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver for exceptional ability) and what it takes to file a successful application in each category. Check my podcast where I discuss the Bootcamp in more detail. Register for the Extraordinary Ability Bootcamp and use code DEARSOPHIE for 20% off the enrollment fee.

In general, the requirements for a green card, which enable its holder to live permanently in the U.S., are more stringent than those for nonimmigrant visas, which only allow a temporary stay in the U.S. And U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) typically takes longer to process green card petitions than nonimmigrant visa petitions. Moreover, the U.S. imposes numerical and per-country caps on the number of green cards issued each year, which means some green card categories for people born in some countries, such as India and China, face long waits. Only a few visas have an annual cap (like the H-1B), but the O-1A visa is not one of them.

That said, the EB-1A has one of the shortest USCIS processing times, compared to other employment-based green cards. Also, EB-1A petitions are eligible for premium processing, which requires USCIS to make a decision on a petition within 15 days (whether it is “calendar” days or “business” days is currently in flux!). The I-140 petition can be adjudicated quickly in a few weeks, but for somebody whose priority date is “current” on the Visa Bulletin, the determining factor for how long a green card takes is often the I-485 processing time in the local field office. Recently that’s been taking about 1.5-2 years for interviews in the Bay Area.

Meanwhile, nonimmigration visa petitions can face delays for a number of reasons, but a delay happens most often when USCIS responds to a petition with a Request for Evidence (RFE). An RFE is a written notice from USCIS seeking additional evidence to make a decision on a case. During the past few years, the number of RFEs issued by USCIS for both visas and green cards has increased substantially.

Last month (September 2020) USCIS extended its policy of giving petitioners an extra 60 calendar days to respond to certain USCIS notices, including RFEs, intent to deny, revoke, rescind and terminate due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For any of these notices dated between March 1, 2020, and January 1, 2021, a timely response will be considered 60 days after the date listed on the notice. Whether you want to take advantage of this extra time is a conversation to have with your attorney, based on the strength of your pending petition and the urgency of getting an approval.

As you probably know, the O-1A visa is for individuals who have achieved national or international acclaim and have risen to the top of their field in the areas of science, education, business or athletics. The EB-1A enables individuals who have achieved substantial international or national success in their field due to their extraordinary talent to live permanently in the U.S.

Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of the O-1A and the EB-1A:

O-1A NONIMMIGRANT VISA

(Temporary Stay)

EB-1A GREEN CARD

(Permanent Residence)

Pros

  • Easier standard than EB-1A.
  • A change of status can be processed by USCIS in a few weeks.
  • Eligible for premium processing.
  • Unlimited extensions possible.
  • Does not require an LCA or PERM.
  • No annual cap.
Pros

  • Possible to self-petition without an employer sponsor or job offer.
  • I-140 is eligible for premium processing.
  • Green card: Allows you to permanently remain in the U.S.
  • Does not require an LCA or PERM.
  • Five years after green card can apply for citizenship.
Cons

  • Requires employer or agent sponsorship.
  • Requires job offer or itinerary of gigs.
  • Individuals cannot self-petition.
  • Might require union letter or advisory opinion.
  • Not a green card (permanent residence).
Cons

  • Multiyear process.
  • High evidentiary standard.
  • Annual numerical and per-country caps exist.
  • Backlog for people born in India and China.
  • Under a presidential proclamation issued in April, green cards not currently being issued at Consulates.

Keep in mind that like the EB-1, the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card does not require an employer sponsor. However, the eligibility requirements for the EB-2 NIW are less stringent than for the EB-1A. For individuals born in India and China, the downside to the EB-2 NIW green card is that they face a much longer wait compared to the EB-1A. Unlike the EB-1A, premium processing is not available for EB-2 NIW petitions.

Remember, U.S. embassies and consulates are not processing green cards so you should try to apply for a green card while you remain in legal status in the U.S. Otherwise, you may have to return to and stay in your home country for a while.

Still, getting a visa or green card abroad remains possible. I recommend working with an experienced immigration attorney to discuss which options best match your accomplishments, goals and timing. Remember, you can sign up for Bootcamp and use code DEARSOPHIE for 20% off the enrollment fee to get qualified!

All my best,

Sophie


Have a question? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space. The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer here. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major podcast platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!

Dear Sophie: What are my F-1 and other immigration options after graduation?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie: I’m graduating this fall with a Bachelor’s degree in molecular and cell biology. I hope to find a way to maintain my F-1 status to graduate. After graduation, I’m planning on applying for OPT.  I really want to work at a biotech startup. What options do I have to remain in the U.S. after OPT ends?

—Bright-Eyed in Berkeley

Dear Bright-Eyed,

Stay the course — you’re almost at the finish line. Even with everything going on, if you can maintain your F-1 status for the last semester, you should still be able to get OPT and STEM OPT and possibly a green card. As you know, OPT enables international students on F-1 visas to work for 12 months in their field of study after completing at least one academic year of studies. Like you, most students choose to wait to begin OPT after graduation. Many companies are starting to take the pledge to support international students.

A pledge to unite international students and tech

I count myself blessed to have been contributing my weekly Dear Sophie articles to Extra Crunch since the beginning of 2020. The inspiration for the column struck last December after I returned to the Bay Area from speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt. I was doing my hair, and I remember feeling the spark of the idea begin to take shape in my mind. Before I fully understood the shape of the thought, I knew it was already resonating in my heart.

The last three-and-a-half years have been hell for immigrants and hell for immigration lawyers. Probably a lot of caring government immigration adjudicators have felt it, too. But it’s like an abusive relationship: The people who keep getting knocked around by the administration are completely powerless and literally have no voice, as they are not entitled to the right to vote. Many immigrants live in fear that the cost of opening their mouths would be retaliation and deportation. So we need a new paradigm.

The latest insult to injury affecting high-skilled immigration, in the wake of consular closures and the the H-1B ban, is last week’s announcement that raises the possibility of the potential deportation of hundreds of thousands of international students currently enrolled in U.S. higher ed for taking online-only classes during COVID-19.

Even with litigation by Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins, and some programs offering qualifying courses for students to maintain enrollment, the clock is ticking. My firm is inundated by requests from students both local and even abroad, struggling to find a way to continue to simply “be” in the U.S. legally.

Many others are desperate to find employment to remain in status in the U.S. on OPT and STEM OPT work permits. Working visas such as the H-1B, a common option for many recent graduates, are also disintegrating. So many are scared that they could be forced to leave, as they have been now, for years.

Why is it hard to leave? Well, think about it. Immigrants are people. Your friends, your neighbors. Like you. Some international grad students who have been here for almost a decade completing cutting-edge research put down roots and might be pregnant now or have U.S. citizen children, not to mention, potentially have been working for decades for lucrative job opportunities ahead.

And then, beyond the obvious COVID-19 health concerns about departing the U.S. on international flights in the midst of a pandemic, some home countries aren’t even accepting citizens immediately and returning students may face long waits for flights with potentially exorbitant fees. Many students, families and university administrators around the country and around the world are scared.

So many immigrants are trying their best, but under this administration it feels like a Sisyphean task — never enough — as the rock keeps rolling back down the hill.

All last week I found myself fielding The Zoom Calls of Panic: the brilliant UX designer who tells me he’s in purgatory; the accomplished Ph.D. who laments that “the U.S. is the only country that won’t take me after I get my U.S. Ph.D.”; the amazing business woman crying that she needs an extraordinary ability visa not for herself but so that she doesn’t disappoint all the families of all the people for whom she has created jobs in the United States.

Yet also, last week, there were so many glimmers of hope, opportunities for my clients to make decisions, and chances I got to take to show somebody that they can have choices, routes, strategies and hope.

One of the most inspiring things was all of the employers who have been coming out of the woodwork to support international students and grads to sponsor them for visas. Five years ago, that was simply a matter of routine business necessity in a system that was predictable, secure, navigable and easily accomplished in volume. Now, meeting a U.S. employer excited to sponsor international students as an act of solidarity gives me chills as an act of courageous heroism.

One of the events that almost moved me to tears last week was when I stayed up late one night and dragged myself to put on makeup after I finally got my elementary school kids to bed. Bleary, I provided a rambling 40-minute YouTube live stream interpreting the F-1 visa ban for international students after they had requested this from me on LinkedIn saying “In Sophie We Trust” (no pressure!). During the live stream, I received a comment from David Valverde, founder of Pranos.ai. He said that he had been an international student and that he would pledge to consider international students for job openings at his rapidly scaling startup.

We stayed in touch throughout the week on LinkedIn, and every time a stranded international student with a tech background who needed a job contacted me, I sent them David’s way. We finally connected on Friday, and somehow egged each other on to commit to volunteering in a self-imposed 2.5-day “hackathon for social good.”

This weekend’s result? We proudly announce the Community for Global Innovation (CFGI), a movement centralizing how companies and individuals around the world can stand in solidarity with international students and the belief that everybody deserves a chance to succeed.

CFGI is a constellation of top startups, VCs, professionals, nonprofits, international students and grads. We pledge to support international students, create awareness and effect change.

Through the platform, companies take the CFGI Pledge to support international students: “If you’re international, no problem. In our team, everybody has a chance.”

We also teamed up with Welcoming America, a leading U.S. nonprofit, accepting donations to make the U.S. more inclusive toward immigrants and all residents.

We’re actively seeking the support of volunteers, corporate donors and community members such as international startup founders who know it’s time to share their stories.

Growing up as the daughter of an immigration attorney and an immigrant, I know that innovation can truly come from anywhere. Diversity is critical for innovation.

The technology we rely on every day was often invented and created by people who had the courage to leave their homeland and start a new life. We all benefit as they continually create more jobs in the world as we move to a new global interconnected economy.

Life is not a zero-sum game: When we can come together to support one person to succeed, it benefits us all.

Everybody deserves a chance.

As a result of CFGI, I’m blown away by what David is doing, and I’m so excited to see how others contribute. David’s company Pranos.ai is a revolutionary mass media platform that converts any window into a transparent digital HD display. David told me:

“Especially in an early-stage technology company, every new hire has an incredible effect on the company’s destiny. Hiring highly skilled top-talent at the beginning is critical to how Pranos.ai will create many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of jobs globally through the growth of the gig economy.”

Pranos.ai was the first company to take the CFGI Pledge. They are open to considering any candidate based on merit, regardless of immigration status. David is proud to recruit a diverse team and stand in solidarity with international students.

pranos.ai

Image Credits: pranos.ai

And why do I care about all of this so much?

I know what it’s like to be on the outside. Even though I practiced as an immigration attorney right out of law school, I gave up my career for many years to take care of my two small children.

I experienced postpartum depression and things snowballed as my dad, who was my dear mentor and friend, passed away unexpectedly and then my marriage came to an end. I wondered how I could survive in Silicon Valley as a single mom without a professional network.

Imposter syndrome shook me to my core. I longed to be an entrepreneur but I found reasons that it seemed impossible, like that I didn’t know the slightest bit about coding.

So, I decided to serve others. I began my immigration law firm out of my kitchen and met clients at a Peet’s on Castro Street in downtown Mountain View that has since turned into apartments.

I offered pro bono immigration services to people facing deportation who had experienced persecution based on their sexuality and individuals who had experienced domestic violence. I thought, “Well, at least I can support others.”

Little did I know that my clients were actually the ones supporting me: to believe in myself and create a new life. I’m inspired by the amazing courage of immigrants and the grit and tenacity of everybody who has the courage to follow their dreams.

I’m delighted by the access to information and spread of knowledge that we’ve all been able to pull off so far with “Dear Sophie.”

And now CFGI is here, where companies can take the pledge so they can be attractive to the world’s best and brightest who will know that hiring decisions are based on merit.

I’m also thrilled to see what will come next.

I stand here in deep appreciation of everybody who comes together in love and support of one’s neighbors. Because we all know, this is actually a very small, lovely blue dot in the universe, and we are all neighbors. The lines on the map that divide us that we call “walls” don’t actually separate the human spirit, or love, or ideas, or even germs, as we’ve all so keenly learned.

With so many global challenges and opportunities, I understand that our immigration struggles are simply a microcosm of so many things, and we can’t and won’t go back to the way things were.

We here who are privileged enough to live in Silicon Valley know how fortunate we are. This is where the future is being created, where the veil is thin between thoughts and things. Here, ideas rapidly come into creation and reality.

Here, we see each other on eye-level. We seek out challenge as opportunity. And we know that one focused person is more powerful than a million who are not, so innovation can come from anywhere, and one person can change the world.

So maybe here, on this leading-edge outpost, between the San Andreas fault and the crashing waves of the Pacific, we have an opportunity to take a stand:

We believe that everybody should have a chance to do well. Let’s start by standing in solidarity with international students and graduates through CFGI. And since what benefits one of us benefits us all, perhaps with the growing momentum, we can support others, such as children in immigration jail, asylum seekers, Dreamers and everybody else who deserves a chance.

Because, but for the grace of God, there could have been born I.

I am thrilled to announce CFGI. Remember, life is not a zero-sum game. If we can come together in love to support just one person, that ripples out and benefits us all.

I hope you’ll join me.


Learn how to make immigration work for you at Early Stage where immigration expert Sophie Alcorn will troubleshoot the many snags that can affect early-stage startups that are trying to bring talent into the country. Buy your tickets now. 

Read “Dear Sophie” on Extra Crunch; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Four views: How will the work visa ban affect tech and which changes will last?

The Trump administration’s decision to extend its ban on issuing work visas to the end of this year “would be a blow to very early-stage tech companies trying to get off the ground,” Silicon Valley immigration lawyer Sophie Alcorn told TechCrunch this week.

In 2019, the federal government issued more than 188,000 H-1B visas — thousands of workers who live in the San Francisco Bay Area and other startup hubs hold H-1B and H-2B visas or J and L visas, which are explicitly prohibited under the president’s ban. Normally, the government would process tens of thousands of visa applications and renewals in October at the start of its fiscal year, but the executive order all but guarantees new visas won’t be granted until 2021.

Four TechCrunch staffers analyzed the president’s move in an attempt to see what it portends for the tech industry, the U.S. economy and our national image:

Danny Crichton: Trump’s ban is a “self-inflicted” blow to our precarious economy

America’s economic supremacy is increasingly precarious.

Outsourcing and offshoring led to a generational loss of manufacturing skills, management incompetence killed off many of the country’s leading businesses and the nation now competes directly with China and other countries in critical emerging industries like 5G, artificial intelligence and the other alphabet soup of technological acronyms.

We have one thing going for us that no other country can rival: our ability to attract top talent. No other country hosts more immigrants, nor does any other country capture the imagination of a greater portion of the world’s top minds. America — whether Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Hollywood, Harvard Square or anywhere in between — is where smart people congregate.

Or at least, it was.

The coronavirus was the first major blow, partially self-inflicted. Remote work pushed employers toward keeping workers where they are (both domestically and overseas) rather than centralizing them in a handful of corporate HQs. Meanwhile, students — the first step for many talented workers to enter the United States — are taking a pause, fearing renewed outbreaks of COVID-19 in America while much of the rest of the developed world reopens with few cases.

The second blow was entirely self-inflicted. Earlier this week, President Donald Trump announced that his administration would halt processing critical worker visas like the H-1B due to the current state of the American economy.

Affirming the position of tech advocates, Supreme Court overturns Trump’s termination of DACA

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that President Donald Trump’s administration unlawfully ended the federal policy providing temporary legal status for immigrants who came to the country as children.

The decision, issued Thursday, called the termination of the Obama-era policy known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals “arbitrary and capricious.” As a result of its ruling, nearly 640,000 people living in the United States are now temporarily protected from deportation.

While a blow to the Trump Administration, the ruling is sure to be hailed nearly unanimously by the tech industry and its leaders, who had come out strongly in favor of the policy in the days leading up to its termination by the current President and his advisors.

At the beginning of 2018, many of tech’s most prominent executives, including the CEOs of Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google, joined more than 100 American business leaders in signing an open letter asking Congress to take action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program before it expired in March.

Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichai who made a full throated defense of the policy and pleaded with Congress to pass legislation ensuring that Dreamers, or undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and were granted approval by the program, can continue to live and work in the country without risk of deportation.

At the time, those executives said the decision to end the program could potentially cost the U.S. economy as much as $215 billion.

In a 2017 tweet, Tim Cook noted that Apple employed roughly 250 of the company’s employees were “Dreamers”.

The list of tech executives who came out to support the DACA initiative is long. It included: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty; Brad Smith, the president and chief legal officer of Microsoft; Hewlett-Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman; and CEOs or other leading executives of AT&T, Dropbox, Upwork, Cisco Systems, Salesforce.com, LinkedIn, Intel, Warby Parker, Uber, Airbnb, Slack, Box, Twitter, PayPal, Code.org, Lyft, Etsy, AdRoll, eBay, StitchCrew, SurveyMonkey, DoorDash, Verizon (the parent company of Verizon Media Group, which owns TechCrunch).

At the heart of the court’s ruling is the majority view that Department of Homeland Security officials didn’t provide a strong enough reason to terminate the program in September 2017. Now, the issue of immigration status gets punted back to the White House and Congress to address.

As the Boston Globe noted in a recent article, the majority decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts did not determine whether the Obama-era policy or its revocation were correct, just that the DHS didn’t make a strong enough case to end the policy.

“We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action,” Roberts wrote. 

While the ruling from the Supreme Court is some good news for the population of “dreamers,” the question of their citizenship status in the country is far from settled. And the U.S. government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has basically consisted of freezing as much of the nation’s immigration apparatus as possible.

An Executive Order in late April froze the green card process for would-be immigrants, and the administration was rumored to be considering a ban on temporary workers under H1-B visas as well.

The President has, indeed, ramped up the crackdown with strict border control policies and other measures to curb both legal and illegal immigration. 

More than 800,000 people joined the workforce as a result of the 2012 program crafted by the Obama administration. DACA allows anyone under 30 to apply for protection from deportation or legal action on their immigration cases if they were younger than 16 when they were brought to the US, had not committed a crime, and were either working or in school.

In response to the Supreme Court decision, the President tweeted “Do you get the impression that the Supreme Court doesn’t like me?”

 

 

Dear Sophie: What’s the best option for international founders to expand in the US?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

I’m a startup founder in Israel looking to expand into the U.S. market. What is the best visa option for me and a key member of my executive team to come to the U.S. to establish a sales and marketing office there? I would like my spouse and children to join me if my spouse can also work in the U.S. Is that possible?

— Tenacious in Tel Aviv

Dear Tenacious:

Thanks for reaching out. Based on your situation, the E-2 visa for treaty investors and employees may offer the best option.

An underutilized option, the E-2 visa is ideal for startup founders and employees whose home country has a treaty of commerce and navigation with the U.S. Israelis became eligible for E-2 visas just last year, joining the citizens of 80 other treaty countries. For more details on E-2 visas for founders and employees, check out Episode 16 of my “Immigration Law for Tech Startups” podcast.

Dear Sophie: How do I extend my visa status without leaving the US?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

I’m an E-3 visa holder and I usually go back to Australia to extend my visa.

Given the COVID-19 travel restrictions, how do I extend my immigration status from inside the U.S.?

— Aussie Programmer

Dear Aussie:

Thanks for your question. The extension process from inside the U.S. is similar for you and anyone on a working visa, such as H-1B, H-1B1 (from Chile or Singapore) or TN (from Canada or Mexico). You might be used to traveling back home, or to Canada, to renew your visa. However, there’s another way to do it.

Attorney Sophie Alcorn answers readers’ immigration questions

We had a great time hosting noted immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn on a live conference call with Extra Crunch members earlier this week.

Sophie writes our “Dear Sophie” column, where she answers questions about immigration status, particularly for founders and others in the tech ecosystem who want to work in the United States.

In our conference call, we talked about the changes happening to H-1B visas, what COVID-19 is doing to the immigration system and some of the top concerns of founders in these perilous times. Below the jump, you’ll find an edited transcript, or you can listen to the call in its entirety.

As with all legal advice, always speak with your own retained attorney about specific details regarding your own cases as illustrative examples may or may not apply to your own unique situation.

Remitly launches Passbook, a neobank aimed at immigrants, to expand beyond money transfers

Last summer, the Seattle-based startup Remitly closed a $135 million round to go beyond money-transfer services into a wider range of financial products catering to its primarily-immigrant customer base.

Today, it’s taking the wraps off a new product that puts paid to that plan: it’s launching Passbook, a new bank aimed at immigrants that lets a person use any form of picture ID — whether it’s from the US or not — to sign up. The service is starting first in the US — Remitly’s biggest market today among its 15 “send from” countries and 40 “send to” countries. The long-term plan is to roll out Passbook anywhere that Remitly is active over time.

Aimed at the 44 million immigrants in the country that Remitly already targets with services to send money back to their home countries, the idea is to give them options to open and use bank accounts even if they are not in possession of Social Security numbers or other forms of US-originated identification, as long as they are living in the US, have another form of identification (for example a passport from another country), and in cases where the ID lacks an address, proof of where they live.

Passbook is tapping into a problem that extends into both developed and developing markets, where collectively some 1.7 billion people globally remain “unbanked,” with no access to bank accounts and therefore mostly off the financial grid, and therefore unlikely to have access to services like credit that can potentially help them improve their financial station in life.

Passbook is interesting not just because it’s addressing a gap in the market of financial services, but because of the timely subject matter.

The subjects of migrant workers, immigration, nationality — and how to best to handle the influx of new populations of people within a country’s borders coming for a variety of reasons — are all being hotly debated in the US and elsewhere. Large political shifts and platforms are being built and pivoting around how people view the movement of people.

But while those subjects get lots of attention in the media, in the halls of government, at the bar and around the proverbial dinner table, ironically the subject of those arguments — the people themselves — regularly get overlooked when it comes to building new services and calibrating tech to focus on them, two things that could clearly improve their individual lots and the economy as a whole. Immigrants globally represent some $1.3 trillion in wages and $900 billion in spending power annually.

“No-one should be excluded from banking and financial services,” said Matt Oppenheimer, the CEO and co-founder of Remitly, in an interview in London last week about Passbook.

Passbook is a logical expansion for Remitly because there is a strong overlap between the typical Remitly’s target customer, a country’s immigrant population, and those living in a country like the US who are underbanked.

Today many of the individuals who use money transfer services are immigrants, who use them to send money to family and friends in their “home” countries. Those immigrants, in turn, are the most likely US residents to lack social security numbers and other kinds of US-issued identification.

Up to now, that has made it harder for them to open bank accounts, since many banks in the US — in an effort to avoid risk, not because of a legal requirement — often require those US-originated identification documents to open the accounts in the first place.

But that opens an opportunity for a company like Remitly, which can use a banking service to expand its services funnel with its existing users — it has to date sent some $6 billion in funds on behalf of its users — and to open a new front in adding in other customers who may not already be using it for money transfer.

Since the main requirement is to satisfy “Know Your Customer” compliance, Remitly can do this using other documentation that a person is likely to have.

Remitly has set Passbook up like a typical challenger bank (these days often referred to as a “neobank”), in that it operates as a virtual, online-only bank with no physical office and has partnered with another banking partner called Sunrise that runs all the services under the hood and provides FDIC guarantees for deposits up to $250,000. On top of that, Remitly has worked in a number of features that it believes give customers not just a bank account, but one that has features specific to those that might appeal to its specific customer base.

That includes, in addition to basics like having an account into which money can be paid in and out, and having a Visa-based debit card to make cashless transactions, users getting the ability to “choose your flag” to personalise a card, no fees for transactions when the payment card is used abroad, no account maintenance fees, no overdraft fees, no ATM fees and no minimum balance.

As you would expect, Remitly will soon be adding in the ability to link the Passbook accounts to their money transfer feature to make the process more seamless, and presumably cheaper to entice more cross-service signups. No loans on the platform yet, but you can imagine credit, mortgages and other kinds of lending to make its way there over time as well.

Given the focus on immigrants as users, I asked Oppenheimer about the potential risk that they would be providing services to people who are in the US undocumented and potentially illegally, and wether that could pose problems for the company. He replied that the company is committed to protecting the privacy of its customers and since all that is needed is to satisfy KYC compliance, Remitly would never have information on a users’ immigration status one way or the other, leaving the question off the ledger altogether.

I also asked Oppenheimer where the company stands on funding. It has now raised just under $400 million, and for now is in no hurry to raise any more, he said. But when and if financing is added into the mix of services, you might imagine that will change again.