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The Founder Visa (again) (samaltman.com)
319 points by dmnd on Mar 17, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 186 comments

This is a great idea, can I do this too?? The government can give me 100 visas to allocate, and I'll give them to international entrepreneurs whom I consider to be deserving and who incidentally and in a totally non quid-pro-quo fashion agree to sell me a 7% stake in their companies for a nominal fee.

I'll also buy them pizza once a week, if that sweetens the pot.

Airbnb and Dropbox will tell you that YC was instrumental in their success.* And, indeed, that the YC equity stake is worth it. So I think the thrust of your argument is off-base -- there's some plausible justification for it.

But to your broader point -- conferring immigration status upon acceptance by an arbitrarily-designated institution makes me uncomfortable too. However, it's a ship that sailed a long time ago. (Colleges, for e.g.) Given that we effectively permit universities to pick hundreds of thousands of visa recipients every year, experimenting with 100 for entrepreneurship seems not insane.

* (So will Stripe!)

Survivor bias is the opposite of objectively rational and actionable data.


The thrust of his argument is that YC is asking to be granted special privileges, in a circumstance in which they happen to directly benefit, in a way that only helps them unfairly cement their already privileged position.

It'd be hard for me to look at this privilege being granted as anything other than evidence of corporate/investor oligarchical corruption -- an outlook that isn't improved by your referencing their importance to success.

Well, I think survivorship bias is separate (though, agreed, it is endemic in our industry) -- the logic wouldn't change in this argument even if YC had only funded Airbnb and Dropbox. It may be a case of misattribution by the founders concerned, but hey -- in the absence of RCTs, trusting them seems like the right default.

> The thrust of his argument is that YC is asking to be granted special privileges, in a circumstance in which they happen to directly benefit, in a way that only helps them unfairly cement their already privileged position.

I don't think Sam's argument is quite as self-serving, though I see how it could be interpreted this way. I think he'd agree that YC should not be a gatekeeper. (As in PG's original proposal.) But if the argument against the original proposal is that we somehow need more data before rolling it out everywhere, running a smaller experiment with YC would seem to be better than nothing at all.

I completely agree with you that a steady-state world of privileged visa-granters is not what we should be trying to bring about.

> ... trusting them seems like the right default.

Wouldn't objective analysis be the right default, rather than trusting those that were successful within an organization that has incentives that are, in the majority, contrary if not in outright competition, to your own?

YC isn't a charity, as I'm sure you're aware, and success is not guaranteed. They're in the business of throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

Nobody wants to be the spaghetti that doesn't stick, but the vast majority will be, and it's in YC's interests to keep convincing new people to jump in the pot.

So no, I don't trust them, or their motives, or think that it's to the benefit of anyone other than YC to grant them special immigration privileges. I certainly don't think outlier examples justify or prove YC's value to the American people, or to foreign citizens who might wish to pursue their interests here.

I completely respect that, and I'm certainly not about to argue with a YC alum about the value of YC on the YC community forum. But there is a world of difference between trading equity for mentorship vs trading equity for a visa [+ mentorship]. It will obviously never happen, but if it did the program would be unrecognizable.

Yeah, that dynamic would be concerning. Having only YC issue the visas would be much worse than having a broader entrepreneurship visa.

This is the core problem, who gets to allocate the visas?

If we assume only YC & some of the other incubators it starts to drive more traffic to them and raises the barrier to entry for a new incubator as they probably won't be on this program (allocating visas).

Why not let the market decide?

why not just charge $10k or 10% additional tax and just let all the people that want to work come in. Then when the startup fails they can leave.

we got crockpot meals, not pizza!

This is a terrible idea.

VCs have proposed the same solution in Canada; the government canned the old investor visa and allowed founders to get a startup when they receive investment from some of our VCs. (There were many more investor visa than VCs can even process. We'll end up with less total job creation. You have to be careful what you lobby for, and how it will be implemented!)

What was once a process over which government had visibility is now in the hands of the private sector, with firms that have historically discriminated on age, ethnicity, gender, etc.

I'm not saying I wouldn't trust Sam Altman. I just wouldn't trust most VCs with this task.

> What was once a process over which government had visibility is now in the hands of the private sector, with firms that have historically discriminated on age, ethnicity, gender, etc.

That logic would suggest companies shouldn't be allowed to hire non-immigrants without government approval either, since they've historically discriminated against people with non-immigrant hires too. But as far as I know, you're not suggesting you should have to apply to the government to get a job at your local IBM office, because that would be weird. We just make discrimination illegal and hope for the best. Why wouldn't the same logic apply to VCs funding foreigners?

Another problem there is the "we don't have oversight into how fair this will be, so now no one gets it!" which helps no one, including all those people you're trying to protect from discrimination.

If a company as large as IBM systematically discriminates, I sure hope they end up in legal trouble.

Me too. But that's the point - we let them hire people until someone shows they're discriminating.

Imagine a world where to get a job you had to ask the government for permission (which is precisely what immigrants have to do in our world). Then one day someone comes along and says, "why don't you just let the companies hire whomever they want?" And then do you really say, "whoa whoa, now that the employment process isn't under government supervision, now we can't tell if they're discriminating"?

Save for the fact that as an industry, the VCs are not even trying to be fair. Much as it sucks, asking the government for permission seems better than what that group would achieve.

Nobody's proposing to eliminate existing visa categories. Indeed, existing visas such as E-2 or EB-5 are good for allowing immigrants to start self-funded businesses. Sam's proposing a new category, for entrepreneurs that aren't bringing their own money.

No one was proposing that in Canada either... :(

What visa's did we get rid of in Canada?

FP says the "entrepreneur visa", IIRC it required putting up your own money:


Yeah, but did you read what people were doing with it. You can hire someone to buy a corner store/franchise and "run" it for a year and then just sell it to someone else coming it. I bet it brought very few jobs to the country.

The Canadian one seems like a case of starting with decent intent but ending up with a system that pretty clearly had the details written in a way that's mostly looking out for the interests of a few big finance-side players. The requirement that it has to be Canadian VCs and angels, and Canadian VCs and angels on a specific list no less, makes it look like the category is really about maximizing deal flow to a few Canadian investment firms.

I have an experience with that.

I was applying to the Canadian entrepreneurship program since 2010, so 4 years now. I was aware the processing time was long, so I was just waiting to be my turn to be processed. 3 weeks ago I've heard that the entrepreneurship program has been canceled in profit of the startup visa one. I mean that seems to be on whim and that's not really nice to wait 4 years for nothing but that's life I guess. I have started to contact the people on the accredited list, they seem to be overflow by the applications following the program. The big winners seem to be the organization on the accredited list, everyone else has been fucked.

Whoa - they just told you now? :O

I'm sorry you've had to wait this long.

This whole situation is insane. We could actually just let more people in; we need more for long-term demographic reasons and the current policy is just a xenophobic disaster.

They haven't told me anything yet, I've just read it in the news. They made it pretty clear that the current backlog of applications are going to be trashed, I guess including mine.

You don't have to be sorry, gov. != people.

What I dislike particularly it's the kind of hypocrisies you were denouncing. Canadian VCs had been lobbying for this kind of visa while other entrepreneur visa programs being shutdown. Now there are in position to determine who is getting Canadian residency based on their own interests. Like for example, I am posting this rant now under my usual handle, is it going to undermine our chances to get Canadian VCs' funding and be in Canada? Maybe or maybe not. I liked the ancient system where you have just to show you have accumulate more than $300k while being an entrepreneur whereas now it's the sole dick-sucking abilities that matters.

An incubator is different than VCs. If an incubator figured out a way to "hired" founders, that could be a hackaround if it didn't expose them to other employee rights assertion issues.

Down-voters: explain, please?

You don't think the experience from this type of policy being tried somewhere else is relevant? That it won't backfire?

The way you explained it, it seems you're blaming the VCs for something that was government's fault (it was the government's decision to cancel the old visas, instead of keeping them in parallel with the new one).

"Blame" is the wrong way to think about any major policy decision. Instead, you want to think of the effects of the new policy - whether or not anyone intends to do harm (most people don't), will harm result? The grandparent poster's experience with a similar policy in Canada is very relevant there. I don't personally have a position about founder visas - I'm a U.S. citizen, so they don't affect me - but I do think that having all the arguments for and against, particularly concerning unintended consequences, is pretty important.

The way I understood the poster, the harm came from the government canceling the old investor visas. That seems pretty easy to fix: just add new visas on top of the old ones. The consequences of the way it happened were pretty clear: a bunch of people who previously would use the old investor visas (where you could put up your own money, I imagine) now can't. The effects of this decision shouldn't have been surprising to anyone.

The problem is that you and I don't control what the government does. Government stupidity is a reality that has to be factored into decision-making. And maybe there's a way around it in this case - perhaps whoever drafts & sponsors the Founder Visa law just needs to be aware of the potential pitfall and make everyone else involved aware of why there need to be separate founder & investor visas, most of the time stupid decisions are made because reasonable people don't have all the information necessary - but it's still really important to be aware of it so you don't create unintended consequences. Saying "Well, I had the right idea, it just turned out to be a disaster because of other people" doesn't stop it from being a disaster.

Thanks for the feedback. I'll try to be more careful how I state things.

Also from the HN guidelines: http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

> Resist complaining about being downmodded. It never does any good, and it makes boring reading.

Asking people to explain downvotes is really a form of complaining about downvoting. People routinely downvote when they disagree.

The part of this that really worries me is that would-be founders, after making their pitch, are now waiting to find out if the investors have bestowed the right to live and work in the US upon them.

I understand that it is complicated. The US only takes about 1.2 million immigrants legally into the country every year, and because of our emphasis on family reunification, this means that startup founders may not get one of the spots.

If you make this about whether these folks should be allowed into the US, the answer (yes) is pretty simple, which is why some people think it is a simple question.

If you make this about whether a wealthy investor is now not only empowered not only to decide who gets money, but also who gets citizenship, it isn't nearly as obvious an answer. I would hope that people find the idea unsettling, no matter how high their regard is for the investors asking for this new power.

It shouldn't be the only way to get a (nonimmigrant in this proposal, incidentally) visa. But I really do believe it should be one way--it's hard to argue that more startups would hurt the economy.

I agree with you that there is a level of discomfort inherent in letting investors influence who gets visas, but honestly they know more about what startups have a chance at great success than government officers.

> it's hard to argue that more startups would hurt the economy.

It's not as clear that government subsidization of your position would benefit the economy in the long-term, especially after more closely examining the beneficiaries of the majority of wealth extracted by VC startups.

It frightens that you seem to honestly believe that you -- specifically and individually -- deserve special privileges that not only will the rest of us equally hard-working, economy-growing, business-founding citizens not get, but that will make it that much harder for us to compete with your already privileged position.

I don't see any claims of "government subsidization" or "special privileges". I think this kind of visa would allow people to move to the US to start a company, on equal footing with "equally hard-working, economy-growing, business-founding citizens".

It's right there in the article. He's requesting that the government grant to YC:

1) An allotment of visas.

2) Control over the allocation of those visas

... possibly to be extended to other venture capital firms (nobody else, of course, and certainly nobody self-funding a company with capital equivalent to that which YC provides). He's happy for YC to be the only beta tester for now, though.

How does this give special privileges to the recipients of those visas?

No, they're saying it gives special privilege to YC.

Is there any way to use the existing EB-5 Immigrant Investor visa?


As far as I know, to qualify for an EB-5 you need to invest at least US$1M and create 10 jobs within 2 years.

It might be a dumb idea, but could investors invest in an entity owned by a foreign founder, who would turn around and repatriate the investment in a US "new commercial entity", and qualify for an EB-5?

I don't think so. From 8 CFR 204.6

Capital means cash, equipment, inventory, other tangible property, cash equivalents and indebtedness secured by assets owned by the alien entrepreneur, provided that the alien entrepreneur is personally and primarily liable and that the assets of the new commercial enterprise upon which the petition is based are not used to secure any of the indebtedness.

For that to work, I think the VC would have to unconditionally give the founder the $1M which is obviously not going to happen.

Bradley nails it. I've looked into this in trying to implement startup visa since March 2011.

The EB-5 requires the capital to be personally owned, as it's intended for wealthy individuals to invest in a local business, usually a construction subcontractor or Vermont ski resort (EB-5 having been created by law sponsored by VT Senator Patrick Leahy back in 1990).

With a prepared lawyer, investors, and founding team, the legal paperwork CAN be set up to make use of an EB-5 (or E-2, at the $50k-150k level) on behalf of a founder, but most founders aren't aware of the hoops they need to jump through or preparation at an early enough stage. And once development has crossed various lines, to 'uncross' them to implement the correctly prepared setup raises other red flags within USCIS.

To me, a necessary (but not sufficient) condition would be a powerful "sunshine" clause. Companies and individuals who are empowered to bestow US residency can't operate in secret.

So in other words money gets to buy a shortcut in the immigration line.

Yeah, that's absolutely the concern with this kind of approach. While I am confident in the good intentions of YCombinator, you can't do a program just for one incubator, and then you have to select them, and some bad ones would get in who'd exploit the situation.

We need startup visas, but it can't be at the behest of investors.

> While I am confident in the good intentions of YCombinator

I'm not. YC is already operating in a club of privilege, surrounded by a bubble of questionable intentions and inflated valuations that externalize the costs onto the wider economy.

Now we should grant YC (and maybe "other investment firms") a privilege that bootstrapped companies like our own can never get? We've lost the H1-B lottery multiple years running.

I can guarantee that the high wages we pay for decades will go a lot farther than the flash-in-pan founder visas and the occasional success that puts more money in the pockets of a few.

Sending YC more grist for their mill isn't to the benefit of the American people, just YC.

Okay how about: ...while I see no benefit to my argument in needlessly being rude and questioning the intentions of YC on this topic in the comments section of their in house news organ... Clearer?

I think you'll find I clearly state this is a bad idea, even if you grant best intentions to those proposing it specifically.

> I see no benefit to my argument in needlessly being rude and questioning the intentions of YC on this topic in the comments section of their in house news organ

I'd say that actually justifies making the issue clear. Consider why YC hosts a "hacker news" (it's not a charitable effort), and why they'd request special privileges from the government (again, not charitable).

Yet another go-nowhere idea. Paul, et. al. apparently still haven't learned politics.

The 'startup visa' will happen when Paul, et. al. :

1. realizes that access != power

2. demonstrate power by having a group of people who have immigration reform as their top voting issue.

3. stop thinking that sending mass emails is effective. Congress has good spam filters too.

4. they need to put serious money behind it and even more serious time.

5. they must make allies with the broader range of groups working to deal with the immigration issues.

6. Lastly, they need to realize that the immigration issue gets solved for everyone or it doesn't get solved for anyone.

Before anyone argues with me: google "illegal immigration families broken up". Those people fighting to get their brother and sister, mother and father back. Those people have the power in the immigration fight.

Paul sitting around and arguing about 100 visas from an ROI perspective just demonstrates utter cluelessness about politics.

Hell, its not even a good pitch!

I predict the Startup Visa is DOA (again).

After reading all this I guess for guys like me(Indian, staying in Bangalore) hopes of coming to US to do start up is impossible any way. The only real way is to build a start up(Which many of us already are working on) here, secure some millions of $'s in funding. But then if you have millions of $'s in a country like India, you are already a king. You can buy things and live a life no ordinary Indian can possibly imagine in their wildest dreams. 1 million dollars is 6,00,00,000 rupees- You can buy enough real estate to secure a rent income to never have you ever work again ever!

What pains me most is majority of the Indians getting Visa's are really the manager's pets kind of guys who find their way to US through sycophancy, then go and do the same there. There is tons of talent here which can generate all the jobs and taxes US needs who will never ever get a Visa. Unfortunately those guys will never touch US shores. At least not with Visa's to start companies there.

The Bangalore ecosystem is rich and overflowing with start up talent. A mixture of this and US start up ecosystem would just be unimaginable amazing.

I have a counter-proposal: Paul Graham and others have described Y Combinator as large; many US-based entrepreneurs described San Francisco as far and a handful of comments here point out how concentration in one city is hurting everyone.

Why not start a Y Combinator in Europe and in Asia?

Yes, that would require flight tickets to visit from organisations, but that would also allow a better access to incredible initiatives (that keep yelling in unheard comments that Silicon Vally is neglecting them) such as London’s Start-up Roundabout, Paris’ The Family and certainly far more in Berlin, Copenhagen and Amsterdam. I can’t imagine Singapour, Beijing and Hong-Kong and GuandDong have any less merits, certainly with hardware, or less things to learn from Y Combinator.

What both need is access to capital and access to expertise on how to make that kind of deals; what Y Combinator provides is a needed discipline about testing and scaling, and that. Both travel far better than the founders, who are best because of their network of skilled friends, understanding of local markets and more. Yes, it might require a standard contract to make European or Chinese company have a finance subsidiary in the US to reassure US investors… but dealing with that kind of complication is what YC is good at, much better than any local equivalent.

I would hate to see YC come and unify how to make start-ups. Diversity is key, certainly in something as creative as making companies happen. I was kind of relieved when I noticed no one wrote that idea. But also disappointed: it would be in YC spectacular interest to try.

People seem to be trying to deliberately misunderstand my point.

1) I don't think this should just be for YC. I'm just volunteering to beta test it. I think we are very likely to show success, which would hopefully open it much more broadly. But I'd be very happy to do it together with other investors from the beginning. I feel that in general investors (YC included) are not doing enough to push this issue.

2) I do think that investors should get a say in who gets startup visas. This is no different than universities, big companies, or even the people who give out Oscars deciding who is qualified to get one.

> 1) I don't think this should just be for YC. I'm just volunteering to beta test it.

This gives you a massive advantage compared to those of us who aren't VCs and can't beta test it -- or founders that want to launch a company here, but lack your blessing.

> But I'd be very happy to do it together with other investors from the beginning. I feel that in general investors (YC included) are not doing enough to push this issue.

And what about those of us who don't sit in your privileged position, can't secure H1B visas, and our companies suffer as a result?

> I do think that investors should get a say in who gets startup visas. This is no different than universities, big companies, or even the people who give out Oscars deciding who is qualified to get one.

In all of those cases, the type of visa is opened up to a class of person who must be sponsored by a class of organizations, not any one particular organization.

Additionally, the relationship between the visa sponsor and the applying individual in those circumstances is far, far, far less one-sided than it would be between potential founder and stake-holding VC.

>Additionally, the relationship between the visa sponsor and the applying individual in those circumstances is far, far, far less one-sided than it would be between potential founder and stake-holding VC.

I actually disagree with this statement - but agree with your point. There's a reason why mediocre colleges can successfully charge exorbitant amounts of money to rich international students, and it's not just the student:teacher ratio. The student visa and OPT in the US are extremely powerful tools which universities have both used and abused for many years.

Deliberately? I generally ascribe to the camp that says: when the majority or a large portion of the audience misinterprets what is being said, the problem lies not with with readers but with the author. Perhaps it is you who mis-wrote not us who mis-read.

What you wrote came off as incredibly arrogant. Especially with your recent promotion.

Incredibly arrogant? Really? Sorry, but you're definitely mis-reading that one and you've clearly never met Sam.

~99% of the people reading this or the original article have never met Sam. Parts of the original article, as written and without knowing the author, came off as very arrogant. If the words require a personal relationship with the author to be interpreted correctly, then there's probably a more clear way to express them.

I'm sure Sam is a great guy in person, and I've enjoyed all of his articles I've read to date. Parts of this one came off as arrogant -- which isnt me saying or thinking that it was intended to, or that Sam actually is.

"I do think that investors should get a say in who gets startup visas. This is no different than universities, big companies, or even the people who give out Oscars ..."

Shoe fits.

Yeah, I was "0.0 Wtf?" Seems very undeserved and comes off as mean.

I was trying to be constructive, but I can definitely see how it could come off as mean

Cool. What we write here has an impact on someone on the other end. 'sama is mostly human too, despite magically colored collared polos.


The power balance between a startup and a VC is unequal compared to universities, big companies etc. The type of visa ascribed to each class is consequently different as well

For instance student visas under F-1 can have OPT extensions based on their course of study (i.e if you graduate with a CS degree, you don't need a visa to work in a CS field in USA) and this extension allows additional 6-months providence if in STEM studies

Companies are allowed only H1-B visas, in which if terminated for whatsoever reason, are only allowed 3 months grace to get another visa (NOT find another job). That means that they have to re-do all the paperwork and find a second sponsor willing to pay upfront as well. (that's why it's a big company thing, the company has to show a need for this worker that a US citizen doesn't provide)

People who give out Oscars don't give visas, you're mistaken on that. The class of visas you're alluding to (O-1 visas) are for special achievement in a recognized field particularly in sports, entertainment or academia. The individual sponsors their own visa, and makes a case of it through letters of recommendation and appeal. It's not enough to be a "founder of X company", there's a minimum about of press, articles published, conferences attended and awards/prizes INCLUDING awards from the applicant's home country (so they must have international level achievement)

What class of visas would investors be allowed to have sway over? The govt. could make a case that a startup visa is a loophole around HI-B1 because it doesn't nessescarily demonstrate a skillset not already owned by an American. In effect, for your case to work, YC would have to prove that entrepreneurship is not an American quality.

The other option is O-1 visas, but that assumes that your founders have existing press/awardship already given in their home country.

There's no 'beta testing' of laws. There's only lobbying to get laws enacted. Might wanna work on that ;)

in terms of setting federal policy, are SV software startups really net job creators for the economy? when we think of them from the perspective of "software eating the world" arguably they make a lot of jobs obsolete, perhaps an order of magnitude greater in terms of number of jobs destroyed vs created. that's not to say the jobs destroyed were great jobs, or that jobs should be saved at any cost, but as a social problem, i'm interested in how much structural unemployment we now see is a result of technical innovation, versus secular shifts in demand (less housing demand, etc.)

What about bringing them here and not taking equity? This could allow for less conflict of interest for your beta test.

> People seem to be trying to deliberately misunderstand my point.

Welcome to HN :)

Btw, <3 whomever did the fruit loopt video.

I fully appreciate the "reasonableness" of reducing the scope of what you're asking for, but (as I'm sure you're aware) the US Government is much more likely to grant 10,000 Startup Visas than to go through the process of granting 100 to 1 group. That's like, the opposite of how they work - it shows favoritism, it takes a lot of process for what seems like insignificant results (whether the USG produces significant results or not, their numbers are never in the hundreds of anything), etc.

I suggest continuing to pool resources and lobby for 10,000 - that is much more likely to yield results.

If you want to write to policy makers in Washington then you should publish a well written Op-Ed in the WSJ, NYT or WaPo, not a blog post.

Why only YCombinator? You're not proposing a solution to the problem here. You're proposing what YCombinator wants.

There are legitimate, promising founders and startups outside of YC too, you know. Sorry about the snark..it's just aggravating when piecemeal, self-serving solutions like this one are proposed.

A little tongue-in-cheek, but to co-opt some general immigration/visa catch phrases:

1. Why do we need to bring in immigrants to found companies? Do we have a shortage of Americans already here who also want to start companies?

2. Or, is Start-up Founder one of those jobs, like picking cabbage, that Americans "just won't do"?

3. Or, is it that American founders are demanding too much compensation?

I haven't ever visited US. So I can't give a answer from your perspective.

>>1. Why do we need to bring in immigrants to found companies? Do we have a shortage of Americans already here who also want to start companies?

This is the equivalent of asking why large companies acquire start ups and don't in house innovate their way out to compete in the market.

The answer is, the existing inertia is difficult to change in big companies/countries. Plus people don't realize the importance of the opportunity they have in hand. Imagine if people are that desperate to come to US to just start a company, its obvious the thing called 'citizenship of the US' is a very prized opportunity which most US citizens don't realize.

>>2. Or, is Start-up Founder one of those jobs, like picking cabbage, that Americans "just won't do"?

Starting up is difficult every where, but the US ecosystem is better in terms of the overall equation.

First world country, VC's, Infrastructure etc etc

Just to play devil's advocate, I'm not sure your answer to number 2 is relevant. Sure, the US probably has the best ecosystem for starting a country, but why would that lead to the idea that the US should let anyone who wants come here to use it? Norway has a great health care system, but that doesn't mean that they should allow anyone to emigrate there who is looking for good medical coverage.

Also, for number 1, I dont think thats a fair comparison. If anything, the recent startup culture in the US has proved that theres an enormous ability here for citizens to start their own companies and fight against large, slow moving corporations. Additionally, there is no shortage of US citizens trying to start companies, who are well aware of the advantages. It seems like your plea is more from the idea of "its not fair that the US is the best place for this, so they should allow everyone to try it", which just is not how US immigration policy works.

Some points on my mind:

a) Most adventurous student entrepreneurs don't really MUST need a founder visa, they can use OPT. I think founders of Stripe did that.

b) Most non-immigrants already working (mostly with H1 visa) needs a founder visa. To work on a startup you founded in H1b visa is hard, consider H1b visa needs some funding/salary requirement on your startup, and that is hard to get by on the early stage of a startup. Giving these people the visa may be important to the U.S. economy consider that group of budding founders are with the most experiences.

c) Maybe approval of founder visa won't be in the near future. Right now that is really tangled with other messes in the Immigration Act, which seems hopeless at the House in the stage.

d) Really +1 for founder visa. Can't afford to lose foreign entrepreneurs to Canada.

> a) Most adventurous student entrepreneurs don't really MUST need a founder visa, they can use OPT. I think founders of Stripe did that.

Founder of Stripe here. Not disagreeing with anything you've said, but I feel I should point out that OPT is far from ideal: it doesn't last very long, it requires the job is related to the field of study, full-time work is permitted only during vacations prior to completion of a degree, etc. Still, it can be a useful stopgap in some cases, as you point out.

It's also a MASSIVE pain, and some schools (like mine) only allow OPT for internships (as opposed to CPT). As a result, I need to choose if I want to intern for my four years of college, or if I want to start a startup.

I agree with all of what you and Patrick said. Still most likely the student on OPT is in a much better position to start a startup than most people on H1b. Once you are hired by some company on H1b, you want to start your own startup? You need to prove your startup is viable (some funding constraint + providing prevailing wage for yourself I remember). But how you can have a viable startup that has not even been started? That kind of chicken-and-egg problem stuck tons of aspiring entrepreneurs on H1b.

Will really appreciate anyone here that can give some solution under current circumstances.

seconded - btw do you have a STEM related degree though? there's now an additional provision for OPT extension if you graduated from a STEM related field.

> a) Most adventurous student entrepreneurs don't really MUST need a founder visa, they can use OPT. I think founders of Stripe did that.

OPT is an extension of the F1 student visa, and only lasts for 12 months (29 with the STEM extension). In addition, it's a "non-immigration visa", which means that you can't apply for a green card with it (in fact, the whole idea of the visa is that you go back to your own country after you're done).

Also, if you're on OPT and your F1 expires, you might not be able to get it renewed, because your studies have ended (from what I've read, but not sure; can anyone confirm this?), which means you're stuck in the US (if you leave, you're not getting back in).

Normally you go from OPT to H1B, and from H1B to Green Card. How fast that process goes varies greatly

Yes, but the GP was proposing using OPT as a founder visa. In that case, you need to get your own startup to sponsor your H1B; that's pretty hard to do. I imagine you'd have to offer the market salary for "startup CEO" (whatever that is), post an ad for 30 days and then prove that you couldn't find an American to take that job (this is usually the process for regular H1B employees).

EDIT: It seems you can get a H1B where you work for your own company, it just needs special approval (there's a link to it earlier in this thread).

Thanks for the comment. I am not proposing using OPT as a founder visa, all I am saying is using OPT is one viable alternative, maybe not as cool as a founder visa, but you can still pull it off in the condition I stated in my other response to you.

I'm fairly certain you can just apply for a new F1 visa?

Like I said, I'm not sure. The F1 visa is for studying; I'm not sure what happens when you graduate and move on to OPT.

I am pretty sure even after you graduate and get an OPT, you are still on F1 visa. But the point is 29 months (if you are a STEM major) is enough for your startup to generate some revenue, and then you can apply for H1b (as long as you prove your startup has sufficient fund, your wage from your startup is prevailing wage, and you can be fired from your startup).

If a startup fails, it usually fails quickly. Yes, sometimes a company, like airbnb, went quiet for a very long time before it hit it off, but 29 months are likely enough.

It's crazy to me that countries like Chile are courting (read: begging) entrepreneurial talent and the US acts like we can throw a wall up around the country and pretend like that's still a good thing.

NOT allowing a few thousand talented, motivated, educated, english-speaking entrepreneurs seems foolish.

Many of the millions of unemployed US citizens/voters would argue that there are a few thousand talented, motivated, educated, english-speaking entrepreneurs in their ranks from which YC can choose.

Sure, I'd add that the experience of living in a place like Singapore or Accra changes the projects an entrepreneur attempts.

I am sure that is true. I was just pointing out that the goals and priorities of the US federal government and YC aren't always perfectly aligned.

I know it's somehow all about meeting people in bars in Silicon Valley, but really, is it totally absolutely necessary to come and live in America to start a new world beating company?

I work remotely, and do a fair job with my colleagues. Other more talented people work and produce entire operating systems while on different continents, and if you are working on something more worthwhile and less fad driven than Facebook for dogs the surely surely you do not need a visa or a relocation.

And if it is better/faster/easier today, why can't that be a reality tomorrow?

The post is addressed to the US government. The US government by definition has the interests of America first and foremost in mind, not the interests of other countries. It is in America's interest to have all the world beating companies started in America.

I really wish there was an easier way to be allowed to work and live in the US as an entrepreneur. I completed both my Bachelor and Master degrees in the US (both as valedictorian) and work as an independent app developer. I have a vacation home and cars in the US but would love to stay there full time. Right now my best bet is looking like EB-5 unless I can get in on either EB-1 or EB-2. I wish they had some sort of VISA that let you freelance in the US/stay self employed as long as you met some sort of income or minimum tax requirements (for example your minimum taxable income must be $150k+/year).

They did make it easier to get an H1B visa as an entrepreneur: http://www.uscis.gov/eir/visa-guide/entrepreneur-visa-guide

I'm not sure if anyone's ever successfully received one, however.

More here: http://www.murthy.com/2012/12/17/entrepreneur-h1b-petitions-...

That USCIS guide is strange... it lists H1B only under "Nonimmigrant Visas" even though the H1B is dual-intent.

The H1B is a nonimmigrant visa. All dual intent means is that it doesn't violate the terms of entry if you also intend to pursue permanent residence at the same time -- but the H1B itself does not lead to permanent residence.

Thanks for the clarification.

Here is a counter proposal: the government should approve this request, but stipulate that the immigrants relocate to somewhere other than silicon valley (so all of the created jobs don't end up in the once place where they aren't needed).

1) You can't just allocate the startups in arbitrary locations and get the same result -- being in SV changes the outcome. (I've tried to start companies elsewhere.)

2) People benefit from Google, Facebook, Airbnb, etc., even if they're not in SV. The immediate job creation is a tiny fraction of the wealth created by startups. It doesn't matter where Bell Labs was located; it just matters that they did what they did. Similarly, we should just focus on creating more Googles, not on which state's payroll taxes get the immediate boost.

If the issue really is that SV specifically needs more people to start companies, and having them do so elsewhere isn't possible or desirable, it seems like a first cut at solving the problem could be made without even changing visa regimes: just institute a program to convince more people from elsewhere in the U.S. to move to SV and start companies. With >300m people, most of whom don't yet live in the SF Bay Area, that's already a pretty large supply to draw from.

Why does sama talk about job creation instead of wealth creation?

I disagree with this counter-proposal.

It's arbitrary, counter to free market dynamics, against the constitution for citizens [1], pays specific privilege to one state/region.

While they are at it while don't they just stipulate that approved applicants should pay johnrob's rent? (No offense, just trying to point out the arbitrariness of your counter-proposal)

I appreciate that there are some depressing social forces in Silicon Valley, but this is extremely special interest in the greater scheme of things.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_movement_under_Unite...

Central planning worked so well for the Soviets. Does your rule still apply if one of them is called Musk?

The "Immigrant Investor" EB-5 visa already works a bit like this. "Targeted Employment Area" investments have half the normal capital requirement.


So you get a visa, with fewer rights? How long would that restriction on their freedom of movement last?

In Australia they have something similar for a few professions(teaching being a big one). Generally it's 1 year in somewhere really undesirable, then 2 more years in ok places then freedom. Though in those cases you're being sponsored by a government organisation that is generally also your employer.

The only way I could see making it work in this case would be if it was specific cities doing the sponsoring and requiring the business to be run out of incubator type offices for X amount of time. So not very well at all.

I am pretty sure there are already mechanisms for the rich to buy US citizenship. EB-5. Secure funding for your start-up, boom you're a US citizen as soon as you invest in jobs, etc. in the US. The rich have their ways.

What if YC selected ~100 projects per year, gave each their $500k so they could buy their way in...

I doubt that is financially sustainable in any sense for YC, though.

As somebody who fought for a year to get an O1 visa (and an EB-1 green card, though that didn't quite work out), I can attest to the fact that the problem is not that it is an investor vs. a government official that is deciding whether one meets the criteria, but with the criteria themselves.

I had a top-notch immigration attorney, and a solid case. I was the first employee of a company that now employs north of a hundred engineers and generates tens of millions in tax revenue. By any definition of the phrase "individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics," I am the kind of person that this visa was meant to attract: talent that results in a net gain for the country.

The problem isn't with the government employees who review the cases; the problem is with the criteria for the visa. It's stuck in a world where 40-year old academics were the innovators. Where instead of showing product traction, revenue, and ability to create businesses, you're expected to show published papers, academic awards, or inclusion in conference panels. Sure, these are still very valid reasons to want somebody to enter the US; but they shouldn't be considered the only reasons.

Quite a few very valuable companies were founded by mavericks, dropouts, or just people who stayed away from academia and instead worked on products. Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Zuck, the WhatsApp guys, the Airbnb guys. None of these guys were academics. Some dropped out of college. None received nobel prizes, but many had shown previous entrepreneurial success. The visa requirements give this no consideration.


The full list of requirements, of which you have to demonstrably meet at least three:

1. Documentation of the individual's receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor;

2. Documentation of the individual's membership in associations in the field for which classification is sought, which require outstanding achievements of their members, as judged by recognized national or international experts in their disciplines or fields;

3. Published material in professional or major trade publications or major media about the individual, relating to the individual's work in the field for which classification is sought, which shall include the title, date, and author of such published material, and any necessary translation;

4. Evidence of the individual's participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the same or in an allied field of specialization to that for which classification is sought;

5. Evidence of the individual's original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field;

6. Evidence of the individual's authorship of scholarly articles in the field, in professional journals, or other major media;

7. Evidence that the individual has been employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations and establishments that have a distinguished reputation;

8. Evidence that the individual has either commanded a high salary or will command a high salary or other remuneration for services, evidenced by contracts or other reliable evidence.

I hate to break it to you, but you clearly did not have a top-notch immigration attorney if they advised you that a O1 visa was the best visa for your circumstances.

The O1 is intended for people who are the top of their fields; not just those that are good. It's for people like Yao Ming (sports) or Lupita_Nyong'o (arts) that we want to steal from other countries.

There were other visas that were more appropriate for your circumstances, (meaning easier to obtain) but generally simply being the first employee at a business doesn't amount to much, which is why you had to fight for it. (These other visa types are no longer available.) If you had been a founder or a C-suite officer, you might have been able to squeak in on a O1 [edit]without any hassle[/edit], but even that is doubtful--the EB series would have been a better path [edit] since EB review was more objective than the O1 review.[/edit]

The EB visas are basically identical to the O visas, except for two differences: 1) the requirements are slightly more stringent, and 2) they are considered immigrant visas, as opposed to non-immigrant. ie., they are green cards.

That said, I agree with you that the O1 was not a perfect fit for my situation, though I did end up receiving it, while being denied the EB-1. But I would challenge you to name another visa which would be more appropriate and give me a better shot. Consider the fact that while I was critical in creating a large business, I also did not have a completed college degree, or any capital of my own to invest in the US.

In some cases it might make sense to do H-1b -> EB2 to get things done faster. You don't even need a visa to get your employment based green card actually, so you can start both processes at the same time. Of course each case is unique, I hope your lawyer made the right choice given the circumstances.

Sorry, but H1b is so broken and horrible that many people won't even consider it. It puts you in a very bad and stressful situation to practically put your destiny in the hands of one employer/person for a couple of years.

If H1B is the only realistic option for you, then just forget about USA and go to any European country with sane immigration system.

Are you sure about that? I got my H1B in 2012, it was almost completely painless. I was straight out of university, we applied in October '11, and I received my visa in January. It's fairly straightforward to move to a new employer on a H1B, it just has to be the same level of job. You can start working for your new employer on the date you file, and it takes 4-8 weeks to complete.

I'm now close to an EB2 GC which, when complete, will have taken a total of about 18 months from me saying to my employer "I'd like a green card", to me and my wife having one. I'm an engineer at a <20 employee start up, 24 years old.

There are aspects of the immigration system that I have found pretty backwards; mostly that a H1B spouse (H4) cannot work. But in general, it's treated me pretty well.

I've read plenty of H1B border horror stories online. But having flown from Europe to the US over 20 times in the past 3 years, I haven't had more than a polite 90 second conversation with a CBP officer on the way in.

This is all speaking from someone who came from the UK. I know there are separate queueing systems for some visas for residents of certain countries, so I can't speak for that.

Yes, the exact thing you described here as an easy ride is what I would call brokeness. You say you'll get your GC in 18 months, I wish you good luck on that, but that's completely arbitrary time frame. You can't know in advance how long does it take to get permanent residence. Almost everywhere in Europe you have a clearly defined timeframe. Then, your wife can't work there, not sure even if you have tax deductions on her. To me, that's unacceptable. My wife has more education than me, and she should be able to work in the same way as me. In Europe, Blue Card holders wives have no work restriction at all. Then, although in theory you can change a job when you want, can you do it when you must? If your employer fire you, can you have another job in 15 days before you are doported from the US, together with wife and children? Though some employers treat you ok, many know that situation and are ready to take advantage of that, just because the system allows them. That's not a risk I would personally want to make, but I can see how someone else would.

(Sorry, I just checked this for a response).

I completely agree about the spousal issue, I mentioned it above. I do think it's ridiculous.

But the rest; I'm not sure if you've been through the system yourself, or you have Googled a lot of it. If you search for information relating to GC application lengths, it varies wildly, and the details are sketchy.

Fact is, you can readily find the current "priority dates" from UCSIS. It's updated every month and broken down by your preference category, country, and visa type. You can make a pretty accurate assumption from seeing how the quickly the dates move along, combined with the advice of your immigration lawyer, as to how long it will be until your application

You can track the DOL applications in (almost) real time. Right now I can see exactly which cases the DOL processed yesterday; the company, the state, the job position, and when the case was opened. There are several aggregation sites, this[1] being my personal favorite. Again, you can make a reasonable estimate of time from this.

The "you will be deported if you lose your job" argument, is one you find all over the internet. I've read people reporting that it is even "you must leave within 24 hours". It simply isn't true. You must apply for a change of status as quickly as possible (this isn't too difficult), to switch to a different visa (B1 or B2, and the appropriate visa for your spouse). These will allow you to stay in the country for several months.

Then, you have until your I-94 date (on a H-1B this is normally the date your visa expires) to find another employer who will sponsor you for a H-1B transfer. This transfer is exactly the same as a transfer from a current employer; you can begin work immediately, and the cap does not apply.

It's these sorts of tales that make me thankful that I have a very good, honest immigration professional. If I lost my job, then just Googled what I should do next, I would have a heart attack.

[1] http://dolstats.com/

the applications for cap limited H1B are in april, and you'll have it in october if you are one of the 60,000 lucky ones. If you get it in any other time of the year, is because you work for an university or no-profit. Here, H1b is broken refers to the cap-limit one. H1 from the university/no-profit is a joke, since the visas are not counted towards the cap, and I feel they damage the game for everyone else.

Btw I do envy your good luck.

Don't go for EB-1, go for EB-2. It's a lot easier in terms of the documented requirements. Also, unless you are from China/India/Philippines there is no difference in wait time between the two.

There is also the National Interest Waiver for entrepreneurship for the EB-2 to further make the process easier: http://www.uscis.gov/news/public-releases-topic/business-imm...

> Also, unless you are from China/India/Philippines there is no difference in wait time between the two.

Not really, EB2 generally requires a labor certification which takes about an additional year to process. You're right this is better than the multi-year wait Indians and Chinese face though.

Sorry, should have clarified that O1 wasn't the best fit because they're the hardest to obtain because they have the most subjective requirements. Other visas, no longer available, would have been easier to obtain.

Could you share more? Basically what key tips would you give to a person trying to get it? Which 3/more of the 8 requirements did you base your application on?

My key tips would be as follow, in order of importance:

1. Get a good lawyer who puts your interests first. (Not your investor's or your employer's.)

2. Make yourself as visible as your can, even if it's not necessarily your comfort zone. Get on conference panels. Get into print newspapers as much as possible. Aim for old-style print newspapers: WSJ, NYTimes, and other national papers are great. Get into the print edition, not just on their websites.

3. If your company employs a PR firm, make sure they work for you. Have them prepare statements where you're the name attributed to the quote. Have them fight to get into conference panels. It's all bullshit, but it looks impressive when printed as documentation on a case file.

Strong underline for the old-style print newspapers.

But look to Brian X. Chen at NYT, Evelyn Rusli at WSJ who cover tech, even if it's just online.

Keep in mind that the reviewing bureaucrats at USCIS have NEVER heard of TechCrunch, just like most of us have probably never heard of Politico (or read it often if you have).

Don't shoot yourself in the face by mocking the process in the process: To get the visa, Mr. Vine and his co-founders at Zirtual, a business that connects people with personal assistants through the Internet, invented the position of corporate wellness director, suited to Mr. Vine's bachelor's degree in kinesiology.

"My application for the H-1B is different from my actual role at the company," Mr. Vine said. "We've actually had to spin a tall tale because of the difficulty of applying."

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB1000142405297020470710... (might be behind paywall but search "Startup Visas Get New Push" and the closing quote from Collin Vine of Zirtual)

I'm not sure if I agree with you. I'm not an immigration lawyer nor an immigration expert, so this is all anecdotal: I know a handful of startup founders, who were most certainly not at the top of their fields get O1 visas with the help of their top-top-tier investors / other things I'm not aware of (maybe speaking at second-rate conferences?). These were early stage startups that did not have much traction yet. While these founders would certainly be impressive to the HN crowd (open source contributions, cool things they've built), they were certainly not names you would have heard of even in technology circles.

Quite true. I am not a lawyer, but I help founders hack immigration while pursuing the general solution through passing immigration reform that includes a startup visa.

For the O-1, you need to make the case that you're in the top 2-3% of your field. I often have founders make the case that if they can raise funding, then they are in the top 2-3% of startups—coming from a top ranked VC matters less than you'd think because the bureaucrats have never heard of most of these VCs or angels. On the other hand, the top ranked VCs are more likely to know about the O-1 and ways to make use of it.

They can do it using O-3 visa, its the same classification as an O-1 but of a different type. Assuming they incorporated the startup, and then immediately received funding and started visa process (in that order) they can use percentage points (from zero to +++ whatever investment they received) as part of their case. USCIS is more interested in profit/revenue than any other metric.

O-3 visas are issued to the spouse and children of O-1 visa holders. Did you mean something else?


I remember O-1 visas had several types, it's the O-1B visa


Perhaps you're referring to the E-2 treaty investor visa rather than one of the EB green cards?

> None received nobel prizes, but many had shown previous entrepreneurial success. The visa requirements give this no consideration.

3, 7 & 8 can be directly shown from prior entrepreneurial successes. 4 is also very possible for such a person (think hackathons, Startup Weekends, angel beauty pageants, etc.)

It's someone without a prior record of success that this visa is not appropriate for. For an entrepreneur with a successful exit already under his belt it works fine (though there are many other options for such a person as well.)

Your lawyer chose the wrong visa for you

O-1 visas were specifically created for entertainers and athletes at first. It wasn't meant for business. It was later extended to include Nobel prize winners and other academics during Cold War to compete with Russia's science program (and collect refugees from those able to escape) aka. O-2.

And then finally, it was opened to include business and finance individuals aka. O-3. However, the original intent of the visa was never for that case.

I'd flip it. Rather than ask for 100 visas, ask for 100,000, then focus on the benefits. That's going to attract a lot more attention.

100,000 visas will be at least 200 Dropboxes. 100,000 visas will be at least 1 million jobs. 100,000 visa will be at least $500 billion in value. (figures completely made up, but the power of a big number is that statistics are on your side, and these can be estimated from past performance of immigrants. Bias will be there yes, but which way?)

Get a couple of tech entrepreneurs to 'guarantee' the 100,000 will deliver the goods with a $1 billion bet that at least five of that crowd will be part of a $1 billion company within 10 years.

And as others say - a visa is not enough, you need residency rights. Perhaps let the visa automatically flip to a green card after 2 years if the company that they found reached certain hurdles (value, revenue or vanity metrics).

But if you can't work or get residence in the USA, then come to New Zealand. We have a visa points system, have huge demand for ICT people and have great founder communities and companies. It's an incredible place to live, and when you cash out there are no capital gains taxes here.

I wish government and big institutions in general were set up to allow testing of hypotheses like this. We'd all be better off, but I fear what would happen is one or two of those 100 visa people would do a company which fails (or succeeds somewhat), gets in some minor unrelated legal problem (bar fight, whatever), and then a politician uses it as an example of why immigration is bad to tar their opposition.

Oh, it's even worse than you think. The visa category (J-1) I investigated using for a similar proposal I pitched to 500 two years back is controlled by a small industry of academia-affiliated shops to place foreign students. DHS/USCIS farms out its selection process to these firms who have to sponsor applicants.

Under the letter of the law, I proposed using J-1 visas (Specialist or Trainee as appropriate, http://j1visa.state.gov/programs) via 500 for at least for founders from countries exempt from the two-year mandatory return period. But the American Immigration Lawyers Association/American Immigration Council had a staffer who explained the way things really work to me in shooting down the proposal.

Would people feel better about this if YC donated their 7% stake in those 50 companies to a charity? That would more clearly separate out the "special privilege for a private company" part of this proposal from the "we're testing something of general applicability."

A domestic tech-industry/entrepreneurship inclusiveness effort, like 0-18yo STEM education, would be a good choice.

> Would people feel better about this if YC donated their 7% stake in those 50 companies to a charity?

It would still be beneficial to YC directly and uniquely, and a special privilege, so no.

On top of which, there are serious ethical concerns around a early-stage investors essentially controlling a founder's visa allocation and ongoing status.

And yes, there is also political opposition from the left centered around the extra control investors would have if they also determine the immigration status of a founder. I don't understand that opposition, but I've run into it a few times.

You don't understand the ethical concerns related to having a huge negotiating advantage granted and enforced by the US government?

You think that's a leftist issue?

Ah, sorry, I wasn't clear. I've only heard that concern from political professionals on the left, not that the concern itself was associated with one side of the aisle or another.

And correct, I've never thought about the ethical concerns, so I'd be interested in your explanation. Most of the investors I've worked with in this space have already committed to invest in the startups dealing with immigration problems, and so their interest is to salvage their investment and stop it from being destroyed by the immigration system rather than negotiating the investment in the first place.

In my defense, "certified VC/angel" sponsorship is a hypothetical proposal that has very, very little traction in Congress, and that I've opposed in favor of broad capital requirements (e.g. the Moran amendment, which I supported: http://www.moran.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve?Fil... and some efforts by the US Chamber of Commerce that never made it into legislative language)


Are you a US voter?

Since everybody seems to be contributing ideas...I think immigration visas should be awarded on a point based system similar to what it is done in countries that are actively trying to attract immigrants. Education, Family ties, employment history, language, health, financial resources, etc. The current system looks at only one aspect exclusive of the rest.

> Many will fail, of course, but one could be the next Google, Facebook, Airbnb, or Dropbox.

What makes you think the United States cares about the next Airbnb or Dropbox? The policies of the Federal government are a (non-deterministic) function of a lot of powerful interests and opinions, and many of those interests are directly opposed to anything that threatens their outdated business models. As if today's founders need any more reason to avoid doing business in the United States.

I would much rather prefer startup accelerators like YC to expand into other regions of the world. One season per year in the EU and another season in Southeast Asia would be fantastic. Granted, many of these regions don't have the advantage of the Bay Area's technical and human infrastructure, but is that really such an insurmountable problem? We're startups, goddammit, it's our job to do create things where none used to exist.

YC has proven that it is capable of returning results that beat the market. Few other incubators are able to replicate the success of YC. As an incubator, it is an outlier. Is an outlier a good "control" sample to prove that this reform works?

Startup visa reform is a necessity, clearly. Founders have the opportunity to make a strong positive impact on jobs, etc. I'd love for YC to be able to work with additional talented founders. No question, I am all for giving YC access to founder visas.

Question: Would a successful beta program at YC prove that the program works? Or would it prove that YC works? If the latter, is there an alternative "beta" program that would be more representative necessary for large scale reform?

The Obama administration has said that something like a founder visa will happen, but only as part of comprehensive immigration reform.

And this is why "comprehensive immigration reform" needs to be dumped. Visa and legalization are different issues and need to be considered on their own merits.

The system is so screwy. We have 50,000 visas a year given out in a lottery system to any high school graduate without a criminal record from any country except the 19 that send the most immigrants annually. 65,000 visas for brothers and sisters of US Citizens. No limit at all on spouse, minor children, and parents of US citizens 21 or older.

But only 41,000 professionals holding advanced degrees with job offers and labor certifications, of which no more than 2900 can be from any one country.

I'm all for more total immigration, but if we are going to have the status quo totals I'd much rather more EB-2s and fewer FB-4s, DVs, or even FB-IRs.

"Startups are what the US is the best in the world at. We figure out new businesses faster than anyone else. It would be disastrous if that stopped being the case."

"Exploiting cheap labour is what <insert 3rd world country of choice here> is the best in the world at. We figure out how to exploit our economy and people faster than anyone else. It would be disastrous if that stopped being the case"

Maybe US is best about startups - but I believe that in the long run its toxic to everyone, including people involved in the process. Just because something seems like a disaster doesn't mean that it has to be one.

Since August 2011 "Entrepreneurs H1B" is available. I had posted this commented just last week and I am adding this comment again. Here is my story:

I've started on this path just recently and believe me I am facing difficulties at every step, even the the ones I thought were most obvious. But again who said life was easy.

In case you are interested there are ways you can do business in the US on H-1B visa. Is it easy? Hell no! But in case you are still interested keep reading, feel free to reach out to me as I am going through this process right now.

Articles about Entrepreneur H1B:

- http://www.murthy.com/2012/12/17/entrepreneur-h1b-petitions-...

- http://www.uscis.gov/news/public-releases-topic/business-imm...


- http://www.uscis.gov/eir/visa-guide/entrepreneur-visa-guide

Further reading:

- http://blog.fosterquan.com/2012/12/09/the-sweet-smell-of-suc...

Success story of Vishal Shah from Traffio:

- http://www.nextbigwhat.com/how-to-startup-in-silicon-valley-...

Business Entity:

- http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x12qxuo_how-to-open-a-busin...

My proposal would instead be a pair of visas: A proper "Entrepreneur Visa," that is similar to the existing EB-category ones that require your company to have received a certain threshold of funding. However, I think this funding should be tuned by industry, and typically, any level of funding is good, so this should be low. If necessary, a clause stipulating maximum percentage of non-US hires (or additional taxes/fees if otherwise) should be ok.

More importantly, an "Entrepreneur Trial" visa should be in place. This should be a 1-year visa, which should just require a few letters of recommendation, qualification in the field (academic degree or equivalent work experience from any country), and function like an OPT. The earlier mentioned visa (the Entrepreneur visa) should be made trivially obtainable (quick filing of paperwork) by an applicant who is on the Trial visa if he fulfills the minimum funding requirement. Preferably the trial visa has a system to petition for an extension of 6-12 months.

This is still very much limiting the options for an immigrant founder, but of course, we can't assume they will ever have as much freedom as a US person when trying to bend the rules of life. It would still be nice to have some options that don't involve trying to bend over backwards and lick someone else's rearside to be allowed to contribute to the economy.

No. No visas. If we want these people, give them a green card.

I'm tired of watching the games around immigrant visas.

Could a weird sort of setup be created where YCombinator "hired" entrepreneurs and then gave them traditional work visas? I'm not really familiar with the specifics of how visas work, but I would think it would be possible to construct a situation such that the desired founders would be eligible.

As an O1 status holder, this does make sense, especially for PhD founders (PhDs are supposed to be the top of their own field). O1 approval is fast (premium processing is about two weeks). In my experience, document preparation is depending on two major factors: 1. applicant's records such as media coverage, publications/citations, reference letters, and awards. I fortunately accumulated some evidences for each of these when doing my PhD. I only have less than half of reference letters compared to my friends who got their EB1, so I think media and awards could be equally important. 2. experienced attorney who can put together a 2-inch-thick document in a short time (of course, it depends on the applicant to gather the materials).

A founder's visa should be opened up to a class of people. In this beta testing case, it would be open to a class of people who get selected with YC or are interested in YC. That's a very limited view from a governance perspective. The only ones who should have such power are USCIS and Consulate Officers. USCIS should work with incubators for the judging criteria. There should be another criteria for start ups who want to go without a sponsoring incubator as well.

In addition, not sure what the visa status will be during the three month funding cycles. That alone limits a lot of options. A F-1 student or a H1B employee cannot create a start up and apply to YC even though they are in US because they can't leave their status for 3 months.

"Maybe he was too ambitious in asking for 10,000 startup visas per year." hmm, lowering expectations a couple of orders of magnitude for a highly selective group? i'm a fan of YC and all, and agree that it'll probably end up being the cream of the crop thus a great likelihood to succeed, but i really do wish this issue was tackled properly - its so painful. I'd personally love to build something here (happily even with my own capital) but can't. I appreciate the call for action, though, but man - trying to immigrate here is rough.. when the conversation becomes 'let us just prove it with 100', while time keeps ticking on.. i wonder if anything will really happen.

How about just giving them a visa if they can secure VC funding in the United States enough to support them in their efforts for a year or two.

Also reforming the h1b visa might help, since most immigrants are highly motivated to start their own businesses ... allowing h1bs more easily start businesses (currently you have to have someone, an American citizen, have some sort of controlling interest in your business for it to be a viable means of employment), have time after losing a job to find another one (currently you have to leave immediately after you're fired/laid off).

This is a JOKE. Let Y Combinator? Oh yeah, bro? Wow. If the US were to give ONE company this right, that would be complete bllsht. I like YC, but think before you speak.

Definitely disagree. 'sama has clarified that he meant YC would volunteer to beta test it. Probably the fairest way would be for govt to take applications and select X at random.

Definitely agree

I wonder how many of the negative commenters on this thread are either citizens or permanent residents. I don't see why a techie who is not yet a citizen or permanent resident of US, and wants to be one, would be so negative about this proposal.

At worst this can lead to a few lucky immigrant founders who get free visas, but at best, this can do a lot of good to the country in terms of creating new jobs, and to the startup ecosystem (and to YC -- so what!).

I'm an international student on OPT doing startup, but the proposal still makes me uneasy. There's already too much of business interests lobbying in politics and I've seen that happen in my home country -- what starts off as a seemingly good idea, becomes legalized corruption.

Mercifully, foreigners don't elect our legislators.

Thanks to Citizen United that allows corporations ( "corporations are people, too, my friend" - Mitt Romney)

Yes foreigners can influence our politics

>If founders from elsewhere want to pay taxes and create jobs in the US, we should let them.

Spot on.

>This is just a start. We are also in need of broad-based immigration reform, and I believe more immigrants will help our country.

This is really what needs to happen. Shameless plug, I'm on the code squad at http://fwd.us and this is what we're trying to do.

I think Sam is doing great work advocating to bring more founders here to the U.S.

I think this is a good idea for investor and tech entrepreneurs (building a business in US opens a ton of capital opportunities), but I think it's fundamentally at odds with immigration and popular opinion, and thus the effect on policy, in the United States.

Here's the argument:

The US is tough on immigration because supposedly immigrants will take American jobs. American people - which we'll broadly define as the "middle class" who statistically speaking don't have these tech skills - don't want this. Why would they want foreigners taking their jobs? It makes no sense. Thus they will vote, or have political influence, tending to enact policy that is tough on immigration.

Founder visas for tech companies with the intention of creating jobs does not change this, because it creates tech jobs. Middle class America can't fulfill this in meaningful-enough numbers for there to be any positive political influence.

"Let us show you what we can do with 100 visas. This will be measurable, and in 5 years, we can tell you exactly how many jobs get created."

This won't matter much until jobs get created in large enough numbers for the middle class. What's important though will be (and it's hard to tell if this is the case) a "trickle-down" effect, where these relatively small number of tech jobs created lead to the creation of other jobs that have a meaningful impact. EDIT - an example that comes to mind is Homejoy, which creates more maid jobs... but boy oh boy can this sort of thing sound like inequality ("let foreign founders come in to make web services turning Americans into maids!").

Think about it - even if a new Google pops up in the next 5 years - that's 25K jobs. Drop in the ocean. 2.2M jobs were created in 2012; let's say in 5 years 10M jobs are created. 25K new tech jobs for a new Google represents a difference of 0.25%. I guess that's something - but how many of those 25K jobs will be filled by American citizens?

In short - there's absolutely no reason not to have a founder visa like proposed. That would be sweet. But from the policy makers' perspectives, it doesn't look like there's a compelling enough reason to change the status quo. If anything it's just easy to paint as "let rich investors bring in foreign engineers to build new websites and apps". Doesn't really resonate.

Feel free to point out flaws in this argument, it would probably help the OP's cause. I made my post purposely cynical, because these are the sort of opinions and spins that will need to be addressed.

Btw if anyone needs complex (and which isn't) representation, Rajat Kuver is a super cool dude with offices in Palo Alto and Cupertino. Also a law prof. (Super cool, like it says on the tin.)


Conquer a new land, send thousands of people, nearly exterminate the native population, put up walls so nobody else can get in.

Sounds legit.

I am not sure why YC should get the opportunity to get 100 entrepreneurs get startup visas.

Why not open the level playing field and allow ANY entrepreneur to get such a visa? There are plenty of Dropbox / Airbnb companies that are getting built, going public or getting sold outside of YC.

I recently wrote a piece about this issue: How I hacked my US startup visa http://qz.com/151333/how-i-hacked-my-us-startup-visa/

Did we really run out of Americans who are capable of being founders?

Do you live on this planet? It's about competitiveness. It's not just about being able to be a founder, if there is a foreigner doing the same product with more success, the American's startup will eventually die. So foreign countries can get all the best talent with their flexible visa systems, including Americans, while America only has access to local talent. That's not really pro-American...

Is there such a thing as too much job creation?

What are the qualifications for such a visa? Would this be for founders who have already secured funding (and thus their own salary)?

The qualification is acceptance into YC as a founder.

> So here is a proposal for the US government: please let Y Combinator help allocate up to 100 visas to founders per year.

Why would Y-Combinator deserve this special treatment by the US government? Since when does money == oversight?

What visas are being mainly used now?

Hey, sam, great idea... how about you ask the US to give these 100 visas to ANOTHER firm first, if you really believe it. Otherwise, you sound like a selfish douche.

From the HN guidelines:

> Be civil. Don't say things you wouldn't say in a face to face conversation.

> When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names. E.g. "That is an idiotic thing to say; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3" can be shortened to "1 + 1 is 2, not 3."

Sorry for saying "douche", but depending on the tone in which he presented this idea to me, I might honestly say that. It's one thing to ask for 100 visas for YC, it's another thing to ask for 10 VCs spread across 10 different firms, and suggesting hat YC would take most of the burden of setting it up / distributing resources.

I actually ran the idea by a few other firms and they didn't seem quite as interested in international founders as we are.

We're willing to do the work on this. If others are, that'd be fine with us too. We just don't want to wait 5 more years for anything to happen.

Ah, would have loved to have seen that in the post. With that information, your post is a totally different read. Apologies.

I suspect davemcclure/500 Startups would be totally on board with this; they're almost MORE international focused than YC is.

Almost more international == just a little less international

I meant almost in the sense of "possibly", as in YC is international in the range of 0.2-0.4 and 500 is in the range 0.25 - 0.45 or something. And that YC still has a greater number/quality of international startups, even if 500 has a greater percentage, partially because YC has been around longer and has had a few big successes (Team Ireland at Stripe is worth more than all of 500 combined, and possibly more than TechStars, although Digital Ocean might test that).

Sam Altman's assumption is that the US government reasonable. :)

And that VCs are reasonable.

And that they would pay attention to a YC blog post :P

Visas? you are talking about bringing in people from other countries to start companies here right? Is this because there is not enough founders born in the US? Wow, I go to a coffee shop in bay area and everyone there assumes that I am some kind of startup founder. Everyone is talking about their company they started and asks their neighbors what they are founding. IT is really quite annoying. We really need more of this? I guess the more that is thrown against the wall, the more has a chance of sticking huh? What about those imports who make it, thwarting the native born competitor's company by a small margin? Now you have hurt the native for a ever so slightly better product or perhaps one that just made it to market slightly earlier. 10,000 more startups a year than now? Really? This can't be good.

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