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I came to the U.S. from Romania in 2007 to attend Stanford. I didn’t plan to come to this country, but ended up here for my education. As I planned for college I googled and applied to the top 15 universities in the world, and then decided to come to Stanford because of the entrepreneurial focus of the school.
Wanting to break out of the stereotype of the Eastern European programmer, I studied economics and international relations. But at the same time I fell in love with data analysis and wanted to start a company around it.
However, when it came time to graduate I realized that starting a company, or working at a startup, was virtually impossible for me because of my visa. The only companies offering to sponsor international students in economics for H1Bs were consulting companies or banks.
I graduated at the top of my class and wanted to shake up the world from the grassroots, but all of a sudden I realized that my achievements and ambitions were only as real as my chances for an entrepreneur visa.
I started working at a venture capital firm knowing that, eventually, I wanted to start my own company. I was fearful because the visa process would be a tremendous obstacle, but also knew that the U.S. was the best place to launch a startup.
After months of meetings with lawyers and struggling to read immigration forms, I finally found the visa that would allow me to be an entrepreneur. But that was just the beginning.
My application for the E2 visa was a huge burden. My co-founder and I had to alter our business plans to meet the visa criteria, the paperwork took weeks, and the attorney’s fees were substantial.
Meanwhile, in addition to all of that stress, my visa prevented me from leaving the country to visit an ailing family member. It was one of the most difficult times of my life.
Today, I finally have my E2 visa, and I could not be prouder of my startup, Knotch. Our iPhone app provides a network that allows people to connect based on shared interests. Five people work at Knotch, and we’re hiring even more in San Francisco.
I’m not sure I’ll stay here forever. I came here for my education, and am staying for now because it’s the best place to build my company. But the immigration system has treated me, and many others, poorly. It’s a shame that immigration is such a hindrance for entrepreneurs who want to create jobs and add to the U.S. GDP.
That’s why this moment, when we can pass comprehensive immigration reform, is so critical. It’s a chance to make sure America remains the best place in the world to take the risk of a lifetime.