Stanford Entrepreneurs Launch Startup to Offer U.S. Immigrants Opportunity to Transfer Credit History

Posted by Caron Creighton on 08/15/2016

Nova Credit Offers U.S. Immigrants Opportunity to Transfer Credit HistoryNova Credit, a cross-border consumer credit reporting startup backed by Y Combinator, Pejman Mar Ventures, and StartX, made their official product launch today. Nova began as a collaboration among recent Stanford graduates and immigrant entrepreneurs Misha Esipov, Nicky Goulimis, and Loek Janssen.

Misha, Nicky, and Loek recognized a need for access to credit histories across borders to lessen the financial toll on immigrants to the U.S. They first saw the need for access to lending opportunities in their own lives, as well as in the lives of their fellow international students at Stanford, where over 40% of MBA students hold passports from outside the U.S.

“I got rejected from a ton of credit cards, and have to pay for really expensive student loans. I’d written off that category like…this is just something that happens, I’m not going to do anything about it.It was interesting when Misha started having this idea…maybe there is a solution,” said Nicky.

Nicky grew up in the U.K. in a family of Greek immigrants. After graduating from Cambridge and working at Bain & Co and most recently at Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency, Nicky moved to the U.S. to get her MBA at Stanford.

Without the ability to transfer their credit histories, immigrants have difficulty proving their reliability as borrowers and are often forced into less ideal options like payday loans, that can charge 300% or more in interest. As a result, immigrants living in the U.S. often struggle to navigate life tasks and milestones, such as taking out a loan to start a business, buying a car, or renting an apartment.

“Immigration is a really vulnerable point for individuals in their lives. Giving them the credit to get that head start, it helps…unlock opportunities for them,” said Nicky.

Misha, Nicky, and Loek seek to provide a systemic solution to aid the more than 42.4 million immigrants living in the U.S. with limited access to credit. “[We] allow people to bring their credit history with them so that they’re treated as equals when they come to the U.S., to not have to start from scratch,” said Misha.

Misha is a naturalized U.S. citizen whose family moved to the United States from Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Most recently in his career, Misha worked at Google[x] and Goldman Sachs, before completing his MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

“My immigration story is a huge source of pride for me in getting to where I am,” said Misha.
“I’ve been in this country for more than 25 years and had the good fortune of being educated here, and benefited from the sacrifice that my parents made in taking a big risk and leaving the safety net that comes with being in a country where your education is respected. Where you speak the language. Where you understand the culture. Where you have a big family. You come to a new country…you’re starting over. I have been lucky enough in life to make it to here. I think about the sort of the path that’s gotten me here, and what I want to accomplish in the future. I want to help people get to a similar stage.”

Part of Nova’s goal is to help immigrants from all walks of life find pathways to success.

“If you’re already having to struggle with income and then you don’t have special services handy, it’s even harder. The system is not really optimized across the whole income curve,” said Loek. “It takes like three to five years to build [a credit history] that is up to par to what it was back home, and we solve that gap.”

Loek moved to the U.S. from the Netherlands in 2014 and received his Master’s degree at Stanford in Artificial Intelligence and Software Engineering.

Silicon Valley’s population alone is 37% non-citizens. Considering 42.4 million people in the U.S. are immigrants, Nova Credit has positioned itself to fill a wide gap. Nova currently validates credit information from Mexico, Canada and India, with plans to expand to several different countries in the coming months. If Nova Credit succeeds in their goal to provide credit history for immigrants, it would create a $600 billion lending opportunity for American institutions.

In order to continue to grow their young company, the founding trio must contend with not only inherent entrepreneurial challenges, but also the ever-present uncertainty of Nicky and Loek’s future in the U.S.

“I’m faced with the risk that my two co-founders may not be allowed to stay in this country, in a year and then in two years,” said Misha.

Nicky is currently on an OPT student visa, and plans to apply for the H1-B visa through her work with Nova. Loek is in the U.S. on an OPT STEM extension, which allows him to stay in the country legally post-graduation for up to 2 years.

“We need greater clarity on the ability for highly qualified, talented, driven people to stay in this country,” said Misha.

Unfortunately, Nicky and Loek are just two of many highly skilled and educated immigrants whose potentials–personal and professional–are stuck in limbo due to the limited and outdated options within the U.S. immigration system.

“I know so many really dynamic and amazing international entrepreneurs who haven’t been confident that they can find a visa solution in order to make it work…they could contribute more to the economy if they had the flexibility to pursue startup jobs,” said Nicky.

In the 2015 H-1B visa lottery, only 65,000 visas were given to companies seeking to hire high-skilled, foreign-born workers in STEM fields. Even if a company does petition for a foreign-born employee to receive an H-1B visa, the chances are slim and the winners are chosen at random. The visa system’s ambiguity and the low odds of actually “winning the lottery” often deters companies from hiring talented immigrants.

The founding team is proof of highly skilled and innovative immigrants’ contributions to the economy. Nova Credit serves as one of the many examples of the impact that commonsense immigration reform–with options for foreign-born entrepreneurs–could have on American society.

“If you have a visa environment that allows people who are driven, well-educated, and ethical, the ability to stay in this country and to create value here, that does tremendous good for the bigger economy,” said Misha. “It creates more jobs, it creates innovation in this country, which then trickles into other countries and continues to promote the U.S. as the bellwether source of innovation around the world.”

Countless other foreign-born entrepreneurs in the U.S. also provide invaluable services through their businesses, as well as a boon to the American economy. For example, in the U.S., immigrant-founded companies have a collective value of $168 billion and create an average of 720 jobs per company. Additionally, the average immigrant living in the U.S. contributes about $120,000 more in taxes than they consume in benefits.

“I think it really is Congress’ role to continue to build this ideal that America was founded on, and to be outward looking and bold,” said Nicky.

Share Misha, Nicky, and Loek’s story and join the fight to pass commonsense immigration reform in 2017.

ICYMI: FWD.us Taps Republican Policy Expert Mark Delich To Drive Congressional Outreach

Posted on 08/02/2016

Washington, DC — FWD.us today announced the hire of seasoned Hill veteran Mark Delich as director of congressional affairs.

Mark’s hire adds another powerful conservative voice to FWD.us’ growing bipartisan team ahead of the 2016 election and beyond. In his new role, Mark will help drive the organization’s congressional outreach efforts and will continue to build relationships with bipartisan lawmakers in key offices to help push immigration reform through Congress in 2017.

Mark comes to FWD.us with more than a decade of public policy experience, most recently as a senior advisor to Senator John McCain, where he was on the forefront of issues involving homeland security and immigration. There, he served as a lead staffer on a number of high-profile legislative initiatives, including the comprehensive immigration reform bill S. 744, which passed in the Senate with an overwhelming majority in December 2013.

Prior to advising Sen. McCain, Mark was the director of policy at the Reform Institute, where he set the strategic direction for the Institute’s policy work on immigration and homeland security issues. His impressive background serving as a lead staffer for the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will add considerable strength to FWD.us’ efforts to update the high-skilled immigration system.

“Mark’s expert knowledge of immigration and border security issues will be a tremendous asset for our organization and our efforts on the Hill,” said FWD.us President Todd Schulte. “We’re thrilled to leverage his bipartisan experience working with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle as we fight to get commonsense immigration reform done in 2017.”

A nationally-recognized public policy expert, Mark will continue to be at the center of immigration reform efforts as a senior staffer at FWD.us.

“FWD.us has been a great advocate in pushing for sensible immigration policies that will secure our borders, reform our visa system and provide an earned pathway to citizenship for the millions of people who are living in the United States without papers,” said Mark Delich. “I’m excited to join them and continue fighting for policies—like comprehensive immigration reform—that make sense for our economy and our country.”

Continuing the Fight for Undocumented Families & Looking Forward to Immigration Reform in 2017

Posted by Gabriela Cid on 07/25/2016


DC-blog-post-cover-photoWe were dealt a huge blow by the Supreme Court of the United States’ 4-4 ruling on the
U.S. v. Texas case. This ruling meant that Expanded DACA and DAPA would not become a reality; Instead, countless individuals in our communities would continue to live their lives in the shadows. Up until Thursday, June 23, our families, our stories, and our faces were shown by the media and given attention. We were newsworthy then. But on Friday, June 24, the news cycle moved on to the next hot topic. Meanwhile, our families remained the same: undocumented and fearful, at risk of being separated. 

 

It pained us to know that our struggles were so easily forgotten. So many individuals bravely shared their stories of resilience and their need to be recognized as human beings in American society. And yet nothing had changed. We knew that we had to keep fighting, but we were also in the process of healing and accepting that we had to keep moving forward.

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While the media attention may have shifted, we wanted to share our appreciation with members of Congress who supported Expanded DACA and DAPA and fought beside us. We wanted to let them know that our families were still here and hurting, but hopeful.

 

Weeks after the Court’s decision, we organized a fly-in to Washington D.C. Individuals from across the country came together on Thursday, July 14, to both thank the elected officials who championed our cause and remind them to keep fighting for our communities.

 

For some of the participants, it was our first time visiting Washington D.C. to meet with members of Congress. Among these first-timers was Jonathan Sanchez, a U.S. citizen. Jonathan’s mother is undocumented and would have been eligible for DAPA. He wanted to remind members of Congress that immigrants are hard-working and only seeking a better life for their children. “As her son, I’ve seen [my mother] work hard in every job she’s done to make sure that my siblings and I had food on the table,” shared Jonathan.

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We met with both Republican and Democrat members of Congress like Congressman Valadao (R-CA), Congressman Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Congressman Gutierrez (D-IL), Congressman Castro (D-TX), and others.

 

DAPA-eligible participant Marlene Burga had the opportunity to share her story with Congressman Gutierrez. “[It is] so important for me to know that we can have a direct conversation with our legislators who  understand we need to have better results for immigration reform,” said Burga. “I know that we can work together to keep pushing our country forward, a country with millions of parents like myself that live in fear of being separated away from their children.

 

A shared reflection we were left with at the end of the day was that we are stronger together; We must keep fighting as a group. Our communities depend on a unified approach to fix our broken immigration system–an approach where impacted individuals and Congressional representatives listen to one another to find the best solution.

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“[This opportunity] helped [me] realize that the fight for immigration reform is not one of ‘us vs. them,’ but rather a fight that we are all in this together. It was a testament to the fact that there are still lawmakers interested in advancing the common good, as well as representatives who are willing to give a voice to those whose calls for help are often–too often–shut out,” said participant Jesus Rodriguez.

 

Our conversations with these congressmen and women gave us a glimpse of hope. They helped us gain some closure after the defeat in the Supreme Court. But more importantly, they reminded us that there is a lot of work to be done to show people that comprehensive immigration reform must be a priority in 2017. As immigrants, and children of immigrants, we are committed to this fight.

 

Join us and tell Congress it’s time to pass bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation during the first 100 days of 2017.

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Yesterday's House Vote: Terribly Misguided

Posted by Todd Schulte on 01/15/2015

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We wanted to provide you with an overview of the series of votes yesterday surrounding efforts to repeal the President’s executive immigration actions.

Yesterday’s show vote from the House Republican Conference holds up critical funding for the Department of Homeland Security over the right to restart deportations of DREAMers, and wastes valuable time on a bill that House GOP members know has zero chance of becoming law.

A number of amendments to the funding bill would roll back important and necessary protections for DREAMers, the parents of kids who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents, talented students who go to school in the U.S. and want to stay here to grow their companies and create American jobs, and other undocumented immigrants who have been living here and already contributing to our communities and our economy for years.

In summary – were this passed into law, these millions of people would be placed at risk of deportation – ripping apart millions of families, stifling our economy, and hurting our country. We are encouraged that 26 Republicans broke with their party in opposition of a particularly harmful amendment. And we’re thankful to the 10 Republicans and nearly every Democratic member who voted against the entire measure.

The House floor votes included five particularly harmful amendments that won’t accomplish the meaningful immigration reform that Americans across the political spectrum overwhelmingly support. With the help of our friends at Alliance for Citizenship, here are the key points on each amendment:

The Aderholt/Mulvaney/Barletta Amendment as passed would prohibit the use of fees collected by USCIS to implement DAPA or DACA, and is specifically designed to prevent the implementation of deferred action programs. The only executive action this amendment leaves in place pertains to pay increases and workforce realignment for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

The Blackburn Amendment would put at risk of deportation hundreds of thousands of DREAMers who already came forward in good faith, passed background checks, and received temporary DACA protection allowing them to apply for jobs, schools, and driver’s licenses. The Blackburn Amendment also prohibits the use of funds to consider new DACA applications, preventing the expansion of the DACA program to other young people who might not qualify under the program’s rules right now.  

The DeSantis/Roby Amendment ignores existing policies which prioritize criminals convicted of certain sex offenses and domestic violence as the highest targets for law enforcement. These individuals are already excluded from deferred action under DAPA and DACA. The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and more than a dozen sheriffs and police chiefs oppose the DeSantis/Roby Amendment because it would also endanger victims of domestic violence by overturning a key DHS policy requiring further investigation into whether a person convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense was actually the victim of that crime.

The Salmon/Thompson Amendment incorrectly suggests that employers may be incentivized to give hiring preference to individuals who qualify for deferred action because they are not eligible for premium subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In fact, all full-time employees, regardless of immigration status, are counted as an “employee” in determining whether and how much an employer owes in penalties for failure to meet the health care coverage obligation under the ACA.

The Schock Amendment is based on the false assumption that wait times for some legal immigration categories will increase due to the implementation of DAPA, despite USCIS having the authority to hire new adjudicators to process these applications. Deferred action applications are not expected to slow the processing of legal immigration petitions. Instead of preventing delays, this amendment would interfere with many other applications filed by persons in unlawful status, including asylum applications, U visa and T visa applications by victims of serious crimes and sex trafficking, and green card applications by the spouses of U.S. citizens and victims of domestic violence entitled to relief under the Violence Against Women Act.

On the heels of this vote, it’s more important than ever to remind members of Congress that what we need is real immigration reform – not politically-motivated show votes that waste time that could be spent working toward real and meaningful legislative solutions. We strongly encourage House Republicans to stop their terribly misguided efforts to overturn DACA and instead pursue serious legislation in good faith that will provide a permanent legislative solution to our country’s broken immigration system.