New York Industry Leaders Discuss Economic Incentives of Commonsense Immigration Reform

Posted by Caron Creighton on 09/30/2016

New York Industry Immigration

On September 23, leaders from several of New York’s major industries, including real estate, tech, fashion, film, hospitality, and business made the case for commonsense immigration reform as part of a discussion detailing the role immigrants play in our country’s economy.

Speakers included Kathryn Wylde, President and CEO of The Partnership for New York City; Ken Biberaj, Vice President of Russian Tea Room and Chairman of the Board of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce; MaryAnne Gilmartin, President and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies; Fashion Designer Nanette Lepore; Kevin Ryan, Founder and Chairman of MongoDB, and Chairman and CEO of AlleyCorp; and Writer and Film Director Paola Mendoza. The panel was moderated by Eric Gertler, CEO of Ulysses Ventures, and former President of U.S. News & World Report.

The conversation marked the first time that leaders representing a cross-section of New York businesses convened to discuss the urgent need for reform.

“Today’s robust discussion among a diverse group of business leaders reinforces the need for commonsense immigration reform to ensure that the United States remains a global leader of innovation as well as a beacon of equality and opportunity to the world,” said moderator Eric Gertler.

One of the main topics discussed was the need to diversify the workforce with talented individuals from around the world.

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“Ready access to a diversity of global talent is what U.S. employers want from our national immigration policy, along with a commonsense resolution of the legal status of immigrants who are already here,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, President and CEO of The Partnership for New York City. “In New York City, immigrants represent 47% of our small business owners, and form a large share of our professional employees and of the student population at our many universities and research centers. Immigration is what fuels our growth and our leadership in the global economy.”

Kevin Ryan, Founder and Chairman of MongoDB, echoed Wylde’s call for a diverse workforce.

“We can either create high-paying jobs in the United States or push innovative companies away, delivering those jobs to other countries,” said Ryan. “Many of the people hired at innovative companies in the tech industry get their start here and then start their own companies a few years later, creating even more jobs. The U.S. economy needs to attract these people for the long term if we want to maintain our technological edge.”

“We can either create high-paying jobs in the United States or push innovative companies away, delivering those jobs to other countries.”

Ken Biberaj, Vice President of New York’s iconic Russian Tea Room, agreed that diversity is important for all types businesses.

“Diversity is the secret ingredient that makes New York City restaurants the most important and influential in the world,” said Biberaj. “Immigrants are the lifeblood of the industry – out front serving guests, in the kitchen perfecting recipes, and setting up new restaurants as entrepreneurs–without their innovation and hard work our melting pot would be noticeably less flavorful. Commonsense immigration reform is essential to preserving the character and success of New York, and maintaining our restaurant industry as an economic powerhouse,” shared Biberaj.

Nanette Lepore, a veteran of New York’s fashion industry who manufactures her clothing locally, shared her personal experience of relying on immigrants to help successfully run her business.

“When I started my business in New York City’s Garment District in 1987, I relied on immigrants from all over the world to help me produce my collections,” said Lepore. “The old Jewish men supplied my trims and embroideries, the Chinese and Korean immigrants sewed my garments together, the South Americans and Mexicans worked in the cutting rooms and the Italian tailors made my patterns. All of them shared their knowledge and expertise. They genuinely wanted to help me grow a successful business. It is this immersion and integration of international craftsmanship that keeps the New York City fashion industry thriving.”

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New York-based filmmaker Paola Mendoza reiterated Lepore’s discussion, sharing her own experience as an immigrant.

“New York’s film industry is fueled by international talent, from actors and directors to scriptwriters and producers,” said Mendoza. “Immigrants are powerful storytellers who, for generations, have drawn on distinct cultures and traditions from around the world to captivate audiences. As both a filmmaker and a Colombian immigrant, I’ve seen firsthand the creativity that immigrants have contributed and continue to contribute to American cinema. It is through my work as a filmmaker that I hope to show the world the humanity that lies within each of us.”

The discussion was hosted by FWD.us as part of a series of events entitled, The Economics of Commonsense Immigration Reform. President of FWD.us, Todd Schulte summed up the discussion, emphasizing that the positive impacts immigrants make are not limited to New York. “The economic contribution of immigrants is not a unique story to New York City, it’s a tale that plays out in all 50 states,” said Schulte. “It’s more important now than ever to recognize the cultural and economic contributions every immigrant group has made over time. Commonsense immigration reform will allow us to attract innovators and entrepreneurs, and provide an economic boost to communities in the form of jobs, growth, and an expanded tax base–all while continuing the proud immigrant tradition that makes America great.”

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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.

GOP and Tech Leaders Gather in Orange Country to Address Need for Immigration Reform

Posted by Catherine Lyons on 08/04/2016

GOP and Tech Leaders Address Need for Immigration ReformOn July 26th, more than 150 business leaders, elected officials, and company representatives attended a summit on immigration reform, hosted by FWD.us and the Internet Marketing Association at the Richard Nixon Library and Museum in Orange County, California.

The evening featured Congresswoman Representative Mimi Walters (CA-45), Michael Dubin, CEO of Dollar Shave Club, Rob Jesmer, Campaign Manager for FWD.us, and Faquiry Diaz Cala, CEO of Tres Mares Group, who participated in a panel discussion on pressing economic issues including immigration reform. One point the event showcased: there is bipartisan agreement and support for comprehensive and commonsense immigration reform legislation in 2017.

Each panelist agreed that Congress and political leaders from both parties need to come together to update an immigration system that hasn’t been reformed for 30 years.

Commonsense immigration reform is especially needed in areas like Orange County and the Central Valley of California. Immigration Reform would boost California’s GDP by nearly $11 billion to around $27 billion over the next decade.

It is clear that now, more than ever, we need to come together and pass commonsense immigration reform.

Texas Celebrates Immigrant Heritage Month by Hosting Immigrant-Founded Startup Pitch Challenge

Posted by Nick Baker on 08/02/2016

Immigrant Heritage Month Texas

Cobby Amoah, founder of Obaa, speaks at the Immigrant Heritage Month event in Dallas, Texas. (Photo credit: Luiz Sifuentes)

June marked the third Immigrant Heritage Month, and the Dallas Chapter of FWD.us came together to celebrate the occasion by hosting a pitch challenge featuring immigrant-founded startups.

Two companies, Obaa and La Gioia, tied for third place in the pitch competition. Obaa, founded by Cobby Amoah, focuses on streamlining data sharing and communications between healthcare providers and patients. The startup aims to improve healthcare outcomes for patients and lower costs for providers with his all-in-one platform. La Gioia, founded by William Lechuga, delivers exclusive designer uniforms at affordable prices, to businesses such as boutique hotels and restaurants. William aspires to help businesses communicate their brand to consumers through fashion. Check out this photo album for an inside look at all the pitches and presentations from the event.

Cobby and William are both immigrant entrepreneurs. Cobby is originally from Ghana, and William immigrated to America from Spain. Cobby initially came to America with the goal of becoming a doctor. However, when he realized computers were going to dramatically alter the healthcare industry, Cobby decided to shift course and found a health tech company. He dreams of drastically improving our health care system, but there are many challenges he must overcome along the way. In addition to the challenges inherent to being an entrepreneur, he must also navigate the complicated U.S. immigration system. Cobby has applied for a green card based on his extraordinary talent–but there is no guarantee it will come through.

Immigrant Heritage Month Texas

William Lechuga, founder of La Gioia, is in the process of applying for an E-2 investor visa. (Photo credit: Lilimar Oliveras)

William is a newcomer to Texas. He made the move to Dallas at the beginning of April of this year in order to grow his business and pursue opportunities that don’t exist elsewhere. William envisions La Gioia changing the way institutions present themselves to the world. In five to ten years, he sees La Gioia serving a variety of markets, including schools, airlines, and hospitals. William is in the process of applying for an E-2 investor visa. But since the E-2 is a “non-immigrant” visa, it won’t enable William to apply for a green card. Without a clear long-term immigration pathway for entrepreneurs, Cobby and William have no assurance they will be able to stay in the U.S, grow their businesses, and benefit our communities.

Cobby and William are not alone in the challenges they face as immigrant entrepreneurs. Cobby believes a Startup Visa would be beneficial both for immigrant entrepreneurs as well as the United States. He has many friends who have faced similar issues with the American immigration system. If hardworking, entrepreneurial immigrants are able to stay in the U.S., they will contribute both innovations and jobs to our communities.

To put the entrepreneurial drive of immigrants in perspective, the American Immigration Council found that immigrants started more than a quarter of a million businesses from 2006 to 2010 in Texas alone. These are businesses that generate revenue, create jobs, and contribute to the state’s economy. Immigrant entrepreneurs are at the forefront of innovation, but they lack the necessary tools to stay in the U.S and grow their businesses. Without a long-term immigration pathway for these entrepreneurs, we miss out on the economic benefits generated by companies like Obaa and La Gioia.

FWD.us’ Push For Reform tool makes it easy to advocate for immigrant entrepreneurs. Simply type in your address to find out where your member of Congress stands on immigration reform, and use the built-in tools to to contact your representative via social media, a phone call, or even a custom letter.

It’s up to you to let our leaders in Congress know we support entrepreneurs like Cobby and William.