Bay Area entrepreneurs call for reforms to high-skilled immigration system

Posted by on 04/04/2017

On Monday April 3rd, and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel discussion with Silicon Valley business leaders and immigration policy experts to discuss the current state of the H-1B visa and the path ahead for high-skilled immigration.

The panel coincided with the H-1B visa filing period, which opened Monday. Last year, U.S. employers filed a record 236,000 applications for 85,000 available visas that would allow high-skilled individuals to come here and create jobs for American workers. It was the fourth year in a row in which the H-1B visa cap was met under a week.

Participants called for reforms to attract and retain the world’s best and brightest engineers, scientists, and researchers to create American jobs, as well as to stamp out abuses and better protect American workers:

Despite attending high school in North Carolina and graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Angie Gontaruk initially lost the H-1B lottery and was forced to return to Argentina with short notice, leaving her small company behind without a creative producer.

“High-skilled immigrants come to the United States to give our expertise and diverse, innovative, and creative solutions and add a huge benefit to companies across all industries. Every single immigrant adds something unique and necessary,” said Gontaruk, now a creative producer with the CSpence Group in the Bay Area. “I choose to be here because this was where I was brought up, where I studied, and where I get to do a job I truly love. I chose to stay here because I wanted to focus my time, energy, and expertise in a country that has given me so much, and where I want to give back. ”


“The beauty of America itself is the fact that it was built by immigrants. Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery for any country,” said Avinash Conda. Conda graduated with a masters degree in applied computing from Eastern Kentucky University in 2010. He is now at the beginning of an 8-year wait for a green card.


“This country has an untenable ability to attract some of the best people in the world. Our university system serves as our generation’s Ellis Island. There’s this passion, hunger, drive, or ‘the adversity muscle’, that immigrants can tolerate anything and they’re not going to stop until they accomplish it. I’m a firm believer that immigrants are the heartbeat of entrepreneurship. Let’s preserve the innovation economy,” said Manan Mehta, founding partner with Unshackled Ventures.


“There’s got to be a doubling down of investment on education and public education, in addition to immigration reform. We have to protect our Dreamers alongside the repairs needed for the H-1B system,” said UnitedSF Executive Director Laura Moran, who worked to bring in bilingual teachers on H-1B visas to head up the ESL program at Oakland and San Francisco schools. “And it’s clear: we don’t have enough doctors, enough teachers, or engineers. “In the Bay, there was a real shortage of teachers who are bilingual, who can teach in dual immersion programs, or foreign language programs. Nothing is worse as head of HR when you go into a classroom that doesn’t have a teacher. These teachers were a small but valued part of our community. “


“If you’re a foreign founder, immigration is an important factor in how investors view you and your business and its long term viability. If you don’t have a future immigration status here in the United States, you won’t have a viable company for investors. And this is where we hit a hurdle because of our existing immigration framework,” said Ann Cun, Managing Attorney with Accel Visa Attorneys, PC.


“Our visa system is half a century old and Congress has failed to update our high-skilled immigration system since 1990. This woefully outdated system harms the American economy by inhibiting its capacity for growth. High-skilled immigrants grow the American economy, create jobs for Americans and boost wages for native-born workers,” said Northern California Director Mark Ranneberger. “We need to work towards commonsense immigration reform that would reform and expand the H-1B visa and OPT program, and create a startup visa to help the U.S. stay competitive in today’s global economy.”


“The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce represents more than 2500 member business organizations and their employees to support local business, promote commerce and cultivate a dynamic economy. Our business partners are from every sector – the tech industry,  retail, manufacturing, financial services and small business – and at the heart of all them is maintaining a thriving and diverse workforce. Immigration provides a competitive advantage to businesses who can recruit employees who are at the top of their fields and can ultimately create more jobs here in the U.S,” said Tallia Hart, President & CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce

High-skilled immigrants provide incredible contributions to the United States’ economy, particularly in Silicon Valley. In addition to boosting wages for native-born workers, they create employment opportunities for U.S. citizens and fill a critical skills gap in the labor force for rapidly-growing companies.

41Ppdsyr765wbkkaCfX3apmZXepXXKeUO4akfD0nIRwgvAHbUCkc2qyQTxXr5HCb2gn6GAT9Vq01n6Wf6kQVfswydNXxxHz2HmpcadfYnve2VN1qLwCRoou0qBJj0oSXc-dl=0&size=800x600&size_mode=3Panelists listen to Manan Mehta, founding partner with Unshackled Ventures, explain how the H-1B visa has helped immigrants create jobs for American-born workers. Panelists from left to right: Ann Cun, Manan Mehta, Laura Moran, Angie Gontaruk, Avinash Conda.  (Photo credit:


Business leaders and immigration policy experts discussed the current state of the H-1B visa and the path ahead for high-skilled immigration at a panel Monday evening co-sponsored by and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. (Photo credit:

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.

Chapter Leaders Testify in Support of Immigration Action in San Jose

Posted by Lucas Waldron on 01/30/2015

Last Wednesday, two Silicon Valley Chapter members testified at the San Jose City Council in support of a measure to implement President Obama’s executive immigration actions. Shilpa Sachdev, who will gain a work permit from executive action, spoke about her experience on an H-4 visa, which currently prohibits her from working. Rebecca Lunn spoke directly about her experience researching the positive impact of city level immigration offices on local immigrant communities. Both Sachdev and Lunn called on the San Jose City Council to advocate for immigration reform to California’s congressional delegation.


Watch Silicon Valley Co-Founders Project member Shilpa Sachdev speak to the San Jose City Council here:

Want to find out how you can get involved in your city to advocate for immigration reform? Join your city’s chapter now!