Changing Immigration, One Step at a Time

Luis Arbulu is a Founder and Partner at Hattery, and an Entrepreneur in Residence with USCIS.

I am a foreign-born entrepreneur. Originally from Peru, I studied engineering in Lima and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study in the US: first engineering at the University of Kansas and then business at the Wharton School at UPenn. I followed the immigration process - from J-1 student visa to OPT to H1B to F-1 to green card and finally in 2008 I was naturalized and became a U.S. citizen. I worked at Google as finance lead, head of investments, and manager, working on advertising products, energy, and data platforms. Now, I am co-founder of a seed stage venture fund and consultancy, Hattery. Our team is growing by the day, and I have the extremely rewarding task of helping new startups grow and thrive.

Recently I was contacted by the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS)  and asked to be part of their Entrepreneur in Residence Program — a really great initiative to get entrepreneurs, USCIS staff, and other experts together to collaborate on issues surrounding skilled immigration and entrepreneurship. The program embeds a small group of investors and entrepreneurs into the USCIS for 90 days, with clear objectives and deliverables. [Read our post about EIR here - Engine].

As an Entrepreneur in Residence, I’m invited to share my own knowledge based on my experience as a foreign-born entrepreneur in order to better pave the way for future innovation and economic growth spurred by immigrant entrepreneurship. This country’s success is largely based on the hard work and determination of immigrants throughout its history — a legacy I’m very much proud to be part of. Startups are almost the sole driver of new job growth in this country, and foreign born entrepreneurs are responsible for starting some of the country’s most successful and job-creating companies, like Google. This is something that hits close to home for me — since it was only after eleven years in the US that I was able to start my first company.

What I and the other participants of the program have found is that the current immigration system for skilled foreign-born workers does not encourage harnessing the talent and drive of foreign-born entrepreneurs to grow the U.S. economy.

Immigration is an issue at a legislative stand-still. While there are some measures on the agenda, the issue of undocumented workers easily gets conflated with skilled immigration and stalls proposed legislation. While it’s important to pursue legislative change, another avenue to explore is optimizing the current system: making it as user friendly as possible, and giving foreign-born skilled workers the tools and resources to use the visas that are currently available. This includes working with the USCIS to train adjudicators on how startups and tech companies have evolved (funding levels, SaaS, incubators and accelerators, etc.), in order to clarify and potentially innovate in the processes for foreign-born entrepreneurs starting companies across the US.

Another way to optimize the current system is to work with the USCIS to change the rules and policies on the current visas — a measure that doesn’t require going through any legislative branch — in order to help foreign born entrepreneurs to start their own companies. At the moment, workers here under an H1B visa can’t fulfill the requirements of the visa unless there is an employer-employee relationship, and that’s something we will be looking into in the program.

This country was built on immigration, and I am proud to be here continuing that tradition, with partners like Engine and others in the space who understand the importance of entrepreneurship to growing the US economy. And I’m looking forward to working with the USCIS to find new pathways to success for immigrant entrepreneurs. Read more about the program here.

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