I came to the United States in 2010 to pursue my Masters in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. While I expected to be challenged by the intellectual rigor of my courses, I was truly fascinated by how my fellow students took the skills they learned in the classroom and turned them into entrepreneurial ventures. While several of my classmates wanted to include me on their side projects, I was limited by my F1 status -- which didn’t let me work when I was in school. Despite my frustration, I kept my head down and remained hyper focused on school.
After my first two semesters at USC, I moved up to Silicon Valley for a summer internship that changed my life. As I worked with founders of tech companies, I was inspired by their struggles, successes and the future challenges they were determined to solve. Having been brought up in a middle-class Indian family, entrepreneurship was always considered an unnecessarily risky endeavor and not worth pursuing. But here were people who thrived on taking big calculated risks and building incredible products. San Francisco rekindled my interest in entrepreneurship, and this time it stuck.
Fast forward to graduation, and again, I was at a crossroads. I had a cushy tech job offer with a hefty pay package and easy H1B status on the line -- by all means a dream job for any Indian immigrant -- or I could follow my dream of building a company from the ground up. This choice was further complicated by my lack of US citizenship. Being a founder on an F1 visa is highly unheard of and could jeopardize my ability to stay in the US. I had a year to get my company to a state where it could support and fund my visa or I could just go ahead and buy myself a one-way ticket back to India.
Finally the entrepreneurship bug won. I risked it all and threw myself into building a great company. At each step, I wasted time and effort talking to immigration lawyers, filing never-ending paperwork, and researching every move to ensure immigration laws were not violated, instead of applying myself fully into building a bigger and better product for my company. Despite that, we persevered and two years later my company Tint is a 10-person team making over $2M in annual revenue.
After bringing my company to this stage, immigration law threw yet another wrench into the works -- my fate would be decided by a lottery and not by my skill set or my contribution to the economy. After months of anguish I won that coveted H1B visa through sheer chance. I helplessly watched as several of my incredibly talented, but not so lucky, colleagues were forced to leave the US.
Immigration laws in this country desperately need a reset. Most aspiring immigrant founders dismiss pursuing entrepreneurship because they have to risk being deported to follow their dreams. It is an extremely harrowing path to your dreams, and it shouldn't be. The American Dream is the idea that anyone can achieve anything through ability and hard work. Today this promise of equal opportunity lies buried under paperwork and backward immigration laws for the thousands like me. Fixing the broken immigration system will inspire more immigrants to pursue entrepreneurship and more importantly it will give them the freedom to coin a great American story.