I am Hanlin Hong, the founder and president of Tech-No-Logic Corporation based in Massachusetts. I’d like to share you my story about how the visa system is affecting me.
I came to the US for study in 2011. The reason I chose Massachusetts was, I knew Massachusetts had the highest density of top robotics institutions and companies in the world, and my dream was to become a robot inventor! In 2013, I successfully graduated from WPI with a Master’s degree in Robotics Engineering. After graduation, I obtained my OPT, and found my company to develop smart home appliances and home robots. My team believed that in the future robots would come into every family! In 2014, we started a new project: a smart cooking robot that could automatically add ingredients and cook food itself through wireless control. After several months development, our team grew to 5 members, we completed first generation of prototype, did a public demo at MIT and was reported by BizJournals! And just this January, we successfully attracted several hundred thousands dollars of Angel investment.
When my journey is approaching a new era, I find that my OPT status is expiring at the end of this year. It means, before our product goes to the market, either I have to leave the team or I have to take the company out of the US. No matter which way it means our company will lose a good chance to obtain talents and a huge consumer electronics market in the US. This isn't what our team and our investors would like to see. For now, the only choice I have is to apply for H1B working visa. But to be eligible for the H1B, requirements like proving minimum salary are just not possible for a startup like us. Besides the requirements, there's also a lottery system to decide who will finally get H1B due to the annual limited numbers. It is said the success rate is quite low, but this year is my only last chance to apply for H1B. As an inventor and entrepreneur, I could have spent more time on thinking about how to conduct high technologies to benefit people in Massachusetts and other places in the US, but the fact now is I have to struggle with my visa which makes no contribution to anyone's value. Moreover, our company is going to to recruit 3 more members in the next several months with the recent investment. But we are facing challenges with both hiring Americans and the top international talents. We can’t hire Americans until my own VISA is secured and we can’t even begin to sponsor other highly skilled employees as we cannot guarantee their VISA.
I have spent less than 2 years to bring our company from zero to today's stage, and I know many start-ups could have already died before reaching this stage. If given another 2 years, I believe, our company could have obtained another round of investment and started real product sales. And I believe in the future, we could bring more market value to the US home appliance industry, bring more job positions to Massachusetts and the US, and bring more high tech products to people in the US and all over the world! But today's US visa system only gives STEM students like me 29 months, these 29 months are far less than enough for a startup to grow from zero to mature!
Thank you for reading my true story. I'm currently still preparing the H1B application, and this application is even much more complicated than most others. Hopefully I'm lucky enough to obtain my working visa next month!