After Decade in U.S., Still No Visa for Successful Startup Founder

Chris Choi has a bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a master’s degree in investments and securities from Pace University. He also co-founded a growing company called Spryfit, a reward-based fitness app that uses cash prizes and other rewards to motivate users to achieve their fitness goals, in March 2017. He lives in Seoul, South Korea, but he wants to bring his business to the United States. He already pays taxes here since he registered the company in Delaware in the hopes that he would one day be able to make the international move. He also plans to hire American workers since “no one knows the U.S. market and culture better.” Yet right now, none of the contributions he has made, or plans to make, are enough to secure him a visa.

So now, instead of creating jobs in the United States, Choi is considering moving his company to Luxembourg. “I competed in a tech conference there and took home third place in the startup division,” he says. “The country is really making a push to get startups there. The government is providing more than $100,000 to new companies because they realize how important those businesses are for growing their economy.”

We’re motivated to contribute to the economy and hire Americans. We just want to be given a chance.

When it comes to the health of the American economy, it is hard to overstate the importance of entrepreneurship. Companies less than five years old, like SpryFit, create an average of 1.5 million new jobs for Americans each year.  The 2.9 million immigrant entrepreneurs currently living in the United States generate $65.5 billion in annual business income  And immigrant-founded companies are even more important for future job and business growth. Between 1996 and 2011, the rate at which immigrants founded new companies grew by 50 percent, while the rate at which U.S.-born entrepreneurs did so actually declined, by 10 percent.  Currently, however, there is no visa for people like Choi who want to come to the United States, start a company, and create jobs for American workers.

Choi would like to see reform that makes it easier for companies like his to set up shop here. It feels  unfair, he says, that he’s not being given the opportunity to run his operation from the United States when he spent the last decade living in the country and contributing to the economy. While working and pursuing his undergraduate and graduate degrees here, Choipaid $30,000 to $40,000 annually in tuition and rent, in addition to buying groceries and supplies. International students who received their diplomas in 2016 contributed an estimated $19.6 billion to the American economy over the course of their studies. “I feel like some sort of priority should be give to entrepreneurs who went to school in the U.S.,” says Choi.

Still, Choi is holding out hope. Even though it’s unknown whether the Obama-era International Entrepreneur Rule, which would allow established founders with capital to build their companies in the United States for 30 months, will ever come into effect, Choi is working with a lawyer to try and make something happen. Ideally, he says, SpryFit would be able to relocate to the United States within the next two years. The company is already generating revenue and has launched in the Apple app store. “Because I was living in the U.S. until recently, I am actually more familiar with the U.S. market than I am with the Korean market,” says Choi. “The wellness market is much bigger in the U.S. …We’re motivated to contribute to the economy and hire Americans. We just want to be given a chance.”

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…