Immigration System Says ‘No’ to Developer Eager to Work at His Own Startup

At the University of Pittsburgh, a small team of software developers has created a clinical data sharing technology that is changing the way researchers access data across institutions. The platform will encourage partnerships across the globe and, in turn, potentially reduce the time it takes to cure many forms of cancer. At the heart of the team is Girish Chavan, an Indian-born systems programmer and product manager. But, although Chavan and his colleagues recently founded a company to commercialize their technology, Chavan isn’t allowed to work for it; his current, temporary visa doesn’t allow him to be employed by his own business. Getting a green card, meanwhile, could take years.

“It’s because I’m from India,” Chavan says of his decades-long wait for permanent residency. “They only allow a certain number of people to have green cards from my home country each year. Though, it could be worse. I’m lucky that I was educated here and received my master’s in the United States.” He says that if he only had a bachelor’s degree, it could exponentially extend the wait for his green card.

In 2010, while still employed by the University of Pittsburgh, Chavan and his wife created an iPhone app for online shoppers looking for a way to easily convert their clothing sizes from brand to brand. “We put it on the app store, and at first we had a few downloads, mostly from friends and family,” he says. “Two weeks later we woke up to hundreds of emails and had gotten 33,000 downloads overnight.” Furthering their digital success, Apple took note and named their app one of the top 15 utility apps of all time. Things were looking up, until they decided to look into commercializing their creation.

“I learned that since I am here on an H-1B visa, I could only work for my current employer. Working for my own company and obtaining revenue from it was completely out of the question,” he says. “Essentially I had to abandon the idea to start a company and gave the app away for free.”

We focus on illegal immigration and tend to forget that legal immigration is severely broken.

Chavan’s visa classification is a temporary visa provided to high-skilled workers. It must be sponsored by an established company, and it does not allow individuals to work for themselves. In this way, it is severely limiting for thousands of talented and passionate immigrants who, like Chavan, have entrepreneurial ambitions. “The first step Congress needs to take is to truly understand the problem,” Chavan says. “The long wait times for green cards for high-skilled immigrants are a direct result of per-country caps. This not only affects high-skilled immigrants, but also American workers, because it depresses wages for everyone. We focus on illegal immigration and tend to forget that legal immigration is severely broken.”

Despite the long wait for a green card, Chavan remains optimistic about his future. He maintains that through the work he does and the organizations he contributes to, he has been able to feel recognized by his community and by the country. “I have lived here for more than 14 years. I feel more like an American than an Indian,” he says. ”Despite all my immigration woes, I would still like to make this country my home.”

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…