Pedro Sorrentino had been working with tech startups in his native São Paulo, Brazil when he decided he wanted to move to the United States and pursue an education and a career change. “I wanted to move here because America was built on immigrants,” he says. But despite our history, recent U.S. immigration policy has made it hard for immigrants to come here to stay, and Pedro is no exception.
He first came to the United States as a graduate student, studying digital media, design, and technology at University of Colorado Boulder. During that time, he actually helped found a company, Recomind.net, with four others who were still in Brazil. Though they wanted to base the company in the United States, the complications associated with five foreign-born co-founders were too difficult. Still, Pedro worked from America and once that company sold (to Buscapé Company, one of the largest e-commerce conglomerates in Latin America), he found a job at SendGrid in Boulder, Colorado just in time for graduation in December 2011. SendGrid.com is a cloud email infrastructure – a FedEx for the Internet, according to Pedro – whose clients include Pinterest, Foursquare, Uber and Pandora, all of whom outsource their emails with customers to SendGrid. SendGrid is just one of the many startups in Boulder’s burgeoning tech community that has flourished, and Pedro was excited to work for them. But despite strong recommendations, a U.S. degree, and SendGrid’s company sponsorship, Pedro’s H-1B visa application was denied and he was forced to move back to Brazil, unable to start his promising career in technology.
Back in Brazil, Pedro did everything he could to get back to the States. “The first thing I thought when I woke up was I’m going to get my visa,” he says. “And the last thing I thought when I went to bed was I’m going to get my visa.” Fortunately, Pedro got lucky. SendGrid agreed to help in any way possible from the United States, and Pedro had the resources to hire great immigration lawyers. Further, a connection in Boulder helped him get a letter from Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. Thanks to all of that, Pedro was eventually able to return to Boulder and to his career six months later, in May 2012. But not everyone is as lucky as Pedro; sadly, he is the exception and not the rule.
Pedro is currently in the process of applying for a Green Card. He is collecting letters of recommendation and preparing all of his paperwork; like many other immigrants, he’s nervous. “Someday, I want to buy a house here, get a mortgage,” he says. “But I wouldn’t do that because we don’t have enough security.” Pedro says his goal is to stay here and start another company down the line. If immigration laws prevent him from doing so here he will be disappointed, he says, but he’ll go elsewhere. “With everything I’ve learned and all the knowledge I’ve gained here, I could have a huge amount of success in other places that would welcome me,” he says. “There are huge markets in China, Brazil – [immigrant entrepreneurs] might be better off not staying here even though it’s not what most of us want.”