US Visa System Presents Obstacles for Brazilian Immigrant Entrepreneur

Pedro Sorrentino, a successful tech entrepreneur from Brazil, came to the U.S. to further his education and career. Hired by SendGrid.com right after graduating from Colorado University, Pedro was on the right track until visa difficulties forced him to return to Brazil. After much hard work and a lot of luck, Pedro is back, but he still worries about his chances of staying in the U.S.   

Pedro Sorrentino had been working with tech startups in his native Sao Paolo when he decided he wanted to move to the U.S. to pursue an education and a career change. “I wanted to move here because America was built on immigrants,” he says. However, despite our history, recent U.S. immigration policy has made it difficult for immigrants to come here to stay, and Pedro is no exception. He first came to the U.S. as a graduate student – studying digital media, design, and technology at Colorado University. During that time, he actually founded a company, Recomind.net, with four others still in Brazil.  Though they wanted to base their company in the U.S., the complications associated with five foreign-born co-founders were too difficult to surmount. Still, he worked from America and, once that company sold (to Buscapé Company, one of the largest e-commerce conglomerates in Latin America), found a job in Boulder just in time for graduation.

Pedro was hired by SendGrid.com, a cloud email infrastructure – a FedEx for the Internet, according to Pedro – whose clients include Pintrest, Foursquare, Uber and Pandora, all of whom outsource their email with customers to SendGrid. SendGrid is just one of the many start-ups in Boulder’s burgeoning tech community that has flourished, and Pedro was excited to work for them. They even sponsored his visa and offered him support in any way possible. However, despite strong recommendations, a U.S. degree, and company sponsorship, Pedro’s visa application was denied. 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 U.S., Pedro had the resources to hire great immigrations lawyers, and 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 after being forced to leave. But not everyone is as lucky as Pedro; sadly, he is the exception and not the rule.

Pedro is currently in the process of renewing his H-1B visa. His interview is in three weeks, and 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’ll 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.”

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…