- Immigrants play a vital role in the US tech industry, and many have founded successful companies.
- With recent tech layoffs, there may be opportunities for immigrants to pursue entrepreneurship.
- These VC firms and startup incubators can help expats get work visas for companies.
Some of today’s best-known tech companies, including Twilio, Airbnb, and Dropbox, were born in the Great Recession of the late 2000s. For a certain type of entrepreneur, the challenges of a recession represent an exciting chance to build something new from the ruins of the old.
Many of these top tech companies were founded by former employees of giants like Amazon or Google, raising hopes that the wave of layoffs sweeping Silicon Valley will lead to a similar startup renaissance.
But that opportunity simply isn’t available to a key class of tech workers: immigrants who are in the U.S. on work visas like the H-1B. Many of the most powerful and influential figures in technology came to the United States as immigrants, including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Stripe founders John and Patrick Collison, and Zoom CEO Eric Yuan.
The H-1B visa is sponsored by the owner’s employer, which means that if they lose their job—voluntarily or as part of a layoff—they typically must return to their home country within 60 days. That’s bad news for tech, because those workers have important and highly desirable skills, and it’s unclear if or when they can return.
Enter a new generation of venture capital firms trying to keep that talent in the U.S. by making it easier for immigrants to launch U.S. startups — sometimes even by funding those visas themselves.
Jakob Kolker, one of the managing partners of the AI2 Incubator program for AI startups, told Insider that he wants to change the perception that it’s impossible to build a company while on an H-1B visa. He said it’s certainly not easy, but it’s possible.
“If you really have to solve a problem, and you want to control your own destiny, and you want to make your own dent in the world, and you’re on an H-1B, you might as well start a company,” Kolker said. Not guaranteed.”
Insider spoke with four companies that focus on investing in immigrant founders, representing a mix of VC firms and startup incubators, about how they pitch and what kind of resources they can provide.