City College of New York will provide H-1B cap-exempt visas to foreign entrepreneurs. But what will the visa process look like under Trump?
The New York Times reports that the first two participants of the IN2NYC international entrepreneur initiative – Gabor Tankovics (Dartboard) and Namisha Bahl (Mogul) – will be settling in to the program soon, followed up by 20 additional participants in March. In exchange for working at one of CUNY’s campuses, the entrepreneurs get an 18-month visa to help establish their startup.
IN2NYC (short for International Innovators Initiative) was announced earlier this year by the Zahn Innovation Center at The City College of New York (CCNY), and will be partly funded by the NYC Economic Development Corporation, which says the program will create over 700 local jobs in three years. Participating institutions include Baruch College, CCNY, LaGuardia Community College, Lehman College, Medgar Evers College, Queens College, and the College of Staten Island.
Participants will have H-1B visas, arranged under a cap-exempt system, necessary as the number of individuals allowed in remains fixed while there are more and more applicants each year. This is the sort of process, though, that will come under scrutiny beginning next year when the new, Republican-dominated government in Congress and the White House takes a hard look at the system, having pledged major reforms to scale back the number of entries and benefits allotted to participants.
For now, though, the participants in IN2NYC are locked into the system and will be given workspaces and other forms of support from the Zahn Innovation Center while in NYC.
Tankovics, from Hungary, is the developer of the personal finance management platform Dartboard, which caters to those with student loans. Bahl is from India and serves as the Director of Integrated Management at Mogul, a social media forum for women that offers female entrepreneurs online courses and expert consultations, both at free and paid subscription levels. Women from India, Pakistan, Kenya, Myanmar, and Egypt are exempt from fees, for example, in order to promote the reach of the site to women in these nations. Other uses can pay $29 a month for premium content aimed at fostering mentorships.
Bahl had been unable to secure an H-1B visa in the past because these do not go to self-employed entrepreneurs, but is now eligible to work in the US since universities can get exemptions to the federal cap. All IN2NYC entrepreneurs “will be able to apply for H-1B Visas, sponsored by an independent American Board of Directors,” according to the Zahn Innovation Center.
H-1B visa system could change very soon
Tech companies and academic institutes throughout the US are concerned over the future of the H-1B visa program, which admits 85,000 people per year through a lottery, under the incoming Trump administration. As Geektime previously reported, President-elect Donald Trump has opposed the program, and in March said, “I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program.”
“No exceptions,” he added, and reiterated this stance at a post-election rally in Iowa.
In his meeting with tech executives earlier this month, Trump’s response was non-committal when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella raised the topic: Trump only said, “Let’s fix that. What can I do to make it better?,” according to Recode.
There will certainly be a clash among different factions within the administration. The larger Silicon Valley companies, like Cisco, will oppose the most sweeping restrictions even as they welcome other Trump administration initiatives, and will be joined by additional US multinationals whose leaders have pledged to advise the White House through the Strategy and Policy Forum. This includes Disney, which is now facing a major H-1B lawsuit over ICT hiring practices.
But Trump’s pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is even more clearly in favor of cuts than his boss. And the president-elect will find at least some support among tech companies for limiting quotas, primarily domestic IT services firms, and has been petitioned by one industry lobbying group, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers USA, “to start pushing back against outsourcing through the H-1B program.”
It will be an early test for the Trump administration, as the last of the Obama Administration’s 2016 amendments to the H-1B laws go into effect the week of the inauguration.
Whether it’s an initiative like IN2NYC or Cisco and Microsoft’s HR departments, Silicon Valley will be closely watching for what happens next.