Silicon Valley is Fighting a Brain-Drain War with Trump That it May Lose

After six years at LinkedIn, Vikram Rangnekar wanted to go back to his entrepreneurial roots. There was just one big obstacle.

Rangnekar, a cloud computing developer and former Techcrunch50 winner, was working in Silicon Valley on an H-1B visa. Since H-1B visas are tied to jobs, his options were limited: Get a job at another company or try to get a visa on his own and start a company. Both came with one huge drawback: Any change to his job would reset the clock on his green card application. Green cards are allotted by country; the backlog for citizens from populous countries such as India or China is now more than 10 years.

“We decided the indefinite wait was not for us, and we started thinking about our next play,” he said.

That next play turned out to be Toronto. “The permanent-resident process (Canada’s green card equivalent) is easy, and if you have all the points, it takes less than six months. The government is working hard to help and improve the start-up scene,” he said.

Now happily settled in Toronto with his family, he started a site, movnorth.com, to help others like him. “People who have been in the U.S. for 10 to 15 years and still restricted by a work visa are thinking, where can we invest time and have something more permanent?'”

Alternatives to U.S. citizenship

Rangnekar is one of a growing number of highly educated foreign entrepreneurs in the United States who have started looking at alternatives to the obstacle-strewn path to U.S. citizenship. Hardships for foreign entrepreneurs in the United States have increased as of late, thanks to the heightened vetting of H-1B visas, Trump’s Muslim ban and an increasingly hostile stance toward immigration.

Trump, through a number of executive orders and memos from various U.S. agencies has started narrowing visa requirements. In February the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services agency put out a new policy memo requiring “detailed documentation” about H-1B workers employed at third-party work sites to demonstrate that employees are actually filling specialty roles for which they were hired. The move is designed to cut down on “benching” — a practice in which employers hire entry-level software engineers from overseas, pay them the minimum required wage or less and shuffle them to subsidiaries.

By Ellen Sheng for CNBC
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