(Photo courtesy of Aradhya Malhotra)
Entrepreneurship is an ocean full of violent waves in the form of challenges.
Over the past two years, I have diligently fought these waves to navigate my startup to a point where the shore of success is in sight. However, I recently got hit by a tsunami — the broken U.S. immigration system.
Instead of swimming to my goal, I am now caught in a struggle to escape drowning.
Simply put, I am being forced to hunt for a nonprofit job to stay in the country legally with the risk of significantly hurting momentum for my social impact technology startup — Skyless Game Studios.
Since 2012, there has been a nationwide debate about President Obama’s comprehensive immigration reform. The focus of this debate has been the path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented individuals. While common sense shows there are more pros to doing this than cons, there is a fierce political battle that is stalling and delaying the same to happen.
But the illogical debating on the fate of these individuals is not my primary cause of agitation. It is the fact that hidden in this comprehensive immigration bill is an important provision to support foreign entrepreneurs.
This provision that has bipartisan support creates a framework for foreign entrepreneurs who immigrate to the country legally, and have U.S. venture capital backing or innovative ideas with job creation potential, to stay in the country and invigorate the economy by growing their businesses.
Unfortunately, thanks to the political turmoil and opposition to President Obama’s Executive Action, this provision is stuck in limbo and is causing a lot of pain to hard-working entrepreneurs who are being forced to either drop their dreams to remain in the U.S. or move their companies to other countries.
I’m sure entrepreneurs around the nation can relate to my personal story.
I came to the United States in 2008 as an international student at Drexel University. I graduated in 2013 with a B.S. in Computer Science and a minor in Information Systems.
In April 2012, I partnered up with two U.S. citizens to cofound Skyless Game Studios, an innovative company that designs and develops video games for education, philanthropy and social impact.
When I graduated, I had multiple lucrative opportunities (with six figure salaries) at top companies. They were happy to sponsor me for an H1B Employment Visa, but as tempting as it was as a fresh graduate, I decided to take a leap of faith in the Obama administration, turn down the offers and follow my passion for innovation and social impact. I turned it all down to pursue and accelerate my work as a technical cofounder at Skyless.
Today, we have 20 talented interns (Drexel co-ops) and two permanent employees working with us to create games in areas including anti-corruption, government transparency and autism rehabilitation among others. In fact, because the game industry is so limited in Philadelphia, we have received nearly 700 applications in the past two years and have hired about 40 co-ops to date.
In addition, we are running a ‘game design mentorship program’ for the School District of Philadelphia in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office of Education (under the US2020 program) and are also currently fundraising for our global anti-corruption training efforts.
We are expected to grow financially within the next few months with the intention of expanding our co-op program and creating permanent video game jobs in Philadelphia. There is a huge brain drain problem, indicated by the small game industry here despite having top video game programs at area colleges.
During the course of my work, I have been privileged to be invited to the United Nations as an anti-corruption expert, to receive the Marcum Innovator of the Year Award in 2014 for emerging technologies, be recognized as a Global Social Entrepreneur by Transparency International and also be covered as part of the Forbes Under 30 Summit, an invite-only conference that brought together top young entrepreneurs and leaders from around the world.
Unfortunately, despite all the traction and my vision to advance education using video games, I have less than two months left under my current immigration status, rather frustratingly leaving me without options.
These circumstances have forced me to ask an important question that resonates with entrepreneurs across the nation: is the United States losing its spirit of entrepreneurship? I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.