By David Leopold and Eleanor Pelta
ABC News reported this week that Amit Aharoni, an Israeli national and a graduate of Stanford Business School, had secured $1.65 million in venture capital funding to launch a company called CruiseWise.com, an online cruise booking company. Aharoni’s company hired nine Americans in just one year. Astoundingly, USCIS denied Aharoni’s request for a visa and told him that he had to leave the U.S. immediately. Aharoni now lives in Canada, where he runs his company via Skype from a friend’s living room. After the ABC report aired Tuesday, USCIS did an abrupt about-face, granting Aharoni’s H-1B visa the next day, but only after wiping the egg from its face.
Is this really the way it’s supposed to work? While it is true that we are in dire need of legislative changes to accommodate the needs of 21st century business persons seeking to come to our shores to invest, innovate and create jobs, USCIS has spent the last few years re-interpreting the current laws to block the ability of job creators to develop those jobs in America.
Why does the very agency charged with giving visas to those who will create jobs for Americans so often refuse to do so?
That is a question, frankly, that AILA and other stakeholders have asked USCIS over and over and over again. USCIS leadership is beginning to focus on entrepreneurship as well as better training for adjudicators, but the agency also must directly confront and deal with the source of the problems that gave rise to the Aharoni H-1B denial. Those of us in the trenches, filing cases on behalf of immigrant entrepreneurs like Aharoni, know that his story is not a fluke nor an exception, but is rather typical of a clear anti-business—and particularly anti-small business—trend in USCIS decision-making. Agency adjudicators do not understand, perhaps do not even care, that immigrant entrepreneurs like Aharoni create jobs for Americans. And it is the continued investment and hard work of such immigrants that will get America out of the economic doldrums and sharpen its competitive edge in the global economy. But a radical and –given the economy—swift shift is necessary in order for adjudicators to view their decision-making tasks as efforts that directly impact our economic health.
USCIS ultimately did the right thing yesterday for Mr. Aharoni. But let’s hope that the agency does not view this as an isolated instance. How many entrepreneurs have left the U.S. and not returned, taking American jobs with them to places like Bangalore, Shanghai, and Vancouver? Now USCIS leadership must go much further, and look at the underlying causes for agency decision-making that is costing the U.S. much needed dollars and jobs, and sending the very talent we sorely need to other countries.