Chicago universities to sponsor entrepreneurs through H-1B visa

Rahm Emanuel.

CHICAGO/NEW YORK:  Even as controversy rages over the H-1B visa program, which anti-immigration groups want to be shut down saying it takes away jobs from American workers, and as many as six legal immigration bills are doing the rounds on Capitol Hill – with most aimed at reforming work visas, a group of five Chicago colleges and universities have come together to sponsor budding entrepreneurs through the H-1B visa.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Wednesday that Columbia College Chicago, DePaul University, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University Chicago and Northwestern University each will adopt global entrepreneur-in-residence programs, reported Crain’s Chicago Business. The schools would sponsor initially 10-20 students for H-1B visas.

The participating universities will sponsor entrepreneurs through two kinds of affiliations, based on the stage of the company. Those leading early-stage startups will work part-time for the school and work separately on their companies, while those with established companies will make a home base out of their sponsor school and mentor its students.

USCIS allows educational institutions in the US to hire as many foreign workers as they wish to on H-1B visa. The hiring don’t count in the 85,000 allotted visas every year, including 20,000 set aside for students on F-1 visa who graduate with a Master’s degree or higher from educational institutions.

Chicago employers sponsored nearly 13,000 H-1B petitions in fiscal year 2017, the fifth-most of any American city.

“While Washington continues closing itself off to diversity-driven ideas and innovation, in Chicago we are expanding our status as a welcoming city with this program, which both attracts and retains the highly skilled entrepreneurial talent that spurs innovation, creates jobs, and drives the economic growth of our city,” Emanuel said in a statement.

“We want entrepreneurs to see Chicago as a place where their ideas their dreams their companies can happen,” Emanuel said at a press conference Wednesday, reported the Chicago Tribune. “I believe this initiative … is saying yes to entrepreneurship, yes to talent, yes to diversity and most importantly, yes to the future of the city of Chicago.”

The H-1B visa program is broken, companies say. The number of visas allowed annually peaked in the early 2000s at about 195,000 and is now at just 85,000. Applications far outstrip the slots available, resulting in an annual lottery in April. Tech companies have been pushing for an increase in the number of visas awarded.

A recent Harris Poll conducted for Envoy shows that 27 percent of employers said U.S. immigration challenges have delayed projects and 21 percent have been forced to relocate work overseas.

Emanuel’s announcement is the second time this week he has highlighted the importance of immigration to Chicago and its startup community. As part of a forum on urban waterways this week, Emanuel and mayors from Milan; Montreal; Haifa, Israel; Gothenburg, Sweden; and Lahore, Pakistan, met at 1871 with several Chicago startup founders, including immigrants Jai Shekhawat of Fieldglass and Shradha Agarwal of Outcome Health, reported Crain’s.

The Chicago Tribune reported Shradha Agarwal, the co-founder of Outcome Health, an immigrant and a graduate of Northwestern, stood beside the mayor and spoke in favor of the program.

Telling the story of how she and Rishi Shah started the company, she said there was a time she worried she wouldn’t get the H-1B visa she needed to stay and work on the company. In fact, she missed out once.

“The first year, I didn’t get the visa. We started making plans for what this meant for our company,” she said. “Fortunately, the second time around, I did hit the lottery … but it shouldn’t be that way. It shouldn’t be held to such uncertainty.”

Emanuel’s office pointed to a similar program in Massachusetts that started in 2014 and has sponsored 23 entrepreneurs at UMass Boston and UMass Lowell. Their companies have created 416 jobs and raised $185 million in private investment, it said.

Other universities with such programs for entrepreneurs under H-1B visa include eight City University of New York (CUNY) campuses, Babson University and the University of Colorado at Boulder. The University of Missouri at St. Louis, University of Alaska at Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University at Anchorage are in the process of creating similar programs.

Last year, CUNY announced their program International Innovators Initiative (IN2NYC) to sponsor 80 entrepreneurs through H-1B visa and create more than 700 new jobs for New Yorkers in the first three years. The program was launched in partnership with the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

IN2NYC will also serve as a model that can be scaled and expanded at both public and private schools throughout New York City, with the potential to ultimately contribute thousands of jobs to the city’s innovation economy. The program advances the Bill de Blasio administration’s goals of encouraging entrepreneurship and supporting international partnerships to build a diverse and inclusive economy for New Yorkers in every borough.

IN2NYC was launched by seven participating CUNY institutions: Baruch College, City College of New York, LaGuardia Community College, Lehman College, Medgar Evers College, Queens College, and the College of Staten Island.

“This is a win for our universities, our working people and our city’s ability to compete on the global stage. We are making sure New York City remains a magnet for the world’s top talent, and putting New Yorkers to work at the technology and engineering firms of tomorrow,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said, last year at the launch of the program.



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