When Mike Galarza first heard what then-candidate Donald Trump had to say about building a wall between the United States and Mexico, deporting illegal immigrants and possibly limiting legal immigration, he was stunned. As an immigrant from Mexico, the issue was personal, but as an entrepreneur and business owner, he worried it could also impact his bottom line.
“It’s a bad representation of American culture and it’s totally the opposite of what I’ve seen and my reality here in the U.S.,” Galarza, the founder and CEO of of billing automation startup Entryless, and one of Business Insider’s “Badass Immigrants in Technology,” said. “I think it’s a very divisive rhetoric that goes beyond the Mexican people … so my first reaction was ‘he is not what America is, not what America stands for.’”
Galarza has beefed up his visa and is actively pursuing a green card. And in light of Trump’s executive order Wednesday that directs funds to build a border wall and curtail some immigration, Galarza is waiting to see whether it could signal that documented immigrants may have a harder time doing business in the United States over the next several years.
The White House declined to comment on how new immigration policies might impact current visa holders or future visa applicants.
What to Watch for
What will be most telling, according to Susan J. Cohen, founder and chair of the immigration practice at law firm Mintz Levin in Boston, is what the administration does with a ruling by the Department of Homeland Security in the waning days of the Obama Administration. The International Entrepreneur Rule has been frozen pro forma along with most pending rulings and edicts across most federal government departments as the new administration reviews them.
“I think what happens with that rule will at least provide some insight into how some of the other aspects of immigration may go in this administration,” Cohen said.
The rule, set to take effect July 17 if it isn’t altered by the new administration, provides for a “parole” period for foreign entrepreneurs, granting them 2.5 years in the United States to establish and grow a startup. They would, of course, need to qualify for that time, including having $250,000 in funding and being able to demonstrate the potential for “significant public benefit.” After the parole period, the applicant would be able to apply for a 2.5 year extension as long as the startup meets additional benchmarks.
“Right now, I think we’re just in wait-and-see mode with respect to the skilled worker population who have extraordinary talents that they would like to bring to the United States,” Cohen said.
Waiting and seeing is exactly what Galarza, who grew up in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, is doing. Last October, he wrote about his concerns for the future of his company and himself in the United States in a blog post on inDinero.com.
When I founded Entryless, I faced—and continue to face—unique challenges because of my immigrant status. I came to the U.S. from Mexico in 2009 on a travel Visa, which allowed me to work for an employer but not for myself. This required me to build Entryless from the ground up in my spare time—and by spare time, I mean at night when I should’ve been sleeping … It was worth every sleepless night. I now have an E2 Visa, and even though I have to return to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico each year to renew it, Entryless is established and growing. However, my next renewal is not a slam dunk — especially if the next administration adopts isolationist policies.
Since then, Galarza decided it was as good a time as any to beef up his visa. He recently upgraded to an EB1 visa, also known as an Outstanding Researcher or Professor visa. It renews every 10 years, which he says gives him some comfort now that Trump is in office. He also is actively working on getting his green card.
Reviewing visa options and starting the green card process are both good steps for immigrant entrepreneurs regardless of whether they are just setting up a business or, like Galarza, have been established for some time, according to Cohen.
Here are four things immigrant entrepreneurs can do right now to help ensure their business succeeds in the United States going forward.
1. Talk to an Immigration Attorney
“It’s important to meet with a competent professional who can help each person explore all possible options and leave no stone unturned to try to figure out a solution that will allow the individual to hopefully remain in a secure immigration status in the U.S. if that’s what they want to do,“ Cohen said.
Depending on your immigration status, that process could mean looking at which visa fits your situation best, looking at a different kind of visa that provides a little more security like Galarza did; it could mean seeking green card status or even applying for citizenship, Cohen said.
Nothing is going to change right away, Cohen said. There are few unilateral changes that the new president can make (The North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA’s) TN-1 visas excluded. They would disappear if the United States withdraws from NAFTA). Most immigration reform, including changes to visa requirements, and even changes to how visas are vetted will take time.
“Things are going to take a considerable period of time before they get changed,” Cohen said. “There are a lot of things that can’t be changed without Congress.”
3. Focus on Your Business
“Get customers,” Galarza said. “That’s the first thing, because if you have that really nothing can stop you, because there’s a need for your product and people that rely on it and it becomes critical to them and their existence and there’s this chain that gets created. Based on that … you can prove to the American immigration system that you’ve earned your right to stay in this country and to get funding to grow your business faster.”
4. Create Your Own Funding
If you’re just starting your business or are at a point where you are ready to expand but can’t secure venture capital or small business loans, credit cards can help you get through short-term cash flow issues, even if your credit isn’t stellar or you don’t have a credit history.
In fact, using a credit card for your business expenses can even help you establish and improve your credit standing. Keep in mind, however, that you can go overboard. It’s possible to have too many credit cards, which can lead to too much debt, missed payments because you can’t keep up with the due dates and other issues.