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6 ways the VC ecosystem is helping US immigrants

Here’s how startups and investors are endeavoring to tackle immigration challenges in the US, from simplifying application processes to helping with social support and financial services.

What do Uber, Slack, Zoom and CrowdStrike have in common, apart from representing a weighty slice of the VC-backed exit boom in 2019? All of them have at least one immigrant co-founder.

They’re not unusual in that respect. Foreign-born entrepreneurs and employees have long played a crucial role in the development of high-growth companies in the venture ecosystem. But on the flip side, technology that caters to immigrants themselves hasn’t received as much attention.

But that’s starting to change. As the Trump administration has introduced several policy shifts that complicate matters for foreign-born workers, such as restricting the availability of certain visas or increasing the application fees of others, members of the tech industry have responded and stepped up to support foreign-born workers in realizing their dreams to live or work in the US.

From creating an online community for immigrants to helping them build a credit history, here are a few areas where startups and investors are tackling specific challenges:

1. Recruiting international talent

Chicago-based Envoy Global is the creator of an immigration management platform that helps organizations hire and manage an international workforce. In its 2019 immigration report, Envoy released survey data showing that despite the tightening of immigration policies, the desire for global talent hasn’t slowed, with about 80% of businesses expecting the number of foreign-born employees would either increase or stay the same. Founded in 1998, the company offers legal representation and relies on its platform to streamline the process of getting work visas both in the United States and overseas. The company was valued at $72.5 million in 2017 and is backed by Catalyst Investors and Haystack, among others.

2. Building a credit history

Many US immigrants face the challenge of not having a credit history in their adopted nation, which can delay tasks like applying for a credit card or renting an apartment. Nova Credit operates a platform that helps immigrants share credit histories from their home country with financial services providers in the US. The San Francisco-based startup raised $16 million in 2018 from investors including General Catalyst, Index Ventures, First Round Capital and Y Combinator, per reports.

3. Simplifying application processes

Boundless, which spun out of Seattle startup studio Pioneer Square Labs in 2017, offers a service that helps applicants fill out their marriage-based green card or citizenship applications online. Boundless guides applicants through the forms, which can be complex and lengthy, using simple questions—think TurboTax for immigration paperwork—and algorithms to assess the next steps in the process. The company also provides access to an independent immigration attorney to review and help submit the paperwork. Boundless is backed by investors including Two Sigma Ventures, Foundry Group and Trilogy Equity; it was valued at $14 million in 2017.

Boundless is also among those companies supporting immigrants with direct advocacy as well as its product. In December, the company published an open letter to the Department of Homeland Security, signed by more than 120 business leaders, opposing a new regulation that could deny legal US residents a green card or visa due to financial liabilities or medical conditions, among other disqualifiers. The rule passed in early August and is expected to go into effect in October.

4. Supporting immigrant founders

Unshackled Ventures is an early-stage VC firm focused on backing foreign-born entrepreneurs. Co-founded by Manan Mehta and Nitin Pachisia, the Palo Alto firm leads investments and also sponsors visas and provides immigration support to founders. Unshackled Ventures raised $20 million for its sophomore fund in May, per reports. It has helped more than 30 founders receive work-authorization or green cards since its founding in 2015, with a portfolio that includes women’s health-focused startup Aavia and Ubiquitilink, a satellite communications company.

5. Building a social network

Homeis is the creator of an online community for immigrants. The social platform curates events and groups based on cultural interests or the need for support with logistics such as visas, filing taxes, health insurance and opening bank accounts. In addition, it hosts a marketplace to allow community members to buy and sell belongings. Based in New York and Tel Aviv, Homeis raised a $12 million Series A co-led by Canaan and Spark Capital earlier this month. The business plans to use the funding in part to focus specifically on Mexican and Latino communities in the US this year.

6. Providing medical internships

According to a recent report by the American Immigration Council, foreign-trained doctors make up slightly more than 25% of all physicians in the US, playing an important role in the healthcare system, particularly in filling medical shortfalls in disadvantaged communities. Chicago-based AMOpportunities partners with medical schools and teaching hospitals in the US to provide clinical and research internship programs for international medical students and graduates. The business raised a reported $2.2 million Series A from OCA Ventures, HealthX Ventures and M25 in March.

Featured image via Unsplash

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    Written by Priyamvada Mathur
    Priyamvada Mathur writes about venture capital at PitchBook.

    She is an Indian chartered accountant and has studied economics and journalism.
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