Visa Restrictions May Force Immigrant Founder To Leave US And Move His $20M Startup To India

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Written by Ann Brown

Imagine coming to America with a dream, fulfilling that dream, and in the process creating a $20 million startup that has employees and is helping stimulate the economy.

Now imagine having to leave all this behind because if visa restrictions. This is the dilemma Hiral Sanghavi, founder and CEO of BauBax, may soon be facing.

In the four years since Sanghavi immigrated to the U.S., he launched a company now worth $20 million. He raised $9.2 million on Kickstarter to fund it.

His company, BauBax, sells a “travel jacket with a bunch of built-in features” — a neck pillow, eye mask, gloves, even a pocket to hold a soda can, CNN reported.

BauBax, 31, has a staff of six full-time workers at its Redmond, Washington, office and 11 contractors who work remotely. So far, the company has sold more than 200,000 BauBax jackets worldwide. They are already working on the next product, BauBax 2.0 — a jacket with even more features.

The company recently closed a Kickstarter campaign for BauBax 2.0 in which they raised $3.94 million from 21,409 backers. This surpassed the original goal of $50,000.

“In my own small way, I want to believe I am contributing to the U.S. economy through innovation, creating jobs and paying taxes,” Sanghavi told CNN. “Still, I’ve only achieved the possibility of the American Dream.”

Sanghavi and his now-wife, Yoganshi Shah, came to the U.S. from India to go to graduate school. They both came on international student visas.

Shah graduated from Columbia University in 2010 with her master’s degree in computer science and took a job as a developer for a Silicon Valley tech company.  She was given an H1-B worker visa.

Around 2015 Sanghavi decided to take a sabbatical from his MBA program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management to launch BauxBax.

That’s when he got an H-4 visa, which was tied to Shah’s H1-B. H-4 visas are given to spouses and dependents of H-1B workers. Unlike student visas, they allow the holder to work or to launch a business, CNN reported.

Here’s the problem. Shah’s H1-B visa will expire in August. She can apply for a renewal but if she loses her H-1B visa for some reason, “I will also lose my visa,” Sanghavi said. “The thought is so scary I try not to dwell on it.”

The reason they couple is uneasy is that Trump has tightened restrictions on H1-Bs.

“In February, US Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a memo noting that it will require more information about an H-1B applicant’s employment to ensure the worker is doing what they are hired for. It also said it may limit the length of the visa to less than three years,” CNN reported.

For now, the couple is waiting to see what happens. The prospects may not be good. “If my wife for whatever reason is unable to renew her H-1B, then we are without status. I would have within 30 days of the denial to shut down my company and leave the country,” Sanghavi said.

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