During his time at UCLA and San Francisco’s Make School, web and iOS developer Ryan Kim met, in his words, “hundreds of CEOs, entrepreneurs, and software developers.” When they were asked about problems they faced getting to the US, the same answer came back over and over again: visa issues.
Currently, 44 percent of Silicon Valley startups have an immigrant founder. There’s no specific visa for startup entrepreneurs in the US. Efforts to create one ended up dead in the water last year.
“It doesn’t matter how good your skills are,” Ryan tells Tech in Asia. “Visa issues were a problem for all of us.” Several of his peers had landed jobs in Silicon Valley but struggled to obtain and maintain the visas required to work in the US. The paperwork often required an immigration lawyer to navigate, and the legal fees would often amount to somewhere around US$6,000 – plus several months of time.
It was only after shelling out the funds that applicants would find out that they didn’t qualify for the visa in the first place, and they’d be out of time, money, and a job.
Ryan had several close friends going through the process, and that’s when he decided to take matters into his own hands. Along with fellow Make School alum Eliel Gordon, he created FoundVisa, which helps people apply for the O-1 talent visa to work in the US. The site offers a US$149 hour-long online test that lets applicants see if they qualify for the visa – a much smaller time and money expenditure.
If test-takers pass, they’re guided through the application process by FoundVisa’s partner immigration lawyer.
Ryan and Eliel met at the Make School in September last year. They began work on FoundVisa in December and launched the site last month.
Though Ryan and Eliel have only been working on FoundVisa for a little over half a year, the service has already undergone a few big changes since its genesis. Until February, FoundVisa was going to be an iOS app.
“iPad and iOS is not the way to go [for this service],” explains Ryan. “People got insecure about filling it out on their phone, and iPhones are hard to type on.” The company was featured on Product Hunt last month.
They’re also streamlining the site. “Something we learned was that there were too many steps for a simple application,” shares Ryan. “We’ve just revamped the whole website to make it faster.”
The O-1 visa has two variations: O-1A – for the sciences, athletics, business, and education – and O-1B – for the arts and film. The O-1A website, for example, makes it sound like individuals need nothing less of a Nobel Prize to obtain one of these visas for the US.
According to Ryan, that’s not necessarily the case. For example, for budding entrepreneurs or developers, venture capital funding that his or her company has received counts as an award. On the application, it can be listed in the “awards” section. While the application itself is fairly straightforward, says Ryan, it’s little things like that which make the difference between being accepted or denied.
So far, the startup has processed 8 prescreening applications and is currently processing 7 others’ applications with a lawyer in private beta. So far, 400 users have signed up.
A happy accident
FoundVisa currently has both its founders making up its two-man team. They found their legal consultant in a happy accident. Ryan was seeking a lawyer on UpCounsel for a completely different project, and the lawyer he found for that job ended up serving as counsel for FoundVisa when Ryan discovered her experience working with the US government and her extensive knowledge of immigration laws.
FoundVisa’s pre-screening service is the only one available for public use at the moment – their other features are in beta and will hopefully be available in the next month or two, along with their respective pricing information, says Ryan.
It’s also looking into giving people a hand with visas besides the O-1, hunting for seed funding, and applying for accelerator programs – and generally keeping US visa processes as lawyer-lite as possible.
This article originally appeared on Tech in Asia.