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4 immigrant CEOs on their biggest challenges as entrepreneurs

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In 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that barred immigration from seven countries. Last year, the government denied more than 37,000 visa applications in keeping with the parameters of the ban—many multiples higher than the rejections before the ban went into effect in 2017, which totaled less than 1,000. As promised, President Trump has also cracked down on H-1B visas—a temporary visa awarded to highly skilled foreign workers—on the whole, denying one in four requests last year and nearly a third of petitions in the first quarter of 2019.

This is in spite of the fact that the foreign-born population in the U.S. is 44 million strong. Immigrants bolster the tech industry, serve restaurant patrons, and keep American homes in order. Many are responsible for companies big and small: Nearly 30% of new companies in 2016 were started by immigrants, while more than half of companies worth upward of $1 billion are reportedly founded by immigrants.

The process of immigrating to the U.S. is a lengthy, convoluted one. Unlike other countries, the U.S. doesn’t have a startup visa—President Trump put the brakes on a program introduced by President Obama—which means an aspiring immigrant entrepreneur who lacks a green card may have to jump through hoops to start a company (if they can get a visa at all). Against the backdrop of anti-immigration sentiment and policies, the hurdles facing immigrants of all stripes, especially would-be entrepreneurs, are only growing. Four immigrant CEOs shared the challenges they’ve faced—and continue to face—as they build their companies and navigate through the immigration system.

Viridiana Carrizales, the CEO of education nonprofit ImmSchools, came to the U.S. when she was 11 but remained undocumented through college. Her immigration status only changed when she got married seven years ago, and then in 2016, she finally became a U.S. citizen.

For a few years after college—until she got married and could change her immigration status—Carrizales had a degree but was unable to use it. During that time, it didn’t even occur to her that she could be her own employer. (Her cofounder, for example, was undocumented when they started ImmSchools.) “As a young, undocumented, educated person, I wish I knew the opportunities for me to start my own business,” she says. “It was never something that I even contemplated or knew about. Because at that point, I hadn’t really met other people who had started their own businesses; I thought you needed to be a U.S. citizen. I also come from a low-income family, and I just didn’t have the financial means and never really saw myself as [an entrepreneur].”

After marriage,........

© Fast Company