SimplySocial Video Series #1 — North to the Future… And our lessons on immigration

Written on Apr 09 2012

Check out the video here!

Special thanks to VIA Canada (Romania) for the interview!

We’ve learned a lot about immigration over the past few months! An international company has numerous advantages… Jeroen Erne and I (Dutch and American, respectively) are fortunate to have nationalities that let us visit pretty much any country in the world without hassle. Our third and final co-founder however, Valentin Bora, is Romanian. While Jeroen and I can both visit Romania for generous amounts of time without any visa whatsoever, Valentin needs to apply for a visitor visa through the U.S. Embassy to be able visit and meet with our clients.

We started the whole application process back in December of 2011. Valentin completed the online form (extensive, 20+ pages) that would grant him an interview. Unfortunately, since there’s only one embassy here in Romania, Valentin had to travel from Timisoara to Bucharest (~400 miles) for five minutes of questioning.

In short, Valentin was denied for his visa. He was then denied twice again. Here are the lessons we learned along the way:

  • Get a lawyer. Perhaps it was youthful ignorance or too much faith in our government bureaucracies, but I didn’t think that an immigration attorney would be needed for a visitor visa (the kind of visa that would allow him to sit in on business meetings and poke at icebergs). Alas, one of the attorney’s we talked to pointed out some key mistakes that prevented us from getting a visa on the first try.
  • Sympathy doesn’t work. In the business world, youth can either be an asset or a liability. We’re used to playing up our youth and our unique story as a major selling point in building cutting edge software. However, the State Department was unamused. They took one look at us and thought we could work from anywhere, and despite the fact that Valentin has land, friends, family, detailed financial records, and an important duty to manage the SimplySocial team here in Romania, they didn’t think he would return home.
  • They do their research. One of the reasons that we were potentially denied was due to our support of the Startup Visa, which immediately shows intent to immigrate. I would have never imagined that support of such an uncontroversial/pro-American startup bill (that still hasn’t left committee) could be so damaging, but the Embassy does look into details. We also mentioned it in our original letter of invitation to Valentin since it did generate press. No dice.
  • Get a lawyer. There really are no second chances in this process. Small slip ups like supporting the Startup Visa are things that our lawyer would have caught from a very early stage. Spend the $500-$1,000 now for a few hours of consultation, or you’ll end up like us and spend twice that on trips to your nearest Embassy.

Unfortunately, since the Embassy has a significant record of all of our attempts by now, getting a visitor visa for Valentin in the future looks slim. Circumstances may change, and there’s a chance that Romania will be included in the Visa Waiver Program which would allow Valentin to visit the U.S. without a visa (like most other European citizens).

Ironically, if we needed to collaborate closely, Canada is indeed an option. The small town of Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory is only a seven hour drive from Anchorage, and could be a base for our team in the future. There’s not only a Westmark but also a Buckshot Betty’s.

The promise of “Homestyle Cooking” does appeal. I could see us basing a few people here as I head to Anchorage for meetings a few days a week…

This could be our new SimplySocial development office! Kickin’ it old school…

We’ve done what we can to make the most of the situation. Indeed, this has been an important lesson for us. I can certainly understand why many American technology companies park thousands of employees in Vancouver, BC, a short distance from corporate offices in Seattle.

It has been eye opening for friends, family, and even investors as we’ve all learned more about the immigration system. I would have always thought that a visiting candidate that has connections (and even press) in the United States would have an advantage, but that’s not the case. The fact that we can guarantee and look after his safety during his stay (and for a trip home) didn’t count for much. In fact, the Embassy looks to that support network as potentially assisting Valentin with an “illegal” stay in the U.S… Ouch.

My hope is you can learn from our lessons here and avoid our mistakes in the future. Feel free to contact us if you would like to share your own war stories, or if this article helped you at all.

Best of luck!

Until then… North to the Future.

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