05 December 2011

Start-up company takes to the sea to find US visa solution for tech workers

In an attempt to escape lengthy waiting times and difficult approval conditions for a US visa, a company based in California intends to adopt an unusual solution, by keeping workers on an anchored boat 12 nautical miles offshore – far enough away to be classified as 'international waters' – and having them come to shore when necessary on easier-to-obtain tourist and short-term business visas.

US visa

A Californian company intends to bypass the difficult skilled US visa process by hosting foreign tech workers on a boat in international waters.

Max Marty, 27, who founded the fledgling company which currently employs just three staff, grew frustrated after witnessing classmates at the business school where he studied having to return to their home countries on completion of their course, after failing to secure an appropriate US visa which would have entitled them to work.

Frustrated that American immigration conditions could be stifling entrepreneurs, Marty now seeks to take advantage of a potential way to use the same conditions to his advantage.

Given the annual cap on certain US visas, such as H1-B visas with which American employers hire skilled immigrant workers, Marty is looking instead to the B-1 business visa with which visa holders are entitled to travel to the US for meetings, conferences and training seminars. The visa is easier to obtain and can be valid for up to 10 years.

With workers living just offshore, Marty envisages providing regular ferry services from the boat housing his workers. Employees could use the ferries to meet with clients, investors or business partners onshore, while conducting the bulk of their work onboard the boat, which would be equipped with high speed internet, catering and a gym. Workers would pay from US$1,200 monthly to rent a cabin. 

Commenting on the plans, Greg Siskind, an immigration attorney based in the US, said he believed what Marty was proposing seemed “consistent with the law” but added that there was a risk that workers could be turned away at the border each time they arrived, as the immigration officer would use their discretion to determine whether the worker would be granted entry to the country. “Depending on what that person had for breakfast may determine the future of your business”, he added.

The plans come as the US House of Representatives passed a bill to cease the application of a country-based limit on the number of visas for highly skilled immigrants that has limited the number of highly qualified workers entering the US from countries like India and China.

There are voices now calling for a review of American immigration policy in this area, with Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress supporting a move to allow more highly skilled foreign workers into the country. She said of Marty’s plans: “If this doesn't sound the alarms to policymakers that we need to revamp our immigration policies, nothing will.” 

The American Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people with their ESTA visa application.

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