Oh the irony of a country of immigrants who are so scared of immigration. While a huge amount has been written about the flaws of US immigration I wanted to add in my own unique experiences, both in the hope that it will help others and maybe add to the growing chorus that knows that change has to come.
Moving to the USA was an accident, even though I had done plenty of business there I had no aspirations to spend any more time there than necessary, I quite liked my little island of England. I had the best life insurance.
It was not until my 27 birthday when I was savagely attacked and nearly had my skull broken in two did my fate turn my life towards America. After the attack and subsequent collapse and hospitalization I knew that my body had officially burnt out and I needed to give it a rest.
The plan was simple, grab a backpack and travel to South America recuperate my energy and return as strong as I possibly could. Leaving would not be easy given that I was building a successful incubator. I knew that it was a huge risk to leave it at such an early stage of its development but I really had no choice. After months of planning and explaining to the companies we were incubating I was finally ready to get on a plane to South America.
As fate would have it the universe had other ideas and my adopted family invited me to stay with them in Florida before I started traveling in South America. I readily accepted given how they had always be so enthusiastic about the place they called paradise.
It was January the 1st 2008 when I arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with my adopted family and paradise did not cover it. For those of you who have not been there Fort Lauderdale it is Called the Venice of Florida it is hard to describe somewhere so relaxed, so tropical yet so part of Western culture (this is a slight oxymoron as there is very little actual culture in Florida!).
Within a week of being there I realized that not only could I live in paradise but also I would have the worlds largest economy on my doorstop. I took off my backpack and started exploring what exciting opportunities I could find in Florida.
The thought of immigration or Visa’s at this point had not even crossed my mind, slightly naively I presumed that given I wanted to create jobs and invest in America such things would be a mere formality….how wrong I was.
As most of you know the USA operates something called a Visa Waiver Program(VWP) and that is how I entered the USA and while the exact nature of how long you can stay in the USA for on the VWP is a grey area most people agree that you can push to around two years with a stop outside the USA for a few days every 3 months. So this is what I started doing as I was not sure I wanted to stay and also what I wanted to do. On a trip back from the Bahamas my usual quick pass through immigration turned to them hauling me for further questioning. Even though this passed without incident and I was allowed back into the USA I knew my days were numbered.
It was at that point I started doing serious research into my visa options and the first thing that struck me was that the most entrepreneurial country in the world had no visa’s for entrepreneurs. This seemed almost unbelievable to me and as I researched it in more detail, the more and more I realized how few options I actually had.
Given that I had left school at sixteen to start a business I did not have a university degree so there were only really three options left to me, a B visa that allows you to be in the USA for 6 months, a E visa which allows me to invest in a company or an O visa if you happen to be exceptionally talented or have won the Nobel prize!
At this point I had started to come up with a new business idea to verify profiles and identities online it was still at the planning stage so I opted for the 6 month B visa to allow me to finish my work and then go for an E visa once it was operational.
So I duly filled in the forms, set up my visa interview and returned to London happy in the fact that I would be back in the USA in a few days.
The last time I had been in the Embassy before that fateful day had been five years previous where as a friend to the Ambassador of the United States I was invited to present my thoughts on where the internet was heading to Under-sectary of Economic Affairs and a handful of other big wigs in the Clinton Administration. So even though the Embassy is intimidating I felt like I was on familiar and friendly turf.
I sat and I waited, and waited and waited as is the custom when getting a visa but with a spring in my step when my number was finally called I bounced over to the window secure in the fact that given my history of serving the US government this was just a simple formality.