Startup Aims to Skirt Visa Limits With Cruise Ship for Foreign High-Tech Workers

PHOTO: Within the next few years, Blueseed plans to build vessels resembling floating apartment complexes, which will feature terraces for recreational activities and a number of amenities.

Working in the middle of the ocean without defined citizenship isn't just for pirates anymore. Some say it's the future of doing business.

One company in particular wants to test the waters, hoping to find a way around U.S. immigration protocols.

Blueseed, an offshore entrepreneurial venture, plans to address the visa shortage for international Silicon Valley hopefuls. By docking a converted cruise ship in international waters 12 miles off the shore of San Francisco, Blueseed hopes to allow U.S. companies and their foreign employees to work from the live-aboard ship without breaking H-1B visa limitations.

H-1B visas allow U.S. employers to fill specialty jobs with foreign workers.

"I applied for a green card in 2007," Blueseed Chief Information Officer Dan Dascalescu said. "The process would take five years and, in the meantime, there was a lot of uncertainty."

Dascalescu, 32, came to the United States from Romania to study Molecular Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. After graduating, he worked for a large tech company in Silicon Valley.

At the time of Blueseed's inception, Dascalescu was in the early stages of the immigration process, and will be a full-fledged U.S. citizen in five years, he said. Working during the immigration process is more difficult than it seems, especially when trying to keep up with the pace of innovation in Silicon Valley, he added.

"I was thinking of starting my own start-up, but it wasn't clear if I could legally [without being a permanent resident]," Dascalescu said.

Dascalescu is intimately familiar with the process that U.S.-educated foreigners experience. After receiving higher-education diplomas in the United States, many people wish to stay and work for U.S. firms or start their own businesses but are unable to do so because of H-1B visa caps and because there are no visas for entrepreneurs.

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Russian Dmitry Karpov, an MBA candidate at Georgetown University, is an entrepreneurial hopeful who is optimistic about the opportunities Blueseed can provide to foreigners. Karpov said he believes the Blueseed ship will create an innovative community of like-minded people, which would allow startups to flourish easily.

"It is very hard to start my own business as an international student or recent graduate. It would overwhelm the startup with legal issues," he said via email. "Working on the ship is an adequate solution for those who don't seek a path to citizenship, but rather desire to work on the edge of innovation."

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services imposes national H-1B visa caps, which limit the number of non-U.S. citizens who apply for temporary work permits in the United Starts. The annual 65,000 H-1B visa applicant quota was filled this year within three days, leaving out many qualified candidates.

Karpov's reluctance to seek full citizenship right away parallels logistical problems associated with the H-1B visa cap.

"This year, 65,000 H-1B visas went in three days," he said. "Could it be worse?"

As for the problem that Blueseed is attempting to solve, San Francisco-based immigration attorney Gali Gordon said, "The annual limit on H-1B visas is arbitrary and bears no relationship to the needs of U.S. businesses.

"We are losing global talent to other countries because of our broken immigration system."

Such restrictions have proven to be especially problematic when it comes to keeping up with the demand to hire qualified tech-focused professionals in the Silicon Valley cluster. Companies often have a number of vacancies for high-skilled tech jobs that they cannot fill.

"Unfortunately, the U.S. does not produce enough tech talent [to fill all available positions]," founder Dascalescu said.

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