Immigrant Entrepreneur Gets Visa After 'World News' Story

"World News" heared from many viewers baffled by USCIS's original decision.

November 2, 2011, 3:03 PM

Nov. 2, 2011 -- On Tuesday "World News" shared the story of Amit Aharoni, an Israeli national and a graduate of Stanford Business School, who secured $1.65 million in venture capital funding with two cofounders to launch, an online cruise booking company.

The company hired nine Americans in just one year. But Aharoni hit rough waters after he received a letter on Oct. 4 from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denying his request for a visa and notifying him that he needed to leave the country immediately. Aharoni moved to Canada, where he was forced to run his company via Skype from a friend's living room.

After the broadcast, "World News" heard from many viewers baffled by USCIS's decision.

"This is extremely ridiculous to me considering I haven't been able to get a job for almost 2 years in California," Karen Beck wrote. "It would be great to add more jobs here."

"These are the people we need to bring into the country," Billy Kat posted on Facebook. "We need the most talented of the world to become Americans."

"Smart, educated, high-tech and making his own way while taking others along for the ride. This is exactly the kind of immigrant we need," MJ Shenk told ABC News.

While "World News' viewers voiced their disappointment, this morning, Aharoni received an email from USCIS. He was told that his petition had been reconsidered and approved. He is once again able to work in the U.S.

He told ABC News today he is "ecstatic and thankful" for the USCIS's reversal, and plans to return to the U.S. as soon as possible.

Experts say America's immigration policy is putting it at a competitive disadvantage. There are other countries that are eager to have entrepreneurs, enticing them with special visas and funding. According to Partnership for a New American Economy, an organization that advocates "the economic benefits of sensible immigration reform," countries including the United Kingdom, Singapore and Chile have visas for entrepreneurs. Chile even has a program that offers $40,000 in seed funding.

It is a problem politicians in America acknowledge, but have not solved.

According to statistics from Partnership for a New American Economy, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.

President Obama addressed the issue during a town hall in July.

"What I want to do is make sure that talented people who come to this country to study, to get degrees, and are willing and interested in starting up businesses can do so, as opposed to going back home and starting those businesses over there to compete against the United States and take away U.S. jobs," he said.

In a May op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, headlined "A New Immigration Consensus," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg advocated for reform.

"When every other country wants the best and the brightest, we're trying to keep them out. It doesn't make a lot of sense. ... [T]he truth of the matter is we are sending the future overseas," Bloomberg told ABC News. "We need people to start companies and create jobs. People that come from overseas are something like ... five times more likely to create jobs than people who are here. ... So we've got to do something about this."

Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., are taking action, reintroducing the "StartUp Visa Act," a bill they originally proposed two years ago. The act would allow "immigrant entrepreneurs and foreign graduates from U.S. universities to appeal for a two-year visa on the condition that they secure financing from a qualified U.S. investor and can demonstrate the ability to create American jobs."

From 1995 to 2005, immigrants helped found a quarter of all high-tech companies in America, creating 450,000 jobs, according to Partnership for a New American Economy.

America has a long history of immigrant entrepreneurs. John Nordstrom immigrated to the United States at the age of 16 and eventually founded Nordstrom's. The cofounders of Pfizer, Charles Pfizer and Charles Ernhard, moved from Germany as adults to start the pharmaceutical giant. And Andy Grove, cofounder of Intel, came to the United States at the age of 20 after escaping communist Hungary.

Aharoni hopes his name will one day be included in the pantheon of great American immigrants. For now, he's content with just being able to run his company from its office in San Francisco.

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