The fledgling firm faces many of the challenges that early-stage companies endure. It has patents under review, trials to run, federal regulators to appease and a nagging need for capital.
But the company’s biggest hurdle isn’t business-related. Chang’s soon-to-expire student visa will force him to leave the country, and likely close the business, come February unless he can secure an employer-sponsored green card.
“The difficulty I am finding when I try to find any jobs here is it requires either U.S. citizenship or the permanent residence, which I’m not qualified [for] right now,” Chang said. “As you know, the U.S. economy is not quite good so most domestic companies, they try to help American people, so actually they are less willing to sponsor the foreigner.”
It’s a dilemma that Chang shares with thousands of other immigrants who graduate from American universities each year with advanced degrees, yet can’t obtain the legal documents necessary to work here.
A growing number of policymakers, and some Republican presidential contenders, have recently proposed changing the system, arguing that highly skilled immigrants capable of starting companies in the United States offer the potential to create more jobs for Americans than they might take away.
But while the policy has consensus, it’s not an easy sell at a time when the economy is down and many Americans struggle to find work. Furthermore, some politicians and immigrant organizations only want comprehensive reform for immigration, rather than policies that cherry-pick one class of immigrants over another.
Like other entrepreneurs who have been forced out of the United States, Chang could take his company with him and license the intellectual property he developed from the university .
That arrangement would not only result in what some have bemoaned as a reverse brain drain, but it could deprive the United States of future tax revenue and jobs should his product reach its target market of 45 million patients annually.
“I thought about it, but I would be creating jobs and spiking the economy in Taiwan, rather than in the United States where I got my advanced degree from,” said Chang, who would prefer to stay here.
Brookings Institution scholar Darrell West said immigrant communities have developed a reputation for entrepreneurship, particularly in the science and technology fields where they earn a sizeable segment of the master and doctoral degrees.
Indeed, some of the country’s highest-profile and most profitable technology companies — including Google, Intel and Yahoo! — count at least one foreign-born founder.