Narayan, 28, came to MIT in 2008 and was working on his own water-purification research when he met Bajpayee. Much more reserved than his gregarious partner, he had grown up in southern India in an apartment building with no running water. He said his life’s dream was to create a cheap way to provide safe drinking water to millions of people.
The two engineers pooled their efforts. Their plan is to first market Narayan’s system, the one bubbling away in the MIT basement, and keep working to perfect Bajpayee’s.
They said their systems could make fracking more cost-efficient and environmentally safe. Robert MacKenzie, an oil industry analyst with FBR Capital Markets, said oil companies create seven barrels of wastewater for every barrel of oil they produce. If Bajpayee and Narayan have found a way to fully clean that wastewater, cheaply and on an industrial scale, MacKenzie said, “That could be the Holy Grail.”
Business dreams at risk
When he arrived in the United States, Bajpayee was issued a five-year student visa, which he renewed for a second five years. It expires in May.
Now, with a business and millions of dollars of financing on the line, he wants the security of permanent residency. But all his routes to a green card are difficult.
Last September, after he finished his PhD, he was granted one year of Optional Practical Training (OPT), for those on student visas, which allows him to stay in the United States for a few months longer. He could apply for an OPT extension for 17 months more, an option open to people with degrees in the STEM fields.
But that comes with a tough restriction: After his student visa expires in May, if he left the United States for any reason — to visit family, to attend a business meeting — he would have to go back to India to apply for a new student visa.
The law says that people on student visas must intend to leave the country after their studies end. But because Bajpayee has started a company in the United States, lawyers tell him he could easily be denied a new student visa.
The most common visa for high-skilled immigrant workers is the H1-B, for foreigners working at a U.S. firm. But immigration lawyers said the government often denies those visas for people working for businesses they started themselves — so Bajpayee would probably be rejected.
His most promising option, he said, would be to apply for an EB-1 visa for people who have “extraordinary ability.” Those visas are among the most difficult to get. They require applicants to show that they are “one of a small percentage who have risen to the very top” of their field. They must have won a “major, internationally recognized award,” such as a Pulitzer Prize, an Oscar or an Olympic medal. If they have no such award, they must have been published in prestigious scientific journals or have made other extraordinary contributions in their field.
Of the 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas given each year, only about 2 percent are in that category.
Bajpayee and Narayan have systematic plans for how to perfect their product, manufacture it, sell it and grow their business. But when it comes to getting a green card, their strategies are less scientific.
“Prayer,” said Narayan.
“My strategy,” Bajpayee said, “is to get the best possible lawyer in Boston and pay them as much money as they desire.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the biggest financial backer of the company formed by Anurag Bajpayee and Prakash Narayan “is Indian and pressuring them to build their company at home.” In fact, a potential Indian investor has encouraged them to locate in India, but he is not a formal investor in the company.