4 min read
This story originally appeared on The Vertical
For many international entrepreneurs planning to move their businesses to the U.S. or simply file for a visa extension, these are uncertain times. Consular posts are closed around the world and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have temporarily suspended in-person green card and naturalization interviews. As some domestic offices begin to reopen, USCIS will reduce the number of appointments to ensure social distancing.
Foreign entrepreneurs come to the U.S. on many different visas, including the EB-5 immigrant investor program, the L-1 for intracompany executive transferees, the E-2 treaty investor visa, the O-1 visa for people with extraordinary abilities and many others.
All of these visa categories have different requirements, like hiring employees or renting an office space. Because of COVID-19, many foreign entrepreneurs planning “a big move” haven’t been able to make further investments.
Others, however, feel the window of opportunity has widened. According to Jason Finkelman, an immigration attorney, startups in robotics or those providing solutions in real estate move fast to meet U.S. demand.
In June, USCIS re-introduced premium processing, which is widely used by foreign entrepreneurs. The service, suspended in March, expedites the process to a mere 15 business days instead of the usual months-long process.
Related: How Company Builders Create Long-Term Value in Latin America
“Trump’s executive order temporarily ‘suspending immigration’ has contributed to the perception that ‘immigration is closed,’” said Joshua Goldstein, founder at Goldstein Immigration Lawyers. But USCIS is still processing new applications.
“We submitted an O-1 visa application in early March just after USCIS discontinued premium processing,” Goldstein said. “I told my client to expect a decision in about six-to-eight months. To my astonishment, his visa application was approved in 23 days.”
Applying for a visa is harder for applicants outside of the U.S. because consulates are shut down and in-person interviews have been delayed. New applicants are getting pushed down the line, leading to longer wait times.
“We are monitoring the situation every day,” said Jordana Hart, the managing attorney with the law firm Hart & Associates. “The consulates will open depending on the situation in their countries: Mexico City, for example, could stay closed longer then Paris.”
Processing times had already increased in the past three years. “Whether you have a cure for cancer or are working on a coronavirus vaccine, it’s just harder to get a visa because the President wants to limit immigration,” said Jason Finkelman.
Although entrepreneurs are the least affected because they are job creators, they also have to deal with extra scrutiny. People on E-2 investor visas who have to travel back and forth for their business report more “questioning” about the time they spend outside of the U.S. “We pay extra attention when justifying our clients’ trips,” said Jordana Hart.
The calls to restrict immigration might get louder because of the looming economic recession, believes Henry Mascia, partner at Rivkin Radler law firm. “Officers are now treating extensions like first time applications, so the renewal process, for example, for an O-1 visa, is increasingly difficult.”
Related: Local Partnerships Will Be Crucial Amidst International Travel Restrictions
The election in November adds additional uncertainty to immigration prospects. But there is some good news: An EB-1 extraordinary ability green card is now “current,” meaning it has no backlog and no wait time. “We are preparing green card cases for clients on O-1 who would have otherwise expected to wait several years,” said Joshua Goldstein.
Margo Charnysheva, chair of the immigration practice group at Fennemore Craig, recommends that entrepreneurs not leave if they are currently in the U.S. on a B-1/B2 tourist visa. “Instead, try to change your status to avoid a prolonged wait for an interview at the embassies, because they won’t schedule interviews until mid-June.”
The key in the strict immigration environment is to show that your business has an ability to grow and create jobs. “We push our clients to hire American workers,” said Jordana Hart. Also, preparing your application in advance is crucial. “In the face of so much chaos, you should be proactive,” Joshua Goldstein said. “Don’t wait for the pandemic to end.”
After a rocky several months that included a business model decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, mass layoffs, and employees speaking up about a disconnect between the company’s feminist branding and treatment of female staff, Audrey Gelman is stepping down as CEO of The Wing, the women’s co-working business she co-founded in 2016. The Wing confirmed her departure from the role to Fortune.
Gelman, a former staffer in New York politics, was a high-profile chief executive who frequently represented her company in the media, while co-founder and chief operating officer Lauren Kassan more often worked behind the scenes. Kassan will step into a newly created “Office of the CEO” along with senior vice president of operations Ashley Peterson and senior vice president of marketing Celestine Maddy, reporting to the company’s board of directors, The Wing confirmed.
“The Wing remains a vital resource for thousands of women navigating their path to success,” the company said in a statement to Fortune. “But the moment calls for a rethinking of how we meet their needs moving forward and for new leadership that can guide The Wing into the future.”
“My hope is that this accelerated transition will help rebuild trust, restore faith, and remake The Wing into something we can all feel proud of,” Gelman reportedly wrote in an email to The Wing’s staff Thursday morning.
Staffers began tweeting on Thursday morning the phrase “Audrey Gelman’s resignation is not enough” and said they had presented a list of demands to company leadership intended to correct the fact that “The Wing doesn’t practice the intersectional feminism that it it preaches.”
The Wing launched in 2016 as a physical space that would serve as a pit-stop for women between “work and werk,” but transitioned to serve primarily as a community-based membership platform that members could use as a physical workspace. While the startup initially limited membership—and guests—to women, after encountering legal hurdles, it redefined its membership criteria as open to anyone supportive of its mission to support women.
The coronavirus pandemic, however, upended The Wing’s business. As its dozen physical spaces closed (the startup has opened branches in six U.S. cities and London and, before the pandemic, had plans to open nine more in 2020), The Wing saw “95% of our revenue disappear overnight,” Gelman said in April. The company began offering its programming—member meet-ups and talks by prominent women—online. However, it couldn’t transition the part of its membership that justified $2,700 annual membership fees—its physical spaces—to remote work.
The company laid off half its headquarters staff and almost all teams that worked at its physical spaces in early April.
The Wing’s mission and branding both center on the ideals and language of feminism, from Gelman’s appearance while pregnant on the cover of the magazine Inc., a milestone for the business press, to the investors it courted: soccer players from the U.S. Women’s National Team and Hollywood figures like Kerry Washington involved in the anti-sexual harassment organization Time’s Up. But in March, the New York Times published an investigation into The Wing’s culture, in which employees said that leadership didn’t live up to those feminist ideals when it came to their own female workers. Several of the criticisms focused on Gelman specifically. That piece was followed by a Wall Street Journal investigation featuring similar claims in April. Criticism in both pieces highlighted that especially women of color who worked for The Wing were mistreated.
Journalist Kara Swisher reported that Gelman would retain her seat on The Wing’s board of directors, which the company has not yet confirmed. Members of The Wing’s board include GV general partner Jessica Verrilli, who replaced WeWork chief legal officer Jennifer Berrent after WeWork exited its stake in The Wing amid the collapse of its own co-working business and a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against WeWork, and Sequoia Capital partner Jess Lee.