By Luca Graglia
Luca Graglia is the co-founder of Clueless, a personalized recommendation app. Clueless has users swipe left or right on places they know, and then uses that information to recommend new places for my users to explore.
My name is Luca Graglia. I am a Chicagoan at heart, an engineer, and most importantly to me, a co-founder of the tech startup Clueless. I came to the United States in 2014 to study computer engineering at UIC and I fell in love with the city. I’ve wanted to start my own company ever since I was a child. After working here as an engineer for two years, I became confident enough in my skills to go out on my own. I set out to solve a frequent problem among my friends: ”What should I do tonight?” By utilizing advancements in machine learning and reflecting trends in social media, I believe I can solve that problem in an innovative and addictive way.
When I quit my job to work on my startup full-time, I had several options. Those options have slowly faded away. I lost the H-1B visa lottery, and two months ago, the Department of Homeland Security announced its intention to delay and rescind the International Entrepreneur Rule (IER). The H-1B visa lottery allows high skilled workers to work in the U.S. legally; unfortunately, the system randomly selects only 65,000 out of over 250,000 applicants, and my name was not pulled from the hat. The IER was a policy that would allow talented foreign entrepreneurs to the stay in the country to start their own companies, as long as they meet certain strict requirements. IER’s freeze is the latest disappointment for tech founders like myself.
IER was designed to keep innovation, companies, and jobs in America. Without the rule, I have only a small chance of continuing to build my company here and may have to take my business abroad. By taking Clueless abroad, I would no longer be able to employ U.S. citizens, pay taxes here or allow my company to grow in the U.S. Staying in Chicago is important to me because this is my home. My former UIC professors, who are now my mentors, are here. My co-founder is a native Chicagoan. And the startup community in Chicago feels like my community. The loss of the thriving Chicago tech scene would be devastating for Clueless’s growth.
Though my options are limited, I have one last chance to remain in the country. The Chicago Global Entrepreneur in Residence program is now accepting applications. This program accepts immigrant founders after meeting certain requirements and allows them to build their companies. Entrepreneurs accepted into the program will likely acquire H-1B visas through the university. In exchange, chosen entrepreneurs provide services like mentoring or training interns. I am confident that I would thrive both as a founder and as a mentor in the program and Chicago. My company is already benefitting from the assistance of professors in my field, and my coaching background inspires me to mentor others.
When I speak with other successful immigrant entrepreneurs, many of them say the hardest part about starting their company was navigating through the U.S. immigration process. This is not a rare problem—more than half of tech startups have at least one immigrant founder. When I look at all the innovation that immigrant tech founders have brought and the jobs they’ve created, I can’t help but think that if everyone was informed, programs like IER would not be cancelled. 40% of our Fortune 500 companies have been founded by immigrants or a child of an immigrant—why wouldn’t U.S. citizens want immigrants to create more opportunities in the U.S?
Founding my own company and seeing it thrive in Chicago is my greatest aspiration. I’m not asking for it to be easy, I’m asking for it to be possible. I hope that the administration will provide me and other immigrant innovators with a path to our American Dream.