Innovation in Immigration: Global EIR Coalition

Craig Montuori is the executive director of the Global EIR Coalition, a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Who We Are

The Global EIR Coalition makes it possible for immigrant entrepreneurs to gain access to work visas in the US so that they can build their businesses, create jobs, and grow the American economy. In exchange for these visas, the entrepreneurs are asked to give back to their communities by mentoring college students on entrepreneurship and helping them take their first steps into the tech industry. The mentorship program focuses primarily on supporting women, people of color, and first generation college students. We represent a community of founders, investors, startup community organizers, universities and colleges, economic development agencies, and immigration lawyers.

Where It All Began

As a fifth-generation American and aerospace engineer, you may be wondering how my passion for fixing the immigration problem for entrepreneurs developed. Well, after my startup failed in 2011, three interlocking events turned me towards this issue:

  1. A fellow founder at my favorite meetup was from Latvia. Over six months, he and his cofounder were hitting their stride, raising $50,000 and receiving two acquisition offers. Unfortunately, his visa expired at the end of those six months and the company’s growth was crushed. That really upset me.
  2. At the same time, the meetup organizer provided advice on what I should do next. I was in the middle of a Masters’ in Public Affairs that encouraged practical action, and he told me, “Dude, immigration is killing us. It’d be huge if you could fix it.” (imagine a six foot, Viking-like guy, looming over you, saying that!)
  3. I was also thinking a lot about political strategy at that point, and when someone came to me via Quora with a startup visa advocacy video, I sketched out a strategy on passing startup visa legislation, which inspired me to see if I could implement that strategy.

From Concept to Execution

Thanks to the encouragement of people like Jonathan and Laura Nelson of Hackers/Founders, Brad Feld of Foundry Group, and Jason Putorti of Bessemer Venture Partners, I first got involved in startup visa advocacy in 2011. Over time, I moved from providing policy analysis to strategic advice, and eventually moved on to planning and organizing for the startup community.

As a result, I gradually grew my involvement from sporadic volunteering to building a full-time career around the work—and was rewarded with increasingly fun opportunities, like writing a policy memo for senior White House staff and overturning an unjust visa rejection by putting a founder on Diane Sawyer’s Nightly News.

After three years of direct advocacy work, my supporters and I concluded that lobbying Congress on immigration was futile. Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures seemed spot on when he said “change the facts on the ground first, and the politics will race to catch up.” What we learned was that startups are seen by the political world as solely being located in SF, which meant that while many elected officials were supportive of the startup visa fix, they saw little reason to actively promote it.

Through our efforts, my community and I learned how to be both more impactful as a politically active community and how to translate startup community parlance into the political world.

The Next Steps

Today, through the Global EIR Coalition, I’m grateful to have the ability to enable great founders to pursue their American Dream. We’ve assisted 23 founders already and hope to cross the 100-person mark by the end of 2016. The companies these founders are helping to grow have created hundreds of jobs and brought hundreds of millions of venture capital into the regions that have adopted the Global EIR model.

Submitted by Guest Writer Craig Montuori. Visit www.globaleir.org to learn more.