Would-be entrepreneurs turn to lawyers for help

Facing complex, and some say outdated, immigration law, some attorneys are getting creative

Karlygash Burkitbayeva, who came from Kazakhstan to study at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, hired an immigration attorney before she even graduated. She asked around campus, found a guy with the most difficult immigration situation she had ever heard of -- and promptly hired his lawyer.

Tony Lai, co-founder of LawGives and himself an Oxford University-trained lawyer, said when facing the looming question of "How do I stay in this country?" one of the most important things is finding a good lawyer.

And in Silicon Valley these days, "good" takes on a new meaning: creativity that pushes up against the bounds of an outdated legal system.

Michael Serotte, founder and senior partner of Serotte Law Firm, LLC, an immigration law firm with an office in Mountain View, describes himself as a lawyer who likes to play on the edge. He compares his immigration approach to tax lawyers adept at finding beneficial loopholes.

"Good tax lawyers are creative," he said. "They look at the law, and they interpret it in a way that will stretch the boundaries of what's acceptable."

For startup founders applying for an H-1B visa, this could mean legally naming oneself a member of the company's board of directors instead of CEO to overcome an immigration services requirement that the visa applicant and sponsoring company establish a valid employer-employee relationship.

For someone desperate to increase their chances in the H-1B lottery, it could mean working part-time at two companies in order to file two visa petitions, thus upping their odds.

For student-entrepreneurs who don't want to wait to graduate to pursue their big idea, it could mean enlisting a good American friend to do any of the work that isn't permissible under their current visa status, such as hiring or managing employees; managing operations; ordering inventory; signing company checks and other daily, routine business activities.

"You have an idea and you want to change something -- in medicine, in technology, in construction, in fashion," Serotte said of student entrepreneurs. "You spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get educated and you can't stay here -- easily. You can stay here if you're creative enough."

Serotte said political stagnancy in Washington on immigration reform necessitates lawyers' boundary-pushing creativity.

"When you look at the law, you look at when it was written, you look at the dynamics of how our culture has changed, particularly in terms of entrepreneurship and how foreign students come here, to the best education system. If Washington isn't going to adapt, the lawyers have to adapt," he said. "Otherwise you have these brilliant young kids, all of which want to change the world, who are going to go some place else."

However, at the end of the day, it's the client's, not the lawyer's decision, he told a group of student-entrepreneur hopefuls at an immigration panel in March.

"It's this risk/reward analysis, which everybody goes through when you're looking at starting a business," he said. "Sometimes you just got to play on the edge. And sometimes you go over the edge. It's up to you. A lawyer can only tell you what you should be doing, what you can be doing and what the consequences are. Ultimately it's up to you to decide if you want to take that risk."


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2014 at 12:03 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 26, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Re "Good tax lawyers are creative," he said. "They look at the law, and they interpret it in a way that will stretch the boundaries of what's acceptable."
I agree, if by "good" you mean "unethical."

Like this comment
Posted by What's the Diff?
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 27, 2014 at 2:41 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Jake_Leone
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 28, 2014 at 7:57 am

Most H-1b visas are used by Offshore Outsourcing companies.

Most H-1b visas are used to remove jobs from the United States.

The reason why we run out of H-1b visas each year is because Offshore Outsourcing companies game the system by putting in hundreds of thousands of extra applications.

Wouldn't it be better if we just made the selection process rational?

For example base it on pay or base it on job creation potential (as opposed the current system, which is clearly based upon luck and the profitability of removing jobs from the United States.

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Posted by What's the Diff?
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 28, 2014 at 8:57 am

Jake is absolutely correct! This just sends money out of the US, not to mention jobs.

If foreign nationals REALLYwant to start a business here, and claim to create jobs for Americans, let them first start the application process for citizenship, or even dual citizenship.

I know of four people, two from Belgium, one from France, one from the Netherlands, who completed this process recently. Once it is started, they all agreed, it is not all that difficult. The two from Belgium kept their Belgian citizenship as well. All recently received BIG cuts in mortgage rates when buying or refinancing homes, just for coming US citizens.

Foreign nationals living off the kindness of America needs to be halted! Foreign nationals taking American jobs and dollars out of the country needs to be halted, They should not profit so richly at our expense!

This is just reverse Imperialism.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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