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Immigration Startup Ideas

Peter Shin
Apr 22, 2015 · 4 min read

On May 29–31, we will be bringing together more than 125 hackers, designers, and hustlers from all different nationalities for the first-ever Immigration-themed Startup Weekend hackathon event, aka Startup Weekend IMMIGRATION.

The most frequent question we’ve gotten has been, “What kind of ideas will attendees work on?”

There are so many problematic areas of Immigration that could benefit from the talent and creativity of Silicon Valley. Not only that, Immigration in the US is such a minefield of complexity that it’s difficult to know much beyond your own unique situation, or that of your friends.

That’s why we’re providing this list of Immigration Startup Ideas. You definitely don’t have to work on an idea on this list — It’s mostly here to help stimulate you to think about all the different ways you can go about creating a more even playing field for immigrants. Our hope is that someone who’s been itching to work on an idea in one of these areas will consider attending our hackathon, but we’d also love for you to show up on Friday and surprise us with an idea we haven’t even thought of.

We’ve divided the list of potential ideas into 4 “life stages” of immigration, which closely mirror that of a startup. After all, immigrants and founders have more in common than you might think — Both refuse to accept the status quo, both are taking a risk that most other people aren’t willing (or able) to take, and both are ready to sacrifice everything to make their dream a reality.

Here is the list (we’ll add to it over time) of some areas we’re particularly interested in:


Aspiring immigrants overseas who are preparing to relocate to a new country in the near future

  • Make Immigration Unnecessary : Thanks to the Internet and the evolution of the knowledge economy, it’s now more possible than ever to achieve “The American Dream” without actually being in America. (e.g. Teleport, REMOTE by 37 Signals, Blueseed)
  • Pre-networking : Allow immigrants to build new personal and professional networks even before they arrive in their new country. Why should they have to wait until they’re physically there, to start getting to know people?
  • Green Card Marriage : For “mixed nationality” couples, getting married is nowhere as celebratory as it should be, because of the US government’s high burden of proof regarding the authenticity of one’s marriage, in order for one’s spouse to get a green card. How could this process be made easier and more transparent, both for couples and for the government?


People who are currently in the process of immigrating and/or adjusting to their new country

  • Redesign Old Processes : Immigration law and immigration applications are arguably more complex and nebulous than filing taxes. Simplify the complicated immigration process through great product design (e.g. Bridge US, Teleborder, U.S. Digital Service, FileRight, Clearpath)
  • Assimiliation : Adjusting to a new geography, language, culture, and industry (even “high-skilled” immigrants often have to change occupations) is no easy task.
  • Immigrant Concierge : Guide immigrants through unfamiliar new hurdles that most citizens take for granted i.e. taxes, insurance, healthcare, pension, 401k, driving license, etc.
  • Access : Easier access to high-quality networks, resources, and information for underprivileged immigrants when they most need it.
  • Relationships : It can be extremely difficult for immigrants to make friends and even a romantic partner given language and cultural barriers.


People who are already here, call the US home, and want to stay, but aren’t able to do so

  • Founders : Because of the extremely restricted nature of working visas (e.g. H-1B), entrepreneurial immigrants who want to start a company, create new jobs, and help grow the economy aren’t even able do so (e.g. Unshackled)
  • Students : The US issues roughly 500,000 F-1 student visas per year, and yet the H-1B working visa cap is set at a mere 65,000 per year. The US is educating immigrants and then losing out on all their future gains and contributions.
  • Forced to Leave : Unfortunately, many people who want to stay here will end up being forced to leave the country due to visa issues. In that case, how could a discouraged-but-not-defeated immigrant more easily evaluate their alternate international options besides their home country? (e.g. for tech hubs there’s Startup-Up Chile, Canada’s Start-up Visa, Startup Lithuania, etc.)


Immigrants (and descendents of immigrants) who have “made it” and want to pay it forward to other immigrants

  • Strength in Numbers : The immigrant community is extremely fragmented. How can immigrants of all nationalities find common ground and consolidate their influence so they can’t be ignored by politicians?
  • Urgency : Generally speaking, immigration reform is not a top priority for most politicians or for the average citizen/resident. What can be done to help people become more informed and care more about this issue? (e.g.

If you’d like to help solve some of these longstanding problems, join us on Friday May 29th at Galvanize SF and let’s bring back the American Dream, together. (Use the promo code “Medium” on the Eventbrite page to get 50% off the early bird price.)

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