The current immigration restrictions, which are the third iteration of President Trump’s travel ban, prevent citizens of six majority-Muslim countries from traveling to the U.S., in addition to preventing travel and immigration by North Korean citizens and travel by some Venezuelan citizens. Versions of the ban have been working their way through the courts since the first iteration was announced more than a year ago. The Supreme Court has allowed the ban to go into effect pending its own ruling.
However, the ban does allow affected people to apply for waivers in certain circumstances, including business trips to the U.S.
In late November, Saba Mohebpour arrived in Los Angeles from his home in Canada on a temporary visa. He was there as the CEO and co-founder of Spocket, a wholesale e-commerce startup, and was applying for startup accelerator programs with his five-person team.
A few days later, the team flew back to Vancouver, B.C., its hometown, and the good news was around the corner: In December, Spocket was accepted into the Techstars Seattle program — a major break that would give the fledgling company access to mentoring, expertise and investors.
But Mohebpour wouldn’t be joining his team in Seattle. In the few weeks between his trip to Los Angeles and the start of the Techstars program, the U.S. Supreme Court let President Donald Trump’s travel ban go into effect, preventing people from certain countries, most of them majority Muslim, from entering the U.S. The ban meant Mohebpour’s visa to enter the country was denied. He is still waiting to hear back about a waiver almost two months after applying and more than two weeks after the rest of his team arrived in Seattle for the program.
Mohebpour has lived in Canada for more than five years and has been cleared for visas in the past. He has no criminal record. But he is an Iranian citizen, one of the countries included in the travel ban list. Still, he went to the U.S. consulate in Vancouver on Dec. 27 to apply for a visa, with a three-page letter of support from Techstars.
The irony of Mohebpour’s story is that this isn’t the first time he’s had opportunity taken away because of his identity. His family adheres to the Bahá’í faith, a religion created in Iran the 19th century that preaches themes of unity and equality. Although he isn’t religious, his family background meant he was banned from attending university in Iran, leading Mohebpour to move to Vancouver and attend the University of British Columbia.
Mohebpour wants to start discussions with others in the tech community about immigration. He said he hopes that his story, and others like it, will help overturn the immigration ban. The Supreme Court will hear the case against the ban in the spring.