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Joe Downtown: For one startup, staying in Vegas might be more trouble than it’s worth

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Andrew Crump of Bluefields.com is dealing with visa issues when he could be focusing on development.
Photo: Joe Schoenmann

This story has been updated to reflect a clarification on Bluefields employees' immigration status.

Some Americans like to couch the path-to-legal immigration debate as one of “us vs. the moochers.” They’re largely against citizenship for “the moochers”—many of whom take low-paying, backbreaking jobs few of us would want—because they are using roads, schools, hospitals and other services supported by tax-paying Americans.

But there are also those immigrants who bring jobs with them, then create new jobs, then create tax revenues that help pay for government-run services. One of those is Bluefields.com, a tech company that has received funding from VegasTechFund, the venture capital group whose members include Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

Bluefields is a phone or web application that makes it easy for amateur sports teams to organize, inform and update players on everything from practice schedules to game times. Almost two years ago, an early version of the app was chosen as one of Europe’s most “innovative technologies” in a corporate competition sponsored by Pepsi.

Andrew Crump, the 28-year-old CEO, later won funding from various entities, one of the latest of which was VegasTechFund. The married father of two decided he wanted to move his company to Las Vegas. He likes the support he’s getting here, as well as being part of the nascent local tech scene.

“There’s really something quite special happening here,” Crump said in January. “When you begin your startup, you don’t do it for the money—well, some do—but you realize that it’s about doing something you love and making an impact, and that’s exactly what’s happening here in Las Vegas.”

But for months, Crump and his five-man team have been flying back and forth between the United Kingdom and United States. They can do business here but officially can't work—the 90-day, tourist visas they have don't give them the right to do "work". Additionally, as they do "business" and make money, all taxes on their profits are shipped right back to England.

Technically, they have to merely touch ground there to maintain their visitors’ status with the U.S. government. Crump said he expects to spend close to $50,000 flying people back and forth and meeting other U.S. immigration requirements.

What makes it even tougher to swallow is that England has an enlightened immigration policy that provides a “startup visa” to young companies for up to two years. During those two years, foreign-born companies located in England work, hire people and pay taxes—to England.

Europeans admire the U.S., to a degree, because their ancestors built it up and immigrants populated it, created new technologies and economies. To Crump, it’s strange that our immigration policy isn’t more reflective.

“It doesn’t make sense that you should be turning away companies,” Crump said. “And it’s America, it’s made up of immigrants.”

Someone in Washington might be listening. Part of the White House’s push for immigration reform includes creating a startup visa similar to England’s. Of course, the way things move in Congress, or fail to, something like that could take years to approve.

In the meantime, Crump and his team are applying for permanent resident visas, and Crump is using investor’s money on airline tickets.

“If I’d known how hard it would be, I’m not sure I would have come,” Crump said of moving here. “I can’t even think of putting down roots.”

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown, he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
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Joe Schoenmann

A native Wisconsinite, Joe earned a journalism degree to get out of college early but wanted none of the craft ...

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