The MIT Media Lab controversy and getting back to ‘radical courage’, with Media Lab student Arwa Mboya – gpgmail


People win prestigious prizes in tech all the time, but there is something different about The Bold Prize. Unless you’ve been living under a literal or proverbial rock, you’ve probably heard something about the late Jeffrey Epstein, a notorious child molester and human trafficker who also happened to be a billionaire philanthropist and managed to become a ubiquitous figure in certain elite science and tech circles.

And if you’re involved in tech, the rock you’ve been living under would have had to be fully insulated from the internet to avoid reading about Epstein’s connections with MIT’s Media Lab, a leading destination for the world’s most brilliant technological minds, also known as “the future factory.” 

This past week, conversations around the Media Lab were hotter than the fuel rods at Fukushima, as The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, perhaps the most feared and famous investigative journalist in America today, blasted out what for some were new revelations that Bill Gates, among others, had given millions of dollars to the Media Lab at Jeffrey (no fucking relation, thank you very much!) Epstein’s behest. Hours after Farrow’s piece was published, Joi Ito, the legendary but now embattled Media Lab director, resigned.

But well before before Farrow weighed in or Ito stepped away, students, faculty, and other leaders at MIT and far beyond were already on full alert about this story, thanks in large part to Arwa Michelle Mboya, a graduate student at the Media Lab, from Kenya by way of college at Yale, where she studied economics and filmmaking and learned to create virtual reality. Mboya, 25, was among the first public voices (arguably the very first) to forcefully and thoughtfully call on Ito to step down from his position.

Imagine: you’re heading into the second year of your first graduate degree, and you find yourself taking on a man who, when Barack Obama took over Wired magazine for an issue as guest editor, was one of just a couple of people the then sitting President of the United States asked to personally interview. And imagine that man was the director of your graduate program, and the reason you decided to study in it in the first place.

Imagine the pressure involved, the courage required. And imagine, soon thereafter, being completely vindicated and celebrated for your actions. 

Arwa Mboya. Image via MIT Media Lab

That is precisely the journey that Arwa Mboya has been on these past few weeks, including when human rights technologist Sabrina Hersi Issa decided to crowd-fund the Bold Prize to honor Mboya’s courage, which has now brought in over $10,000 to support her ongoing work (full disclosure: I am among the over 120 contributors to the prize).

Mboya’s advocacy was never about Joi Ito personally. If you get to know her through the interview below, in fact, you’ll see she doesn’t wish him ill.

As she wrote in MIT’s The Tech nine days before Farrow’s essay and ten before Ito’s resignation, “This is not an MIT issue, and this is not a Joi Ito issue. This is an international issue where a global network of powerful individuals have used their influence to secure their privilege at the expense of women’s bodies and lives. The MIT Media Lab was nicknamed “The Future Factory” on CBS’s 60 Minutes. We are supposed to reflect the future, not just of technology but of society. When I call for Ito’s resignation, I’m fighting for the future of women.”

From the moment I read it, I thought this was a beautiful and truly bold statement by a student leader who is an inspiring example of the extraordinary caliber of student that the Media Lab draws.

But in getting to know her a bit since reading it, I’ve learned that her message is also about even more. It’s about the fact that the women and men who called for a new direction in light of Jeffrey Epstein’s abuses and other leaders’ complicity did so in pursuit of their own inspiring dreams for a better world.

Arwa, as you’ll see below, spoke out at MIT because of her passion to use tech to inspire radical imagination among potentially millions of African youth. As she discusses both the Media Lab and her broader vision, I believe she’s already beginning to provide that inspiration. 

Greg Epstein: You have had a few of the most dramatic weeks of any student I’ve met in 15 years as a chaplain at two universities. How are you doing right now?

Arwa Mboya: I’m actually pretty good. I’m not saying that for the sake of saying. I have a great support network. I’m in a lab where everyone is amazing. I’m very tired, I’ll say that. I’ve been traveling a lot and dealing with this while still trying to focus on writing a thesis. If anything, it’s more like overwhelmed and exhausted as opposed to not doing well in and of itself.

Epstein: Looking at your writing — you’ve got a great Medium blog that you started long before MIT and maintained while you’ve been here — it struck me that in speaking your mind and heart about this Media Lab issue, you’ve done exactly what you set out to do when you came here. You set out to be brave, to live life, as the Helen Keller quote on your website says, as either a great adventure or nothing. 

Also, when you came to the Media Lab, you were the best-case scenario for anyone who works on publicizing this place. You spoke and wrote about the Lab as your absolute dream. When you were in Africa, or Australia, or at Yale, how did you come to see this as the best place in the world for you to express the creative and civic dreams that you had?

Mboya: That’s a good question — what drew me here? The Media Lab is amazing. I read Whiplash, which is Joi Ito’s book about the nine principles of the Media Lab, and it really resonated with me. It was a place for misfits. It was a place for people who are curious and who just want to explore and experiment and mix different fields, which is exactly what I’ve been doing before.

From high school, I was very narrow in my focus; at Yale I did Econ and film, so that had a little more edge. After I graduated I insisted on not taking a more conventional path many students from Yale take, so [I] moved back to Kenya and worked on many different projects, got into adventure sports, got into travel more.

Epstein: Your website is full of pictures of you flipping over, skydiving, gymnastics — things that require both strength and courage. 

Mboya: I’d always been an athlete, loved the outdoors.

I remember being in Vietnam; I’d never done a backflip. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to learn how to do this.” But it’s really scary jumping backwards; the fear. Is, you can’t see where you’re going. I remember telling myself, ” Okay, just jump over the fear. Just shut it off and do it. Your body will follow.” I did and I was like, “Oh, that was easy.” It’s not complicated. Most people could do it if they just said, “Okay, I’ll jump.”

It really stuck with me. A lot of decisions I’ve [since] made, that I’m scared of, I think, “Okay, just jump, and your body will follow.” The Media Lab was like that as well.

I really wanted to go there, I just didn’t think there was a place for me. It was like, I’m not techie enough, I’m not anything enough. Applying was, ’just jump,’ you never know what will happen.

image 4

Image from Arwa Mboya

Epstein: Back when you were applying, you wrote about experiencing what applicants to elite schools often call “imposter syndrome.” This is where I want to be, but will they want me?

Mboya: Exactly.




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How the Valley can get philanthropy right with former Hewlett Foundation president Paul Brest – gpgmail


Paul Brest didn’t set out to transform philanthropy. A constitutional law scholar who clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Harlan and is credited with coining the term “originalism,” Brest spent twelve years as dean of Stanford Law School.

But when he was named president of the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, one of the country’s largest large non-profit funders, Brest applied the rigor of a legal scholar not just to his own institution’s practices but to those of the philanthropy field at large. He hired experts to study the practice of philanthropy and helped to launch Stanford’s Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society, where he still teaches.

Now, Brest has turned his attention to advising Silicon Valley’s next generation of donors.

From Stanford to the Hewlett Foundation

Photo by David Madison / Getty Images

Scott Bade: Your background is in constitutional law. How did you make the shift from being dean at Stanford to running the Hewlett Foundation as president?

Paul Brest: I came into the Hewlett Foundation largely by accident. I really didn’t know anything about philanthropy, but I had been teaching courses on problem-solving and decision making. I think I got the job because a number of people on the board knew me, both from Stanford Law School, but also from playing chamber music with Walter and Esther Hewlett.

Bade: When was this?

Brest: I started there in 2000. Bill Hewlett died the year after I came. Walter Hewlett, Bill’s son, was chair of the board during the entire time I was president. But it’s not a family foundation.

Bade: What were your initial impressions of the foundation and the broader philanthropic space?

Brest: Not having come from the non-profit sector, it took me a year or so to really understand what it [meant] to use our assets in each area in a strategic way.  The [Hewlett] Foundation had very good values in terms of the areas it was supporting — the environment, education, population, women’s reproductive rights. It had good philanthropic practices, but it was not very strategically focused. It turned out that not very many foundations were strategic.

Paul’s framework for thinking about philanthropy

Paul informal photo

Photo provided by Paul Brest

Bade: What do you mean by ‘strategic’?

Brest: What I mean [by] strategic is having clear goals and having an evidence-based, evidence-informed strategy for achieving them. Big foundations tend to be conglomerates with different programs trying to achieve different goals.

[Being strategic means] monitoring progress as you work towards those goals. Then evaluating in advance whether the strategy is going to be plausible and then whether you’re actually achieving the outcomes you’re trying to achieve so that you can make course corrections if you’re not achieving.

[For example,] the likelihood that the roughly billionaire dollars or more that have been spent or committed to climate advocacy are going to have any effect is quite low. The place where metrics comes in is just having kind of an expected return mindset where yes, the chances of success are low, but we know that the importance of success — or putting it differently, the effects of failure — are going to be catastrophic.

What a strategic mindset does here is say: it’s worth taking huge bets even where the margins of error of the likelihood of success are very hard to measure when the results are huge.

I don’t want to say the [Hewlett] Foundation was anti-strategic, or totally unstrategic, but it really had not developed a [this kind of] systematic framework for doing those things.

Bade: You’re known in the philanthropic community for putting an emphasis on defining, achieving, measuring impact. Have those sort of technocratic practices made philanthropy better?

Brest: I think you have to start by asking, what would it mean for philanthropy to be good? From my point of view, philanthropy is good when I like the goals it chooses. Then, given a good goal, when it is effective in achieving that goal. Strategy really has nothing to say about what the goals are, but only how effective it is.

My guess is that 90 plus percent of philanthropy is intended to achieve goals that most of us think are good goals. There are occasions when you have direct conflicts of goals as you do with say the anti-abortion and the choice movements, or gun control and the NRA. Those are important arguments.

But most philanthropy is trying to improve education or improve the lives of the poor. My view is that philanthropy is good when it is effective in achieving those goals, and trying to do no harm in the process.

Current debates on philanthropy


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Uber resists California gig worker bill – gpgmail


The Daily Crunch is gpgmail’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. Uber plans to keep defending independent contractor model for drivers

Despite California lawmakers passing a bill designed to turn gig workers into regular employees, Uber has made it clear it plans to do whatever it takes to keep classifying its drivers as independent contractors.

“We will continue to advocate for a compromise agreement,” Uber Chief Legal Officer Tony West said. That agreement might include a guaranteed earnings minimum while on a trip, portable benefits and a “collective voice” for drivers.

2. Spotify acquires SoundBetter, a music production marketplace, for an undisclosed sum

This looks like another step for Spotify to diversify its business model.

3. Simbe raises a $26M Series A for its retail inventory robot

Simbe has been showcasing its inventory robot Tally since 2015. And earlier this year, U.S. supermarket chain Giant Eagle announced plans to begin a pilot program, deploying Tally in select stores.

4. Loot boxes in games are gambling and should be banned for kids, say UK MPs

U.K. MPs have called for the government to regulate the games industry’s use of loot boxes. They’re urging a blanket ban on the sale of loot boxes to players who are children, suggesting that kids should instead be able to earn in-game credits to unlock these boxes.

5. How Kobalt is simplifying the killer complexities of the music industry

The second part of our in-depth look at Kobalt focuses on the complex way royalties flow through the industry, and how Kobalt is restructuring that process. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Yelp adds predictive wait times and a new way for restaurants to share updates

With Yelp Connect, restaurants will be able to post updates about things like recent additions to the menu, happy hour specials and upcoming events. These updates are then shown on the Yelp homepage, in a weekly email and on the restaurant’s profile page.

7. 5 reasons to attend Disrupt SF this October 2-4

If you haven’t bought a ticket to Disrupt yet, you’re probably a bad person who’s making bad decisions.


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Uber plans to keep defending independent contractor model for drivers – gpgmail


In light of gig worker protections bill AB5 passing in the California State Senate last night, amendments to AB5 passing in the Assembly this morning, Uber has made it clear it plans to do whatever it takes to keep its drivers independent contractors.

“We will continue to advocate for a compromised agreement,” Uber Chief Legal Officer Tony West said on a press call today.

As Uber outlined last month, the company is pushing for a framework that would establish a guaranteed earnings minimum while on a trip, offer portable benefits and enable drivers to “have a collective voice.”

He went on to say that Uber is continuing to explore several legal and political options to lay the groundwork for a statewide ballot initiative in 2020. Uber and Lyft announced a $60 million joint initiative last month, and now, West is saying Uber is open to investing even more money in that committee account.

“This is not our first choice,” West said. “At the same time, we need to make sure we are exploring all options and all alternatives to put forward a framework that works for the 21st-century economy and we believe we have a framework that does that.”

AB5 would help to ensure gig economy workers are entitled to minimum wage, workers’ compensation and other benefits by requiring employers to apply the ABC test. The bill, first introduced in December 2018, aims to codfiy the ruling established in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v Superior Court of Los Angeles. In that case, the court applied the ABC test and decided Dynamex wrongfully classified its workers as independent contractors.

According to the ABC test, in order for a hiring entity to legally classify a worker as an independent contractor, it must prove the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity, performs work outside the scope of the entity’s business and is regularly engaged in an “independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.”

If Uber were to fail this test, drivers would not be able to determine when, where and how often they work, nor would they be able to work for more than one platform at a time, West said.

“I do think there would be significant changes in the experience drivers would have,” West said.

But West believes Uber would not fail this test. While it will be required to pass this test in the likely event AB5 gets signed into law, West pointed out “we have been successful in arguing under this ABC test in the past that drivers are independent and independent contractors,” West said. “We believe that to be true.”

There would surely be a financial impact if Uber fails the test, but West declined to comment on just what that fiscal impact would be. Industry analysts, however, have estimated it could result in up to a 30% cost increase.

As noted earlier, the bill is expected to pass, as Gov. Gavin Newsom has previously expressed his support for the measure. Though, Newsom said earlier today that he’s still in negotiations with both Uber and Lyft.

“The governor has been pretty clear he is fully committed to a negotiated solution here,” West said in a press call today. “He’s been clear to us on that message in private and has publicly stated that now.”

Following the bill’s passing in the Senate, Lyft said the state missed an opportunity to support the majority of rideshare drivers who want a solution that balances flexibility with earnings standard and benefits.

“The fact that there were more than 50 industries carved out of AB5 is very telling,” a Lyft spokesperson said. “We are fully prepared to take this issue to the voters of California to preserve the freedom and access drivers and riders want and need.”

Earlier today, Lyft sent out an email to drivers regarding AB5 and how if it’s signed into law, drivers “may soon be required to drive specific shifts, stick to specific areas, and drive for only a single platform (such as Lyft, Uber, Doordash, or others).”

Despite what Uber and Lyft are saying, there are a number of drivers who have fought long and hard to ensure the bill passes. Two of the main organizations behind the actions in support of AB5 are Gig Workers Rising and Mobile Workers Alliance. In addition to urging legislators pass AB5, Uber and Lyft drivers organizing with Gig Workers Rising also want the right to form a union.

“AB 5 is only the beginning,” Edan Alva, a driver with Gig Workers Rising, said in a statement. “I talk daily to other drivers who want a change but they are scared. They don’t want to lose their only source of income. But just because someone really needs to work does not mean that their rights as a worker should be stepped all over. That is why a union is critical. It simply won’t work without it.”


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Trump administration is readying tighter regulations on e-cigarettes, including ban on flavorings – gpgmail


The Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration are readying tough new requirements on e-cigarettes — including a potential ban on flavorings for vaping products.

The FDA compliance policy would mean that all non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes would have to be cleared by the FDA before they could be sold. The regulations could effectively remove flavored e-cigarette products from the market until they go through the testing required for FDA approval.

In August 2016, e-cigarette companies were required to file premarket tobacco product applications with the FDA over a two-year period. Those companies whose products have not received FDA approval are now considered to be marketed illegally, according to the HHS statement.

“The Trump Administration is making it clear that we intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, in a statement. “We will not stand idly by as these products become an on-ramp to combustible cigarettes or nicotine addiction for a generation of youth.”

Over the past year, the e-cigarette industry has faced a steady stream of criticism related to the health effects of vaping and the ways in which companies marketed their products to minors.

A new version of the National Youth Tobacco Survey shows the continued rise in rates of youth e-cigarette use, especially through non-tobacco flavors, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 25% of high school students were e-cigarette users in 2019, and the bulk of those kids cited fruit and mint flavors as their pods of choice.

Earlier in September, the Centers for Disease Control issued a warning against vaping as several deadly instances of lung-related illnesses cropped up among vape users (although no solid link between the lung condition and vaping has been identified). As we reported at the time:

The first death was reported in late August in Indiana, but other suspected cases have turned fatal in Illinois, Minnesota, California and Oregon — as reported by The Washington Post, though the CDC said three are confirmed and one is under investigation. The number of reported cases has skyrocketed, though this is likely a consequence of better information coming from state health authorities and hospitals, rather than a sudden epidemic.

The FDA is now working on a compliance policy that will be announced in the coming weeks to address the flavored e-cigarette issue.”Once finalized, this compliance policy will serve as a powerful tool that the FDA can use to combat the troubling trend of youth e-cigarette use. We must act swiftly against flavored e-cigarette products that are especially attractive to children. Moreover, if we see a migration to tobacco-flavored products by kids, we will take additional steps to address youth use of these products,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, MD, in a statement.”Earlier this week, the FDA sent a warning letter to the leading e-cigarette company, Juul Labs. With a reported 70% of the U.S. e-cigarette market and more than $14 billion in financing, Juul is the largest private company operating in the vaping space.

The government’s mobilization efforts come just one day after former New York City mayor and billionaire philanthropist Mike Bloomberg announced a $160 million effort to combat youth vaping.

Blomberg actually called out the federal government in the announcement, saying:

The federal government has the responsibility to protect children from harm, but it has failed – so the rest of us are taking action. I look forward to partnering with advocates in cities and states across the country on legislative actions that protect our kids’ health. The decline in youth smoking is one of the great health victories of this century, and we can’t allow tobacco companies to reverse that progress.


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Despite Brexit, UK startups can compete with Silicon Valley to win tech talent – gpgmail


Brexit has taken over discourse in the UK and beyond. In the UK alone, it is mentioned over 500 million times a day, in 92 million conversations — and for good reason. While the UK has yet to leave the EU, the impact of Brexit has already rippled through industries all over the world. The UK’s technology sector is no exception. While innovation endures in the midst of Brexit, data reveals that innovative companies are losing the ability to attract people from all over the world and are suffering from a substantial talent leak. 

It is no secret that the UK was already experiencing a talent shortage, even without the added pressure created by today’s political landscape. Technology is developing rapidly and demand for tech workers continues to outpace supply, creating a fiercely competitive hiring landscape.

The shortage of available tech talent has already created a deficit that could cost the UK £141 billion in GDP growth by 2028, stifling innovation. Now, with Brexit threatening the UK’s cosmopolitan tech landscape — and the economy at large — we may soon see international tech talent moving elsewhere; in fact, 60% of London businesses think they’ll lose access to tech talent once the UK leaves the EU.

So, how can UK-based companies proactively attract and retain top tech talent to prevent a Brexit brain drain? UK businesses must ensure that their hiring funnels are a top priority and focus on understanding what matters most to tech talent beyond salary, so that they don’t lose out to US tech hubs. 

Brexit aside, why is San Francisco more appealing than the UK?


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Facebook tightens policies around self-harm and suicide – gpgmail


Timed with World Suicide Prevention Day, Facebook is tightening its policies around some difficult topics including self-harm, suicide, and eating disorder content after consulting with a series of experts on these topics. It’s also hiring a new Safety Policy Manager to advise on these areas going forward. This person will be specifically tasked with analyzing the impacts of Facebook’s policies and its apps on people’s health and well-being, and will explore new ways to improve support for the Facebook community.

The social network, like others in the space, has to walk a fine line when it comes to self-harm content. On the one hand, allowing people to openly discuss their mental health struggles with family, friends, and other online support groups can be beneficial. But on the other, science indicates that suicide can be contagious, and that clusters and outbreaks are real phenomena. Meanwhile, graphic imagery of self-harm can unintentionally promote the behavior.

With its updated policies, Facebook aims to prevent the spread of more harmful imagery and content.

It changed its policy around self-harm images to no longer allow graphic cutting images which can unintentionally promote or trigger self-harm. These images will not be allowed even if someone is seeking support or expressing themselves to aid their recovery, Facebook says.

The same content will also now be more difficult to find on Instagram through search and Explore.

And Facebook has tightened its policy regarding eating disorder content on its apps to prevent an expanded range of content that could contribute to eating disorders. This includes content that focuses on the depiction of ribs, collar bones, thigh gaps, concave stomach, or protruding spine or scapula, when shared with terms related to eating disorders. It will also ban content that includes instructions for drastic and unhealthy weight loss, when shared with those same sorts of terms.

It will also display a sensitivity screen over healed self-harm cuts going forward to help unintentionally promote self-harm.

Even when it takes content down, Facebook says it will now continue to send resources to people who posted self-harm or eating disorder content.

Facebook will additionally include Orygen’s #chatsafe guidelines to its Safety Center and in resources on Instagram. These guidelines are meant to help those who are responding to suicide-related content posted by others or are looking to express their own thoughts and feelings on the topic.

The changes came about over the course of the year, following Facebook’s consultations with a variety of the experts in the field, across a number of countries including the U.S., Canada, U.K. Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, India, Mexico, Philippines, and Thailand. Several of the policies were updated prior to today, but Facebook is now publicly announcing the combined lot.

The company says it’s also looking into sharing the public data from its platform on how people talk about suicide with academic researchers by way of the CrowdTangle monitoring tool. Before, this was made available primarily to newsrooms and media publishers

Suicide helplines provide help to those in need. Contact a helpline if you need support yourself or need help supporting a friend. Click here for Facebook’s list of helplines around the world. 


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International students face immigration hurdles under Trump – gpgmail


This fall, nearly half a million international students will begin or return to STEM degree programs at U.S. colleges and universities. If you’re among them, congratulations — look forward to being wooed by talent-hungry U.S. tech firms when you graduate. But there’s bad news, too: Under current immigration rules, switching from a student visa to an employment visa can be tricky, so it’s important to understand what’s required and how the latest policy upheavals could impact your journey.

In theory, it’s a great time to be a STEM graduate. U.S. STEM jobs are expected to grow by nearly 11% — or about 10.3 million positions — between 2016 and 2026, faster than all U.S. occupations. In practice, however, it can be tough for international students to secure permanent residence in the United States. The H-1B skilled-worker visa system is badly clogged; a federal lawsuit could slam the door on many STEM graduates, and the White House is shaking up both the skilled-worker and student visa systems.

But don’t despair: There’s still a pathway to a future in the United States — you just might face a bumpy ride. Whether you’re starting your studies or preparing to graduate, it’s crucial to understand your options.

Getting an employment-based visa

An employment-based green card requires an executive-level job, a truly extraordinary résumé, or an employer willing to pony up thousands of dollars in fees and labor-certification costs. Because it’s hard to get a green card, most international STEM students aim for an H-1B visa, which lets you work for a specified U.S. employer for up to six years. It’s not a permanent solution, but it can be a useful launchpad for your career.

Even getting an H-1B isn’t easy, though. There’s a hard cap on H-1Bs: This year, there were more than 200,000 applicants vying for just 85,000 visas. Recipients are selected via lottery, and while you could land an H-1B on your first attempt, many tech workers have to try again — and again, and again — before they finally get lucky.

In the meantime, international students typically start out using the temporary work authorization through their student visa until they transfer to an H-1B. 

Let’s dig into the details of what’s allowed under your student visa: 

If you’re on an F-1 visa

Image via Getty Images / South_agency

The F-1 student visa is one of the main on-ramps to the U.S. tech sector for foreign-born workers. That’s largely thanks to Bush- and Obama-era changes that expanded the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which allows F-1 holders to work at American companies after graduating, from 12 to 36 months. 

Graduates with multiple STEM degrees (such as a bachelor’s and master’s degrees) can also chain together their OPT periods, working for up to six years in total before switching to another visa. That’s great news because each year of OPT is another chance to play the H-1B lottery, increasing your odds of winning a visa. 

To use OPT, you’ll need to get a work permit (“Employment Authorization Document,” or EAD) as you near graduation. You’ll also need to file for visa extensions in order to make the most of your OPT entitlement. 

If you’re on a J-1 visa

Similar to the F-1, the J-1 visa is designed for students involved in cultural exchange programs or who receive substantial funding from governments or institutions. 

As a J-1 student, you won’t get OPT but 18 months of Academic Training (AT). Any internships or jobs you take during your studies will count toward your AT allotment, so it’s possible to finish your degree with less than 18 months of work authorization remaining. And while a second 18-month AT period is available for postdoctoral research, there’s no automatic extension for STEM degree holders: Once your 18 months are up, you’ll need to leave the United States.

There’s another catch: Many J-1 visas come with a home residency requirement (HRR), requiring holders to return to their home country for two years before seeking a work-based or family-sponsored U.S. visa — that or apply for an HRR waiver

If you’re on an M-1 visa

The M-1 visa is used by students at technical and vocational schools, not academic programs. As student visas go, it’s very restrictive: You won’t be able to work off-campus and can’t work for more than six months. You also won’t be able to switch to an F-1 visa and won’t find it easy to transition to an H-1B. If you hope to stay in the United States long-term, think carefully about whether an M-1 is right for you.

No job lined up?

If you don’t have a job offer, there are other ways to stay in the United States after finishing your studies. One popular option is to enter a graduate program: Getting a master’s degree could extend your student visa by a year or two, while upgrading to a PhD program could get you several additional years. In fact, an advanced U.S. degree under your belt effectively doubles your chances of getting an H-1B in the same lottery. 

If you can’t find work and don’t want to keep studying, you’ll need existing family ties to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder). If you’re the direct relative of one (for example, a spouse or child), then things are relatively easier: You have a clear path toward a family-based green card, allowing you to live and work permanently in the United States. That’s true even if you’ve become a family member through marriage: You’ll be able to obtain a marriage-based green card more quickly and easily than an H-1B or other employment-based green cards.

If you’re the spouse or child of someone on a temporary visa, such as an H-1B or O-1 visa holder, you can usually obtain a dependent’s visa. Such visas often allow you to study, but you won’t qualify for OPT after graduating. It’s also getting harder for H4 visa holders to obtain work permits, so don’t count on using a dependent’s visa to launch your career in Silicon Valley. In many cases, OPT is still a better springboard to an H-1B or green card.

If the person who claims you as a dependent applies for permanent residence, you may be able to get a green card through “derivative” benefits, meaning their green card eligibility trickles down to you.  

Next step: Mark your calendar

GettyImages 1132448431

Image via Getty Images / normaals

Whatever immigration status you currently have or want to get, you’ll need to plan ahead. In some cases, you might need to start planning your next step almost as soon as you begin your studies, in order to make sure you aren’t left without a valid visa.

  • For graduate study: Update your existing student visa before the end of the 60-day grace period (for F-1 visas) or 30-day grace period (for J-1 visas) following the program completion date listed on your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record and I-20 or DS-2019 form. 
  • For F-1 OPT: Apply no sooner than 90 days before and no later than 60 days after completing your studies. If your official completion date is June 1, 2020, for instance, you can apply for OPT between March 3 and July 31 of that year.
  • For J-1 AT: Apply shortly before your program ends. Your school will facilitate your AT application and will set its own deadline to process your paperwork before the end of your studies, but your AT must begin no later than 30 days after completing your program.
  • For H-1B visas: Play the annual visa lottery held in early April. You’ll need a job offer lined up well in advance from an employer who’s willing to sponsor you. You can’t begin working until your H-1B is approved, unless you have separate work authorization through OPT, AT, or some other means.
  • For employment-based green cards: The timeline depends on your specific green card category, but you’ll generally wait months or years
  • For green cards through marriage to a U.S. citizen: You’ll typically wait 10–13 months, but you’ll be able to stay in the United States while in the meantime, even if your student visa expires.
  • For green cards through marriage to a permanent resident: You’ll typically wait 29–38 months, but you’ll need another valid visa, such as an unexpired F-1, for the first 11–15 months.
  • For family-based green cards (other than for spouses and children of U.S. citizens): You might face a lengthy wait depending on your relationship to your sponsoring relative and home country

Whatever your plans, remember that immigration rules are constantly changing — and seldom in ways that benefit new immigrants. If you can, file your visa or green card application right away to avoid nasty surprises.

Trouble coming down the line

It’s important not only to understand your current visa but also to recognize that the U.S. immigration system is in flux — and many of the planned changes spell bad news even for immigrants with advanced degrees and vitally needed skills. 

The new public charge rule, for instance, will make it harder to get a green card if you’ve used public benefits and allows the U.S. government to deny your application if they suspect you’ll fall on hard times in the future. For STEM grads with solid job offers, that might not seem like a major concern, but the new rule will apply even to those on temporary visas, including H-1Bs, who wish to extend or change their immigration status. At the least, it’s a sign of how much harder the immigration process is getting.

The Trump administration is also targeting students with a new “unlawful presence” rule that imposes tough punishments for minor violations of student visa terms. Fortunately, the rule is tied up in court, but if it goes through, it could lead to lengthy bans on future work visas if you overstay on your student visa, work in ways that aren’t authorized, or otherwise fail to play by the rules.

Such changes underscore the importance of doing your own due diligence and not simply relying on your college or employer to steer you right. Figuring out your immigration options can feel overwhelming — but as the many thousands of foreign-born STEM graduates who’ve successfully built careers in the United States can tell you, it’s well worth the effort.

Get your pressing immigration questions answered

Have a question about the complex and shifting immigration process? Boundless can help. Please send your immigration-related questions to our resident immigration expert, Anjana Prasad, at ask.anjana@boundless.com. We will consider your question for a future column on the Boundless blog.


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After Epstein, it’s time for the Valley to find a moral view on capital – gpgmail


Is capital moral or amoral?

In the predominant view held in Silicon Valley today, capital is amoral — cash is cash, and regardless of where it comes from, once it leaves the hand of its investor or donor, it no longer has that individual’s taint. That money might have previously been spent on acquiring access to underage girls, or murder, or espionage, but now it is being spent on something productive, something useful. Isn’t that ultimately a net win for society?

That culture of fundraising is under an exacting microscope this week after the MIT Technology Review reported that Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the famed MIT Media Lab, would have continued to take convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s donations to the research center.

[… He] said he had recommended that [Joichi Ito, the lab’s current director] take Epstein’s money. “If you wind back the clock,” he added, “I would still say, ‘Take it.’” And he repeated, more emphatically, “‘Take it.’”

The comments, made during a meeting of the lab’s staff, shocked many of the participants, with some angrily replying in the heat of the moment. As the Review noted, “Kate Darling, a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab, shouted, ‘Nicholas, shut up!’ Negroponte responded that he would not shut up and that he had founded the Lab, to which Darling said, ‘We’ve been cleaning up your messes for the past eight years.’”

Epstein funded projects widely in the tech world through the Edge Foundation and other initiatives, and his acquaintances read like a who’s-who of tech luminaries.

Yet, this week’s controversy over fundraising is hardly novel. Just last year, SoftBank’s Vision Fund was dealing with the fallout in its own fundraising after Saudi Arabia — the fund’s largest limited partner with a $45 billion commitment to the $93 billion fund — murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate in Istanbul.

These two singular cases also connect to the larger story about the U.S. government’s active shutdown of Chinese venture capital dollars flowing into the Valley for fear of foreign intelligence espionage. Through the modernization of legal tools like CFIUS, to the Pentagon’s creation of a Trusted Capital Marketplace, to reversals of acquisitions like the unwinding of Chinese company Kunlun’s purchase of gay dating app Grindr, the government has repeatedly been telling entrepreneurs: it matters where your capital comes from.

Indeed, that’s the very quandary that Silicon Valley is facing these days. Its amoral view of capital is increasingly clashing with the reality that it matters a whole heck of a lot where that capital comes from. And it is about time that founders and investors take responsibility for cleaning up a capital base that has become more and more squalid over time.

Why can’t capital just be immoral? Well, Epstein’s web of donations provided him with a philanthropic sheen that eased access to the highest echelons of society while he committed his crimes. Saudi Arabia is the largest investor in Silicon Valley not only because it drives a return and diversifies its oil-dependent economy, but also because it can Valley-wash the horrific rights abuses and atrocities it commits against all of its citizens, including women, LGBT people, and immigrants.

(But hey, women can drive now, just in time for autonomous vehicles.)

This amoral versus moral view of capital is just the classic debate in philosophy between utilitarianism versus deontological duties, but Silicon Valley has almost exclusively chosen the former rather than the latter. My bank asks me more questions about my $50 deposits than many founders ask about where that $500 million check comes from.

That’s perhaps understandable in context. Founders — as with non-profit leaders — fundraise around-the-clock. When a check finally arrives, they don’t bother to ask a bunch of due diligence questions. They just want that money to hit the bank and get back to building what they were intending to the entire time.

It’s a mode of operating that continues to the present day. I was chatting with a founder this week, and during demo day last week, he got an emailed check for $50,000 from an investor in the audience. It was amazing, he said with exclamation points to me, and it sounded like he just added the check to the pile he had accumulated. Who is this person? Do we know where his capital comes from? Is there going to be some scandal that shocks the startup in a couple of years? Yet the excitement was palpable — the round was closed, and it was the easiest $50,000 ever fundraised.

Those diligence questions probably didn’t need to be asked a decade or two in the Valley, back when a few dozen firms mostly raised from blue-chip university and non-profit endowments as well as state pension funds.

Today though, there are all kinds of sources of capital, with little clarity about where the capital is coming from. Take, for instance, Carlos Ghosn, who once headed Nissan Motors and is currently on trial in Japan for a variety of financial crimes. He has been accused of embezzling millions of dollars for a VC fund run by his son by running a kickback scheme through a Nissan distributor in Lebanon. As the Wall Street Journal reported a little more than a week ago:

In March 2015, the Ghosns set up in Delaware an investment vehicle called Shogun Investments, which Mr. Ghosn described as a fund that would invest in Silicon Valley startups. Mr. Ghosn was majority owner while his son, Anthony, held a stake, according to people familiar with the matter. The younger Mr. Ghosn, who was about to graduate from Stanford University, was working at the time as chief of staff for Silicon Valley venture capitalist Joe Lonsdale, providing the elder Mr. Ghosn a close-up view of the tech investment world. The lofty returns had stunned him, according to one of the people.

That fund would go on to fund some of the most well-known unicorns in the world:

“Following our phone conversation, I ordered a transfer of $3 million,” Carlos Ghosn wrote in a December 2017 email to his son, who was 22 years old at the time.

Of that amount, $2 million was for an investment in Grab, a Southeast Asian competitor to Uber Technologies Inc., Mr. Ghosn wrote, adding that he was sending “$1 million for the company of your friend that you think will do very well.” It wasn’t clear which company Mr. Ghosn was referring to.

I would love a world in which founders asked all the right due diligence questions. I would love for them to inquire about limited partners, about how wealth was created, and how it has been invested. But I am also aware that in what can be a desperate search for funds, those questions may well never get asked in the first place.

If you want to stop the capital laundering taking place every day in the Valley, you have to create active, real-time antidotes. That means stopping it at every point of contact, every single opportunity where it can infect the ecosystem.

And so, we need better systems as a community and as an ecosystem to cleanse ourselves of this dirty money. We need “know-your-capital” processes that are standardized, robust, and accurate so that every check can be verified before it hits the bank. We need tools to verify that a startup or non-profit has actually followed those KYC processes, so that employees don’t suddenly show up at work and realize they are making money for a bunch of murderers. It’s “trust but verify.”

Systematization and process are key to execution, but that doesn’t disclaim the responsibility for the Valley’s leaders to take a moral stance here. Utilitarianism only takes you so far — it does matter that you take capital from a bad actor. Negroponte is wrong to say that he would still take Epstein’s money, regardless of what that capital might have funded at the MIT Media Lab.

Taking responsibility for your capital is part of being a leader of an organization today. Hopefully, the next generation of founders will take a look at Epstein, and Khashoggi, and China, and Ghosn, and the Sacklers, and a whole host of other case studies and learn from them and change their fundraising practices. A moral view on capital isn’t a cost of doing business — it’s simply the right thing to do.


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NY attorney general will lead antitrust investigation into Facebook – gpgmail


New York Attorney General Letitia James announced this morning that she’s leading an investigation into Facebook over antitrust issues — in other words, whether Facebook used its social media dominance to engage in anti-competitive behavior.

In a statement, James said:

Even the largest social media platform in the world must follow the law and respect consumers. I am proud to be leading a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in investigating whether Facebook has stifled competition and put users at risk. We will use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions may have endangered consumer data, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, or increased the price of advertising.

According to the announcement, that coalition includes the attorneys general of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and the District of Columbia.

Facebook already announced in June that it was facing an antitrust investigation from the Federal Trade Commission (separate from the privacy-related settlement with the FTC that it announced on the same day). It seems that most of the tech giants are facing antitrust scrutiny from the FTC and Department of Justice.

“People have multiple choices for every one of the services we provide,” Facebook’s vice president of state and local policy Will Castleberry said in a statement after the new investigation was announced. “We understand that if we stop innovating, people can easily leave our platform. This underscores the competition we face, not only in the US but around the globe. We will of course work constructively with state attorneys general and we welcome a conversation with policymakers about the competitive environment in which we operate.”


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