Dear Sophie: Can I still get a green card given COVID-19, layoffs and recent H-1B changes?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie:

I was recently laid off but found another position at a growing biotech company. My new employer just submitted the H-1B petition before the end of my grace period. I would like to stay permanently in the United States. How long do I have to apply for a green card?

If my employer isn’t willing to sponsor me, I heard I can self-petition for an EB-1A or EB-2 NIW green card?

—Hopeful in Hayward

Dear Hopeful:

Congrats on your new job offer and H-1B transfer. Many companies are hiring talented individuals right now. Every company has the right to their own immigration sponsorship policy, so it can be worthwhile to discuss this going into your new role to make sure that everybody’s on the same page as to how things can unfold with respect to your green card.

Cowboy VC’s Aileen Lee: Your coronavirus scenario planning should be more conservative

The tech industry (and the world at large) is not experiencing temporary anxiety — the uncertainty we’re all coping with is the new normal.

Sudden shifts in behavior have made some startups targeting slow-moving, old-school industries more relevant than they could have imagined, such as those in telehealth, distance learning and remote work. Most, however are seeing massive decreases in revenue, forcing them to cut costs and even lay off teams to slash burn rates. Other startups simply won’t be here in three to six months.

Cowboy Ventures founder and managing partner Aileen Lee, who coined the term “unicorn,” says tech companies going through scenario planning need to begin thinking long-term.

“We’ve spent the last month scenario planning with our portfolio companies, and in most cases, we’ll have conversations about what these scenarios can include,” said Lee. “And when we look at the planning around those scenarios, they often don’t feel conservative enough. Most entrepreneurs are optimists, and we are, too! But it seems safer to have more conservative plans [and start expecting] that this is going to impact us for longer and be worse than we expected.”

Lee and Cowboy Ventures partner Ted Wang joined TechCrunch on Tuesday for our first episode of Extra Crunch Live, a virtual speaker series for Extra Crunch members. In a live Q&A that included questions from myself and the Extra Crunch audience, Wang and Lee covered a wide range of topics, including PPP loans, advice for business leaders around layoffs, the right time to seek funding and the right firms from which to seek that funding, how to pitch during a downturn and which sectors in particular Cowboy is interested in financing right now.

You can check out the best insights from the call, or catch up on the full conversation via the YouTube embed below.

We have several outstanding guests, including Charles Hudson, Mitch and Freada Kapor, Mark Cuban, Roelof Botha, Hunter Walk and Kirsten Green, joining us on Extra Crunch Live over the next few weeks. Sign up for Extra Crunch to get access to all of them.

FutureLearn takes $65M from Seek Group for 50% stake in UK online degree platform

Edtech and recruitment continue to converge. London-based online degree platform, FutureLearn, is taking £50 million (~$64.6M) from Australian-based online job matching group, Seek, in exchange for a 50 per cent stake in the business — just days after the same group led a massive Series E in U.S. online learning giant Coursera.

U.K. distance learning veteran, the Open University — which had wholly owned the FutureLearn platform up til now — retains a 50 per cent stake in the business following the Seek Group investment.

In a press release announcing the news, FutureLearn said the investment values it at £100M ($129M) — some six years after the initiative was first announced, with the OU bringing together a consortium of U.K. universities to attack the MOOCs/online learning space which was then being rapidly expanded by U.S. edtech startups. 

“Our partnership with Seek and the investment in FutureLearn will take our unique mission to make education open for all into new parts of the world. Education improves lives, communities and economies and is a truly global product, with no tariffs on ideas,” said OU vice chancellor Mary Kellett in a statement on the investment.

The joint venture will have “contractual arrangements” to protect its academic independence, teaching methods and curriculum, the OU added — in an attempt to assuage concerns about an (overly) commercially minded takeover of its fledgling digital education platform.

The first FutureLearn courses launched in fall 2013. Since then a cumulative total of nine million+ people have signed up to learn via its platform — which now offers around 2,000 courses in all.

This includes short courses; postgraduate diplomas and certificates; all the way up to fully online degrees. (FutureLearn partners with six U.K. universities on the full degree courses at this stage.)

FutureLearn also has partnerships with management consultancy firm Accenture; the British Council; the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development; learn-to-code foundation Raspberry Pi; and Health Education England (part of the UK’s National Health Service); and is involved in U.K. government-backed initiatives to address skills gaps — including The Institute of Coding and the National Centre for Computing Education.

Last fall the Financial Times reported that the OU was looking for a £40M capital injection for FutureLearn to fund more courses and better compete with the scale of U.S. edtech giants — like Coursera and

It’s not clear how many more courses FutureLearn plans to add with its new partner on board; a spokesperson told us it is not able to provide a figure at this stage.

For a little comparative context, some 40M people have taken online classes via Coursera to date — with that platform currently offering some 3,200 courses, and partnering with the likes of Columbia University, Johns Hopkins and the University of Michigan. While Coursera’s $103M in Series E reportedly valued its business at well over a $1BN, with Seek coming on board as a strategic investor. 

The shared investor is an interesting but perhaps not surprising development given the different markets involved, and the challenging of monetizing free-to-access courses without massive scale — suggesting the Seek group, which is already well established across Australia, New Zealand, China, South East Asia, Brazil and Mexico — sees more opportunities from strengthening regional online learning platform plays in Europe and the U.S., to grow the overall online learning pipe and expand adjacent cross-marketing options in employment/job matching.

Last week, when its strategic investment in Coursera was announced, the Seek group talked effusively about how edtech platforms enabling up-skilling and re-skilling are “aligned” with its employment-focused business mission. (Or “our purpose of helping people live fulfilling working lives”, as it put it.)

The FutureLearn partnership provides Seek with access to another pool of potential job seekers — including  actively engaged learners in the UK/Europe — to further grow the geographical reach of its recruitment platform.

Commenting on the investment in a statement, Seek co-founder and CEO Andrew Bassat said: “Technology is increasing the accessibility of quality education and can help millions of people up-skill and re-skill to adapt to rapidly changing labour markets. We see FutureLearn as a key enabler for education at scale.”

“FutureLearn’s reputation is strong and it has attracted leading education providers onto its platform. We are excited to come on as a partner with The Open University,” he added.

FutureLearn’s CEO Simon Nelson said the joint venture will allow the learning platform to extend its global reach and impact.

“This investment allows us to focus on developing more great courses and qualifications that both learners and employers will value,” he said in a statement. “This includes building a portfolio of micro-credentials and broadening our range of flexible, fully online degrees and being able to enhance support for our growing number of international partners to empower them to build credible digital strategies, and in doing so, transform access to education.”