Dear Sophie: Can our employee travel on DACA?

​​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.”

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Dear Sophie,

My company wants to send one of its employees to India to open an office there. He came to the United States from India as a child on a visa, but he now has DACA status.

Can he take on this project and still be able to return to the United States? Will this impact his ability to renew DACA? Are there any other potential repercussions that we should keep in mind?

— Devoted to Dreamers

Dear Devoted,

I appreciate that you and your company are supporting Dreamers and providing peace of mind for your employee. My law partner, Anita Koumriqian, and I have worked with many Dreamers to help them obtain and renew DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) so they can attend university and work. Like other immigrants, Dreamers have to work harder to live the American dream, particularly since the DACA program has faced so many challenges in recent years, which Anita and I chatted about on my podcast.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Traveling abroad with Advance Parole

To answer your first question, your employee can travel to India to set up your office there only if he gets what’s called an “Advance Parole” document from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Since the U.S. ended its COVID-related travel restrictions from India this week, your employee could probably return to the United States with an approved Advance Parole document, complete COVID-19 vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test. You and your employee should know this comes with some risk.

For Advance Parole, your employee (who already has DACA) would have to file Form I-131 (Application for Travel Document) to USCIS and receive approval before he leaves for India. USCIS usually takes eight months or more these days to process travel document applications due to pandemic-related backlogs. Advance Parole is basically a travel document that allows DACA recipients living inside the United States to travel abroad temporarily for up to a year and seek to reenter the United States.

At its discretion, USCIS may grant Advance Parole for one of three reasons:

  • Educational purposes, such as academic research or a semester-long study abroad program.
  • Employment purposes, such as overseas projects, conferences, training, interviews or meeting with clients.
  • Humanitarian purposes, such as to receive medical treatment, visit an ailing relative or attend the funeral of a family member.

Based on our experience, DACA recipients requesting Advance Parole based on employment purposes tends to be more difficult to obtain. USCIS adjudicators seem to be more willing to approve Advance Parole based on humanitarian reasons.

Some things to keep in mind: Your employee should not leave the U.S. before USCIS issues the Advance Parole document, otherwise his departure from the U.S. will automatically terminate his DACA status, his application for Advance Parole will be considered abandoned and he will not be able to reenter the U.S. In addition, he must have a valid passport from his country of citizenship.

Is India’s BNPL 2.0 set to disrupt B2B?

Both as a term and as a financial product, “buy now, pay later” has become mainstream in the past few years. BNPL has evolved to assume various forms today, from small-ticket offerings by fintechs on consumer checkout platforms and marketplaces, to closed-loop products offered on marketplaces such as Amazon Pay Later (which they are now extending for outside use as well). You can also see some variants offered by companies that want to expand the scope of consumption and consumer credit.

Globally, BNPL has seen the most growth in the consumer segment and has driven retail consumption and lending over the past few years. Consumer BNPL offerings are a good alternative to credit cards, especially for people who do not have a credit history and can’t get credit from banks. That said, a specific vertical of BNPL products is gaining traction — one targeted toward small and medium enterprises (SMEs). This new vertical is known as “SME BNPL.”

BNPL can be particularly useful when flow-based underwriting or transaction-based underwriting is used to offer credit to small businesses.

B2B commerce in India is moving online

E-commerce has seen tremendous growth in India over the past decade. Skyrocketing smartphone and internet penetration led to rapid growth in e-commerce across large cities and smaller towns alike. Consumer credit has also taken off in parallel as credit cards and digital lending spurred credit-based consumption across offline and online stores.

However, the large B2B supply chain enabling the burgeoning retail market was plagued by bottlenecks and inefficiencies because it involved a plethora of intermediaries and streamlining became a big problem. A number of tech players responded by organizing the previously disorganized B2B commerce market at various touch points, inserting convenience, pricing and easier product access through tech-enabled logistics and a modern supply chain.

Online B2B and B2C penetration in India in 2019

Image Credits: Redseer

India’s B2B e-commerce space has developed rapidly since 2020. Small businesses have moved from using paper to smartphone apps for running a significant part of their day-to-day business, leading to widespread disruption in how businesses transact today. The COVID-19 pandemic also forced small businesses, which were earlier using physical means to procure goods and services, to try new and online models to conduct their affairs.

Graph depicting growth of India's B2B retail market

Image Credits: Redseer

Moreover, the Indian government’s widespread promotion of an instant payments system in the form of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has changed how people send money to each other or pay merchants for their goods and services. The next step for solving the digital B2B puzzle is to embed credit inside every transaction and invoice.

Investments in online B2B in india 2016-19

Image Credits: Redseer

If we compare online B2B transactions to the offline world, there is only one missing link: The terms offered to small businesses by their supplier/distributor or vendor. Businesses, unlike consumers, must buy goods and services to eventually trade them, or add value and sell to consumers or others down the value chain. This process is not immediate and has a certain time cycle attached.

The longer sales cycle means many small businesses require credit payment terms when buying inventory. As B2B commerce scales and grows through digital means, a BNPL product that caters to the needs of SMEs can support their growth and alleviate the burden on their cash flows.

How does consumer BNPL differ from SME BNPL?

An SME BNPL product is a purchase financing product for small businesses transacting with suppliers, distributors, aggregator platforms or B2B marketplaces.

India’s path to SaaS leadership is clear, but challenges remain

Software-as-a-Service is one of the most important sectors in tech today. While its transformative potential was quite clear before the pandemic, the sudden pivot to distributed workforces caused interest in SaaS products to skyrocket as medium and large enterprises embraced digital and remote sales processes, significantly expanding their utility.

This phenomenon is global, but India in particular has the opportunity to take its SaaS momentum to the next level. The Indian SaaS industry is projected to generate revenue of $50 billion to $70 billion and win 4%-6% of the global SaaS market by 2030, creating as much as $1 trillion in value, according to a report by SaaSBOOMi and McKinsey.

There are certain important long-term trends that are fueling this expansion.

The rise of Indian SaaS unicorns

The Indian SaaS community has seen a flurry of innovation and success. Entrepreneurs in India have founded about a thousand funded SaaS companies in the last few years, doubling the rate from five years ago and creating several unicorns in the process. Together, these companies generate $2 billion to $3 billion in total revenues and represent approximately 1% of the global SaaS market, according to SaaSBOOMi and McKinsey.

These firms are diverse in terms of the clients they serve and the problems they solve, but several garnered global attention during the pandemic by enabling flexibility for newly remote workers. Zoho helped streamline this pivot by providing sales teams with apps for collateral, videos and demos; Freshworks offered businesses a seamless customer experience platform, and Eka extended its cloud platform to unify workflows from procurement to payments for the CFO office.

Other SaaS firms stayed busy in other ways. Over the course of the pandemic, ten new unicorns emerged: Postman, Zenoti, Innovacer, Highradius, Chargebee and Browserstack, Mindtickle, Byju, UpGrad and Unacademy. There were also several instances of substantial venture funding, including a $150 million deal for Postman, bringing the total amount raised by the Indian SaaS community in 2020 to around $1.5 billion, four times the investment in 2018.

India’s path to leadership

While the Indian SaaS community has made admirable progress in recent years, there are several key growth drivers that could lead to as much as $1 trillion in revenue by 2030. They include:

The global pivot to digital go-to-market

The number of enterprises that are comfortable with assessing products and making business decisions via Zoom is increasing rapidly. This embrace of digital go-to-market fundamentally levels the playing field for Indian companies in terms of access to customers and end-markets.

Common mistakes Indian startups make when relocating to the US

When considering a move to the United States, Indian startup founders first need to make a mental pivot to face the market they want to sell into and ask themselves how much risk they are willing to own.

In the SaaS space, there are (broadly) two types of companies you can build. The first option is to create a better product than what is currently available on the market — like better accounting software or a CRM, or a better marketing automation tool, especially for the mid-market companies. This path is well-worn — Indian companies Zoho and Freshworks are leading examples.

The first mistake Indian entrepreneurs make when coming to America is to assume that a large market and a customer base open to novel products means your first step should be buying a plane ticket.

The second — and riskier — option is to build something in an entirely new category, which is what we’re doing at Talview, where we’re building a video AI platform for digitized talent processes for companies making hiring decisions. Creating a new market is a high-risk scenario lined with pitfalls disguised as opportunities, but the rewards are potentially immense.

The first type of company never has to leave India. You can start your company there, hire local talent and begin selling your high-quality remote services to midmarket businesses across the globe. The second option works best if you’re willing to target more advanced SaaS software markets in the U.S.

No game plan, just a product

The U.S. is the largest software market and where customers are more likely to try something new. However, the first mistake Indian entrepreneurs make when coming to America is to assume that a large market and a customer base open to novel products means your first step should be buying a plane ticket.

First: Which city will you choose? When entering a new market, founders are also the salesperson, so you need to be prepared to meet customers or investors and get that early traction before you decide to move your operations to the U.S. full time.