The British CEO of Pipe, a startup that’s reached a $2 billion valuation in less than a year, says he’s locked out of the US because of a crisis-level backlog in immigration processing

Harry Hurst, cofounder and co-CEO of Pipe.

  • Pipe co-CEO Harry Hurst says he’s “banned” from the US until his visa is renewed.
  • He cited a “broken” immigration system that’s hamstrung by a backlog of visa applications.
  • Hurst says placing his fate in the hands of a stranger to review his application is “terrifying.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Harry Hurst, the British cofounder of one of the most promising startups of the year, says he won’t return to his company’s offices in Miami because he’s unable to renew his visa, citing a “broken” US immigration system.

“I’m banned from entering the US until next year. Yep, it sucks,” Hurst tweeted, adding that the system needs reform.

Pipe isn’t even two years old, but it’s already joined the upper echelons of startups. Its valuation is $2 billion, double the threshold for unicorn status, and the fintech has raised $260 million across three rounds so far this year, by Insider’s count. Pipe is continuing a wider trend of increased funding for fintechs as its business model takes off.

Originally from England, Hurst went home for a few weeks so he could stop at the embassy in London and get a visa stamped into his passport, the cofounder said in a tweet thread on Monday morning. He’s done it before.

In past years, this visit was “merely procedural,” Hurst said. This time, he found out that he couldn’t get an embassy appointment until next year, he said, because their offices are facing a crisis-level backlog of application processing.

The embassy told him it was “understaffed,” Hurst said, and that he doesn’t qualify for an “emergency” appointment.

Hurst is one of many foreign-born founders who want to grow their startups stateside but have no legal path to do so.

There’s no visa type for entrepreneurs, and instead, they have to build a legal case to show they qualify for another work visa, Insider’s reporting has showed. They might enter on a visa that’s typically used by employees of large global corporations to transfer to a US subsidiary, or add a cofounder who has the legal status to sponsor an H-1B visa.

Hurst had an O-1 visa, which is used by individuals with “extraordinary ability” – another loophole for entrepreneurs.

“The fact someone anonymous who doesn’t know you reads a 300 page application you put together every 3 years and then singehandedly decides your fate is terrifying,” Hurst tweeted, adding that the process fills him with anxiety.

The agency that oversees the issuance of visas has recorded an overall increase in application processing times, even though the number of visa applicants fell while Donald Trump was president, according to USCIS data. The backlog is a result of that administration’s chokehold on legal immigration, although it worsened in the pandemic lockdowns.

Hurst first arrived in the country seven years ago, when he was starting an on-demand car-rental service called Skurt. He said he’s employed hundreds of people and provided contracts to thousands of Americans across his two ventures.

“America has afforded me opportunities I would never have had in the UK and for that I’m eternally grateful,” he said.

“But why is this happening?”

A Pipe representative told Insider that Hurst is unable to return to the company’s offices for even a day until his visa is renewed. He will continue to work remotely, with Pipe’s offices based in Miami’s hip Wynwood neighborhood.

Insider is creating a list of the top immigration attorneys who work with venture-backed startups. Please submit your nominations by clicking here.

Are you a startups insider with insight to share? Contact Melia Russell via email at [email protected] or on Signal at (603) 913-3085. Open DMs on Twitter @meliarobin.



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