Offshore Offices to Work Around Visa System

In an effort to circumvent U.S. immigration laws while drawing attention to the need for immigration reform, a start-up company called Blueseed is developing an ambitious and unusual project: It aims to purchase or lease a ship that will be anchored in international waters off the California coast and serve as a “floating incubator” for immigrant-founded tech companies that want to do business in Silicon Valley.

Under the Blueseed model, businesses would rent office space on the ship, which would be anchored about 12 miles west of Half Moon Bay. Frequent ferry service would be provided to the mainland, allowing the shipboard entrepreneurs to do business in Silicon Valley without having to obtain an H1-B visa, which can be difficult to acquire due to annual caps. Instead, residents of the ship would each secure a B-1 visa, which are easier to get than H1-Bs, are valid up to 10 years, and allow entrance to the United States for purposes of business.

The unconventional arrangement could potentially run afoul of immigration authorities, but speaking to Ars Technica about the Blueseed participants, an immigration law expert said, “I think they’ll become the poster child to demonstrate what’s wrong with the system.” This would potentially make it difficult for immigration officers to turn away the Blueseed businessmen when they try to come ashore.

Blueseed plans to launch in 2013, according to its website. One of the company’s founders, Max Marty, told Ars Technica that rents on the ship will likely run between $1,200 and $3,000 per month, to be competitive with rents for Silicon Valley real estate. Marty said a number of international companies have expressed interest in participating.

Prominent public figures, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, have recently called on the U.S. government to increase business visas to stimulate economic growth. In June, Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren of California introduced a “green cards for grads” bill, which would extend legal residency to certain international students who graduate from science, math, technology and engineering programs at U.S. universities.