Arjun Goyal, a 33-year-old year old physician, realized his long-term ambitions early. As an undergraduate in his native Australia, he enrolled in medical school at the University of Melbourne, choosing to do a double major in French. Partway through his undergraduate career he had the opportunity to do work at a lab in the United Kingdom that was working on commercializing a potential vaccine for malaria. He was quickly hooked. “Being in the drug development field, your impact is not just on one person or several people — it’s a quantum leap of that,” Goyal says. “I found that very attractive and incredibly exciting.”
In the following years, Goyal began to more deeply explore the intersection between biomedical research and entrepreneurship. During a stint in the United Kingdom, he enrolled at the University of Cambridge to pursue a degree in bioscience enterprise. He also started a company, Foresight Pharmaceuticals, which aimed to commercialize the promising research of Professor Roger Short who greatly influenced Goyal as an undergraduate. A key focus of Foresight’s work was finding treatments for sexually transmitted diseases, most notably HIV. During his time there, Goyal co-patented a product designed to decrease HIV transmission. “It was an incredibly instructive experience for me working on our company,” Goyal says. “Our firm was also really promising, earning a decent amount of investment and outside interest.” Ultimately, the firm was successful enough that a large pharmaceutical company licensed their drug and is now working on bringing it to market.
After all his successes, Goyal was very excited when, in 2012, he was given the opportunity to enroll as a Kaplan Life Sciences fellow at Harvard Business School. His time there gave him access to a powerful network, as well as mentors who made him even more confident that he was pursuing the right professional goals. Goyal today says his dream is to remain in Boston, a worldwide hub of medical entrepreneurship. “Back home, we have great science, but we don’t have the same access to investment capital and risk tolerance you find in a place like America,” Goyal says. “If you are young, ambitious, and entrepreneurial, there really is no better place in the world to be.”
Despite his plans to remain in America and become a U.S. citizen, however, Goyal knows it won’t be easy. Goyal currently works at a venture capital firm in Boston that focuses on life sciences companies — a role that has allowed him to work on promising drugs and ideas originating out of top labs across the country. This year, Goyal’s Optional Practical Training visa, which allows him to work after graduation, will run out, and his firm is in the process of applying for a high-skilled H-1B visa. The chances of getting the visa this year, however, will likely be less than 50 percent. If he is unable to get it, Goyal will have to remain in the country on a special E3 visa for Australian citizens, an option that doesn’t put him any closer to earning his citizenship.
In a field like the one Goyal has chosen, where some research funding is only available to U.S. citizens with security clearances, a drawn out citizenship process can have real costs. It’s also a frustration. “I want to stay in America and really give myself a shot at building something valuable here,” Goyal says. “It’s always hard to understand why the visa system makes that so difficult.”