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The team at Korinver, an El Salvadorian company that is helping provide engineering interns visiting Seattle. CEO Mauricio Quevedo is far left. (Korinver Photo)

The U.S. is a nation divided over the issue of immigration. But Jason Greer, president of the software engineering company General UI, knows a better way.

He is the co-founder of Int2, a program in partnership with a tech company based in El Salvador that brings newly trained engineers to Seattle for a one-year paid internship where they work alongside professional developers. The interns commit to returning to their native country for at least two years to work and share some of their knowledge with others.

The goal is to create a true partnership that benefits both nations — as well as the engineers.

“It’s not like we’re pulling the best people from that area and keeping them in the U.S.,” Greer said.

Americans are grappling with anti-immigrant sentiments, and the Trump administration has taken numerous steps to regulate and curb immigration. On April 1, new rules go into effect for H-1B visas, which tech companies use to hire tens of thousands of skilled overseas workers. The intent of the changes, says the administration, is to select immigrants on a more merit-based approach.

Jason Greer, president of General UI, presenting the Int2 program at the Seattle International Foundation’s Central America Donors Forum in October 2018 in El Salvador. (Photo courtesy of Jason Greer)

The Int2 program, which stands for “int-squared” or “international internships,” uses a different J-1 visa specific to interns.

“The Trump administration has made it harder [to get the visas],” Greer said, “but the law is the law, so we’re still able to get done what we get done. But it takes a lot more effort.”

Greer launched the training program in 2013 after meeting Mauricio Quevedo, CEO of Korinver, an El Salvadorian software development company. Quevedo was at the University of Washington on a fellowship and the two had the chance to work together during that time.

Since launching, Int2 has sent 11 interns to Seattle. Most have trained at General UI, a 50-employee company that builds software for other businesses. A few have worked at Tune, a mobile marketing company, or Changepoint, which provides management services. In 2017, Int2 added a software company in Germany to its training roster. Some of the Int2 graduates have continued working for General UI and Changepoint as contractors based in El Salvador.

Greer marveled at the level of engagement from the interns during their time in Seattle.

“Having people who are absolutely committed to who we are as General UI, giving everything they’ve got is something that is pretty unparalleled,” he said.

The densely populated Central American country of El Salvador has 6.3 million citizens and struggles with high homicide rates and gang violence. While the internship only reaches a handful of individuals, those few can touch many other lives back home, amplifying the benefit.

“People can see there are opportunities,” Quevedo said in a phone interview from Korinver’s offices. “They come back and share what they are learning.”

Carlos Alvarado participated in the program and is now a general manager for Korinver, working remotely full time for General UI.

“After my return in September 2016, I developed my career in the industry with my particular interest to scale and open more opportunities for young developers in El Salvador,” Alvarado said by email.

Carlos Alvarado (left) was an intern with Int2 and now works remotely for General UI. Mauricio Quevedo is CEO of Korinver and co-founder of the internship. (Korinver Photo)

That included launching an intensive engineering course called ReactJS Bootcamp San Salvador. The morning program ran for 20 days, taught by Alvarado and two other Int2 grads. It went so well that Korinver used it as a model for preparing students for Int2 internships. Int2 inspired an additional program run by Quevedo and a former intern, which received a grant to train 50 women developers.

Greer and Quevedo would love for more companies to participate in Int2 to expand the number of interns. There’s no shortage of talented engineers coming out of El Salvador, they agreed, and only 5 percent of applicants are accepted into the program.

As well as getting access to talented labor, the program provides a shot of diversity that many tech companies say they’re striving for. Businesses increasingly appreciate that being able to tap different perspectives leads to better products.

“Because of this program we’re not the same company,” Greer said. “Selfishly for our company, we have this sort of cultural connection.”

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