Entrepreneurs looking to launch their start-ups in the U.S. have a few options when obtaining a visa. There are three main work visas available, some more accessible than others.
A lawyer can help you through the process of obtaining a visa, but it’s important to have a basic understanding of your options.
The H1B is the standard professional visa, but only 65,000 are issued per year. Applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree. Applications may only be submitted from April 1 of the year, and if approved, you may only begin work starting from October of that year.
Entrepreneurs may have some difficulty obtaining this type of visa, as it is really designed for established companies looking to hire foreign talent. If your start-up has no customers, funding or revenue, this may be a problem when applying. Another issue is that you cannot be in control of the company, as this will appear to be self-petitioning. As such, you will need to state that your board or investors hired you.
If approved, the H1B visa is initially valid for three years. It can be renewed for a maximum of six years.
An E2 visa may be issued to nationals of treaty countries for the purpose of developing and managing a business they have vested interest in. To qualify, the applicant must have invested or plans to invest a substantial amount of capital in the U.S.
The amount of money needed to invest will depend on the type of business, but it does need to be a substantial amount (tens of thousands of dollars).
The benefits of an E2 are that they can be renewed indefinitely and spouses are also eligible for the work visa.
The purpose of the L1 visa, which allows intra-company transfers, is to bring employees with key knowledge to the United States.
“The L work visa category allows multinational companies to transfer overseas employees to the United States,” says The Shapiro Law Group, a firm that specializes in immigration law. “These employees may be transferred to the United States on an L work visa if the employee has been employed outside of the United States by the U.S. employer’s subsidiary, parent company or corporate affiliate.”
To qualify, the applicant must have been employed by the company outside of the United States in an executive or management capacity for a minimum of one year within the last three years. The applicant must also be transferring to a managerial position upon relocating to the U.S.
An L1 visa may be challenging for an entrepreneur to obtain, as it is designed primarily for established companies. Renewal may also be complicated if the company failed to expand within the first year of operation.
The U.S. also has specialized work visas for workers in Chile, Singapore and Australia. Additionally, the O1 visa may be obtained by those who can demonstrate extraordinary ability in at least three of the categories they consider.
While it is possible for an entrepreneur to obtain any of these work visas, the E2 is the closest thing to a “start-up” visa that you’ll find in the United States.