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What Are Some Options for Startup Founders Needing Immigrant Visas?

There’s a few visa options you can pursue depending on your circumstances:

L-1 Intracompany Transferee Visa
This non-immigrant visa is generally available to executives and managers of a company with offices in the applicant’s country and in the U.S. It requires the employee to have worked in the foreign office for at least one year within three years prior to application. The L-1 visa is also used to open a new U.S. office. A related, but different, visa is the L-1B which is designed to accommodate individuals who are not managers or executives, but who have specialized knowledge.

H-1B Specialty Occupation Visa
Also a non-immigrant visa, the H-1B is generally available to a company’s employees. The USCIS requires compliance with a lengthy list of qualifications including USCIS-issues labor certifications. The number of these visas is also limited. Essentially, this visa allows U.S. employers to temporarily hire foreign workers in specialty occupations.

A “specialty occupation” is defined as one that requires theoretical and practical application of highly specialized knowledge in a field such as biotechnology, chemistry, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, law, accounting, business specialties, theology, and the arts. It further requires a minimum educational level of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. Similarly, if a license is required to practice in the worker’s particular field (e.g., professional engineer) then the worker must also obtain the required state license.

O-1 Extraordinary Ability and Achievement Visa
This non-immigrant option is available to individuals with exceptional abilities in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. The chief classifications are:

  • O-1A: Individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics (excluding the arts, motion pictures or television industry)
  • O-1B: Individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry
  • O-2: Individuals who will accompany an O-1 artist or athlete to assist in a specific event or performance
  • O-3: Individuals who are the spouse or children of O-1’s and O-2’s

F-1 / Optional Practical Training (OPT)
An F-1 student is eligible for a work authorization after completing their first full academic year. An F-1 student who qualifies for a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degree is eligible for a 24-month extension after completing graduate studies. 
Any off-campus employment after the first academic year must be related to the area of study and be authorized by the designated school official and by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) prior to starting any work.

EB-1 Extraordinary Ability Visa
An EB-1 visa is used to obtain employment-based permanent residency. It is generally intended for “priority workers” who are identified as foreign workers with “extraordinary abilities.” This classification usually consists of senior executives and managers who are transferred to the U.S. and those who qualify as “outstanding professors or researchers.”

EB-2 Advanced Degree Professional and Exceptional Ability Immigrant Visas

These visas generally require proof of a job offer from an employer and a DOL labor certification. EB-2 visas occasionally are granted to individuals who are seeking to waive the DOL labor certification. Specifically, subsection (C) does not require an applicant to have an employer. An advanced degree (masters and higher) or an exceptional ability in your field are required in addition to showing that the defined exceptional ability is in the national interest of the U.S.

After you have a general idea of where you fit, a good next step is to consult with an immigration attorney to discuss timeline/process/likelihood of success.

Have more questions? Feel free to visit LawTrades.