How to Start a Business & Earn a Visa at the Same Time

Ah the American Dream – to open up a business. Foreign-based entrepreneurs have a few options here. Let’s go over them:

If you have experience running businesses successfully, you may qualify for an O-1 visa. The 0-1 visa is for “individuals with extraordinary ability.” These are usually used by athletes (think Rory McIlroy) or performers (think Adele), but business is a qualifying category too! So, if you can show that you have extraordinary ability running a business, you may qualify for an 0-1. You would then be able to run your startup in the US. This would probably be the least complicated process, but there are other ways if you don’t qualify.

An H-1B visa is another option that would let you work for your company, but you would need an employer to sponsor you, meaning you would need to be an employee of your company and own less than 50%. This may be a good option if you can raise your salary in exchange for less equity. Or, if you already own less than 50%. The problem here is that the employer relationship requirement may not be ideal in some situations. On the other hand, it may not be a big deal in other situations. For example, you could still be the CEO and have significant control if you simply have a board of directors above you.

Also, consider an E-2 visa. This nonimmigrant visa allows a non-U.S. citizen who controls a substantial investment to work inside the country. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires an E-2 visa applicant to submit extensive documentation to prove their investment in a bona fide enterprise. To be eligible for an E-2 investor visa, the applicant must be from a treaty investor country that has reciprocity with the U.S. A minimum investment of $100,000 is typically required, although investments in smaller amounts have been approved in the past. The investor must also prove that he or she will have an active role in the company and show that the investment will generate enough income to support a minimal living.

Similar, but much different, is the EB-5 visa. The EB-5 is another investment visa, but this one is permanent while the E2 is temporary. Because of the permanence, the requirements are a little harder to meet: 1) the amount invested must be greater than $1 million (although in special situations this can be lowered to $500K if the company runs in a rural area) and 2) the investment must create or preserve at least 10 full-time jobs for US workers. Unlike an E-2 visa though, there are no restrictions for what country you come from.

L-1 visa may be an option too. An L-1 is a non-immigrant visa generally available to executives and managers of a company with offices in both the applicant’s country and the U.S. It requires the employee, referred to as an “intracompany transferee,” to have worked in the foreign office for at least one year within three years prior to application. The L-1 visa may also be used to open a new U.S. office.

Whether you qualify will depend on many different factors and for that reason you should speak with an immigration attorney before going forward!

 

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