The United States of America has a strong and proud history of inviting immigrants to its shores, especially those with little more than a business idea and a dream of success. In fact, research has discovered that more than 50% of private startups in the US valued at $1 million or higher were founded by foreign entrepreneurs. While politics-as-usual has made it overall more difficult to get a US startup visa or a US entrepreneur visa, there are still ways to get your foot in the door. Here are some great options.
Decide the Type of Visa You’re Going to Need
The United States offers a plethora of visa types, each with a number of different restrictions and requirements. As your first step in running a business in the United States, you’ll need to determine exactly which type of visa suits you best. While the full list of visas can be found on the US Department of State website, there are eight types of visas that are particularly good for entrepreneurs:
This visa, also called the Immigrant Investor Program, lets you become a lawful permanent resident of the United States if you invest $1 million in a US business. Alternatively, if that business is in a rural area, you can obtain the visa with a $500,000 minimum investment. While the benefit of this type of visa is that it doesn’t require you to have an employer or any particular educational background, the downside, of course, is that it’s difficult to obtain the required funds.
While the price of investment in the EB-5 visa is too steep for most, you can obtain the E-2 investor visa if you invest at least $100,000 in a business you open in the US. This visa isn’t open to everyone though; to be eligible, your home country needs to be on the list of treaty investors.
EB-2 (C) Visa
If you’re exceptionally talented but don’t have much cash to invest, the EB-2 (C) visa could be a good option. While this visa is considered an employment visa, it doesn’t require you to have an employer. Instead, it requires that you have either a high level of education–a Master’s degree or above–or immense talent in your field. The catch, though, is that even with this level of talent and education, you still need to prove that granting you the visa is in the national interest of the United States.
This is another visa for the exceptionally talented. Unlike the EB-2 (C) immigrant visa, the O-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa. That means that while it allows you to legally live and work in the US if you have extraordinary talents or achievements, it doesn’t guarantee you a green card. While you can apply to an O-1 visa if you’re at the top of your field in sciences, the arts, and more, as an entrepreneur you’ll probably want to apply as someone with proven talent in the field of business. You’ll need to find a US employer to sponsor you if you want to apply for this type of visa.
If you’re from Australia, this may be the visa for you. The E-3 visa is granted only to professionals from Australia in certain specialty occupations. While you need to do further research into your specific profession to determine whether it qualifies for this visa, US Citizenship and Immigration Services notes that the occupation should be one that “requires theoretical and practical application of a body of knowledge in professional fields and at least the attainment of a bachelor’s degree, or its equivalent.”
There are two types of L-1 visas: the L-1A and the L-1B. To be eligible for the L-1A visa, you have to be a company executive or top manager with offices in the US as well as abroad. You also will have had to work at both the US and overseas office, with at least one full year of working at the latter. Even if your company doesn’t yet have a US location, you can fulfill this requirement if you open a US office yourself.
The second type of L1 visa, the L-1B visa, doesn’t require you to be an executive or top manager, but it does require you to have relevant specialized knowledge. Furthermore, the L-1B visa can only be obtained if you’re transferring from your company’s foreign office to the US office of the same company.
If you’re a regular employee rather than a top executive or an exceptionally talented entrepreneur, you can apply for the H-1B visa. Just be aware that this visa does have a cap on the number of recipients, so being eligible for this visa doesn’t guarantee that you’ll receive it.
While the B-1 visa is a short-term business visa, it can be used to your advantage. Though it doesn’t grant stays in the country for more than 6 months, it can be extended to total up to a year. The B-1 visa probably won’t be your first choice, as it doesn’t allow you to legally work in the country. Nonetheless, obtaining this visa can be beneficial in letting you network and make business connections in the US Making these connections, after all, could facilitate your efforts to obtain long-term work visas.
Work Through Your Embassy or Consulate
Because you’re going to be working closely with US government agencies in order to secure a US startup visa or entrepreneur visa, your first stop should always be the US embassy or consulate in your home country. Begin by contacting them via email or telephone if it’s not convenient for you to just stop in. Most likely, you’ll likely have to schedule an appointment with an expert in securing work visas for the US. It’s their job to answer questions about the process, so be sure to use this valuable resource.
Use a Third-Party Service for a US Startup Visa
There are several third-party services, both in the US and abroad, that interested entrepreneurs can take advantage of if they’ve run into problems navigating the US visa process. Many of these companies do charge fees to work on your behalf, however, and there’s never a guarantee that their work will result in securing that all-important visa. Nonetheless, using their services often is still better than trying to go it alone without any support structure, as these companies employ experts on the legalities of negotiating visas.
Take Advantage of Higher Education Programs for Entrepreneurs
Thanks to a pilot scheme begun in 2014 in Massachusetts known as the Global Entrepreneur in Residence Program, there are ways to gain entry to the United States through institutions of higher education. The program has since spread to five other US states because of its success. While these aren’t strictly visa programs, they’re worth mentioning because they’re a direct response to how difficult it can be to secure a visa for startups and entrepreneurs. Higher education has always been a path to US residence, so this is simply a natural progression to attract entrepreneurs and startups to America as well as gifted students.
Keep an Eye on the International Entrepreneur Rule
Created by the Obama Administration, the International Entrepreneur Rule is a piece of US federal policy that was specifically designed to fast-track startups created by non-US entrepreneurs to be founded on US soil. Originally intended to go into effect in 2017, the implementation of this rule has been pushed to 2018, and with the current American political landscape, this could be pushed back even further. However, keeping an eye on the rule’s status could help you make use of it once it goes into effect.
As much as we don’t want to steer you away from the United States altogether, we need to be honest – the Trump Administration is certainly problematic when it comes to immigration and granting visas. A possible workaround for this may be to instead consider looking into securing a visa for Canada and then using the close proximity to the US as a method for making trips into the country for networking purposes. It’s certainly not ideal, but it’s something to think about as a last resort.
A Final Word: Keep the Faith
If you’re desperate to find a way to work legally in the United States but you feel as if you’ve exhausted your options, don’t give up. Administrations come and go. Political landscapes shift and change all the time. Remaining patient could see immigration and visa rules and regulations change with the times, resulting in it becoming easier to get into the country in order to start your own company.
It’s true that it’s never going to be easy obtaining a US startup visa or a US entrepreneur visa. It’s also never going to be simple. But it’s not impossible. Following the avenues we’ve pointed out above might just lead you to the success you’re seeking.