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US Visa Options for Foreign Entrepreneurs

Written By The Shapiro Law Group on September 10, 2015

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 400,000 new businesses are started annually in the United States. If you’re a foreign citizen who is interested in launching a new business in the United States, a corporate immigration lawyer can help you obtain an immigrant visa to the United States. For foreign entrepreneurs who are interested in exploring new business options in the United States, but not permanently move to the country, an immigration attorney can work to help you secure a non-immigrant visa to the United States.

Immigrant Visa Options for Foreign Entrepreneurs

An immigrant visa is intended for individuals who want to permanently relocate to the United States. There are several immigrant visa options for foreign entrepreneurs:

  • EB-1 Extraordinary Ability: Individuals who are among the tops in their fields in the areas of the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, and who intended to continue working in that field, are eligible for EB-1 visas. Individuals may self-petition for an EB-1 visa, meaning they do not need a corporate sponsor or job lined up in the United States.
  • EB-2 Classification and National Interest Waiver: There are two types of EB-2 visa. One type is available to professionals with advanced degrees and the other type is available to individuals who have exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business. The EB-2 visa typically requires an individual to have a job offer from an employer and a labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor. However, if it is in the national interest for a foreign entrepreneurs to come to the United States, then the individual can self-petition and ask to be exempted from the job offer and labor certification requirements.

Non-Immigrant Visa Options for Foreign Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs who want to come to the United States for a finite period of time — but not permanently emigrate to the country — will want to explore non-immigrant visa options. There are six types of non-immigrant visas that are primarily used by foreign entrepreneurs:

  • B-1 Visitor Visa: Entrepreneurs coming to the United States to set up a new business or open a U.S. office for their foreign-based companies should enter the country on a B-1 visa. The visa is valid for a stay of up to six months; extensions are possible.
  • F-1/OPT Optional Practical Training Visa: Foreign students in the United States on F-1 visas can receive a work authorization for up to 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT). This is ideal for F-1 students who intend to start new businesses in their areas of study. If the student pursues a second, higher level post-graduate degree in the United States, he or she can receive another 12-month OPT work authorization. If the student has a qualifying science, technology, engineering or mathematics degree, he or she may be eligible for a 17-month extension of the initial OPT work authorization.
  • H-1B Specialty Occupation Visa: If you have at least a bachelor’s degree and intend to start a business in a related occupation that typically requires at least a bachelor’s degree, then you may be eligible for an H1-B visa. The visa is typically valid for three years with a possible three-year extension.
  • O-1A Extraordinary Ability and Achievement Visa: The O-1A visa is available to entrepreneurs who have demonstrated an extraordinary ability and achievement in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, and who are coming to the United States to start a business in their field. The visa is typically valid for three years and one-year extensions may be available.
  • E-2 Treaty Investor Visa: Individuals who are citizens of treaty countries and are coming to the United States to invest money in an exist business or start up a new business can petition for E-2 visas, which are valid for two years, with two-year extensions available.
  • L-1 Intracompany Transferee Visa: If you are an entrepreneur who owns a company based outside the United States and you do not hail from a treaty country, then the L-1 visa would enable you to come to the United States to open a branch or subsidiary. Your existing business must be capable of continuing to operate in your absence. The visa is valid for one year (if you’re opening a new office) or three years. Two-year extensions are available, with a maximum stay of five years for specialized knowledge workers and seven years for managers and executives.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of immigrant and non-immigrant visa, and foreign entrepreneurs should consult with a corporate immigration lawyer before deciding which type of visa to pursue. For a free consultation with the corporate immigration attorneys at The Shapiro Law Group, contact us today at (847) 564-0712.