VISAs for International Founders Doing Startups in U.S.

Hello there foreigners and immigrants. Yeah that’s you (and me).

Today, I’m going to save you few bucks from expensive consulting fees with the immigration lawyers. Sadly, below does not cover the details, but will give you an idea of which route you can take.

There are five VISA types for international founders/entrepreneurs entering the U.S.: L1, E2, EB5, H1B, O

Let’s go through each of them briefly below:

1. L1

  1. For whom? Expats(execs, managers, specialists) working at US Entity (with minimum of 1 year employment history at the foreign company)
  2. Duration & Extension 3 yrs + 3 yrs (+ 1 yr for execs/managers) (total 6 ~ 7 yrs max)
  3. Difficulty Depends on the company (must show that it will survive, easier with $1M+ previous funding)
  4. Quota Any time (get the result in 15 days after filing using premium processing)
  5. Family/Spouse can work? Yes
  6. Greencard Yes

2. E2

  1. For whom? Executives/Managers in US Subsidiary
  2. Duration & Extension 2 yrs + unlimited extension of 2 yrs each
  3. Difficulty Relatively easier with money/investment >= $300k (but also lots of paperwork)
  4. Quota Any time (takes longer than L1)
  5. Family/Spouse can work? Yes
  6. Greecard Nope (can be switched later, but initially, it’s not meant for this)

3. EB5

  1. For whom? Rich people
  2. Duration & Extension 2 yrs + unlimited extension of 2 yrs each
  3. Difficulty Easy with personal investment >= $500k or $1M (depending on the type you choose)
  4. Quota Any time
  5. Family can work? Yes
  6. Greecard Yes

4. H1B

  1. For whom? For employees with specialties (e.g. engineers, M.S.); Cannot be an employer or majority shareholder
  2. Duration & Extension 3 yrs + 3 yrs ext. (total 6 yrs max)
  3. Difficulty Medium ~ Hard (because there’s only a limited quota)
  4. Quota 65k per year (apply April, results October)
  5. Family/Spouse can work? Nope
  6. Greencard Yes

5. O-1

  1. For whom? Talented people who are being hired at a US firm (usually arts, athletes, but biz as well)
  2. Duration & Extension 3 yrs + unlimited extension of 1 yr each
  3. Difficulty Hard (need to prove that you are special somehow)
  4. Quota Any time
  5. Family/Spouse can work? No
  6. Greecard Yes

So basically, you can get L1 or E2 if you are setting up a US entity and the VISA is tied to the business. For L1, you will need the proof that you were an employee of the foreign entity for 1 year prior to the filing. Go for EB5 if you are a rich individual (since you are not tied to the business entity). H1B for people who are being hired by a US company, or O for few of those really talented people (or at least your lawyer needs to be really talented).

Will adjust the table above accordingly as I learn more, and let me know for any corrections that needs to be made.

Good luck!

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