Visa Options For Foreign Entrepreneurs & Investors

International entrepreneurs have a variety of immigration options available to them to establish startup companies in the U.S.  While there is not yet a specific U.S. entrepreneur visa available, there are a number of visa options which allow entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses in the U.S.   This article will focus on a few (but not all) of the main visa options available to individuals to begin working for a startup in the U.S.

L-1 Intracompany Transferee Visa

Generally, the L-1 visa is available to executives and managers, working for a company abroad, that will open a new branch, affiliate, or subsidiary U.S. company.  The foreign worker to be transferred to the U.S. must have spent at least one continuous year out of the preceding three years working for the affiliated foreign company; obtain a physical premises for the new U.S. office; and within one year the U.S. enterprise should be able to support an executive or managerial position.  L-1 status is granted for a one year period, after which the company must demonstrate that it is doing business in order for the petition and worker’s stay to be extended beyond one year.  Extensions are available up to a maximum time in the U.S. of 7 years in L-1 status.

E-2 Treaty Investor Visa

This visa option is for business owners that wish to start a company in the U.S. and who want to actively manage and direct the operations of the business in the U.S..  In order to qualify for an E-2 Visa, you must either start or buy a business that you plan to run, and you must invest a certain amount of money in the business.  The actual investment amount depends on the type of business you start.  Additionally, the investment must create jobs (no specific number of jobs) for more than just you and/or your family.  Finally, you must be a foreign national from one of the treaty countries (see list) (note that India and China are not on this list).

O-1 Extraordinary Ability Visa

This visa option is available to entrepreneurs with extraordinary talents in the sciences, arts, education, or business.  Generally, an entrepreneur able to demonstrate that (1) there are published articles about their business/skills in major media; (2) they will receive a high salary evidenced by contracts; and (3) they will be employed in a critical or essential capacity for organizations with distinguished reputations, may be able to obtain this visa to work for their own start-up company.  The full list of qualifications to be proved can be seen here.  This visa is available for 3 years initially with one year extensions thereafter.  

EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa 

The EB-5 immigrant visa is the only option that provides a “green card” (i.e. U.S. permanent residency) directly.  The EB-5 visa is a great visa option if you have a large amount of capital (either $500,000 or $1,000,000) that you would like to invest in a new commercial enterprise.  Generally, to get an EB-5 visa you must: (1) invest or be actively in the process of investing either $1,000,000 USD in a commercial enterprise or $500,000 USD in a targeted employment area (an area that has experienced unemployment of at least 150% of national average rate or a rural area); (2) show that the funds come from a legitimate source; (3) prove the entire amount of the investment is active or at risk (this means that you cannot just be thinking about buying a business and you have to actually put capital up that could be lost); (4) make the investment in a “new” or “existing business enterprise” (this allows you to create your own business or buy one); and (5) demonstrate that the investment directly or indirectly results in the creation of 10 full time jobs.

As the U.S. realizes the need to enhance the immigration options for entrepreneurs and investors, there continues to be debate centered around options for investors and entrepreneurs.  To learn more, please contact our office and visit USCIS website on entrepreneur pathways.