Visa Basics for Foreign Entrepreneurs Coming to the U.S.
Non-immigrant foreign entrepreneurs who want to start businesses in the U.S. often – and rightly – have visa-related concerns. A typical question: “What kind of visa do I need to start my business?”
This post provides a brief answer to that question.
Visa Waiver – Allows an individual to come to the U.S. for 90 days; no extension or change of status is allowed. Allows attendance at business meetings and other passive business development activities, but does not allow compensation from U.S. sources.
B-1 Visa – Business visitor visa: Allows admission for up to six months. Can be extended, and permits a change to a different immigration status. Allows passive business activities, but not productive work in the U.S. or receipt of any U.S.-based remuneration, though expenses can be reimbursed. Must benefit a foreign, rather than U.S., business.
E-2 Visa – Investor visa: Requires that a U.S. entity be set up and that a substantial investment made into that entity. Takes several months to obtain and is comparatively expensive. Applies to investors from countries with which the U.S. has applicable treaties. Applies for two years; may be extended for additional two-year periods without limitation.
H-1B Visa – Specialty occupation visa: Allows a U.S. employer to hire an individual for a specified complex or unique job for a period of up to three years (which typically can be extended to six years) because the position cannot be filled easily from the workforce available in the U.S. The individual can form a business in the U.S. but cannot work for it. Note that USCIS gives H-1B cases particularly careful scrutiny.
L-1 Visa – Intracompany Transferee visa: Requires setting up a U.S. company that is a subsidiary or affiliate of an existing foreign company. The individual must have been working for the foreign company for at least one year prior to the transfer and must be working in the U.S. in a managerial, executive or specialized-knowledge capacity. Valid for five years (special-knowledge employees) or seven years (managers or executives). “Dual intent” visa, meaning the holder can apply for a green card without jeopardizing the visa.
The U.S. Department of State offers more-detailed information starting at its Temporary Workers Overview page.
Visa issues can be quite complex. If you have visa-related questions, you should retain a qualified immigration lawyer.
- Visa Basics for Foreign Entrepreneurs, Part 2: What Constitutes Work?
- Can I Get an H-1B Visa Working for My Own Company?
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.