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Entrepreneur Visa Guide: Comparing the Top Startup Visas

The United States offers a few visa options for entrepreneurs who either want to start a business in the United States or who want to invest in U.S. workers. Each visa has its requirements, benefits, and drawbacks.

Our guide will discuss the different types of startup visas for business owners and go over the eligibility requirements. We will compare the best visas for immigrant entrepreneurs, including;

  1. EB-Visas
  2. H-1B Visa
  3. E-2 Treaty Investor Visa
  4. L-1 Visa
  5. O-Visas

Immigrants Play a Central Role in the US Economy

According to one study, for every 100,000 immigrants, 520 became entrepreneurs in a given month. In 2016, for example, immigrants made up nearly 30% of all new entrepreneurs.

Immigrants are not only overrepresented in the labor force relative to their share of the population, but they also start businesses in the US at a higher rate than people born in the United States.

Immigrant entrepreneurs also create job opportunities for other people.

As of January 1, 2015, immigrants founded nearly 51% of US startups worth $1 billion or more. Each of those startups employed an average of 760 people.

The immigration attorneys at David Hirson & Partners, LLP, (DHP) can help foreign entrepreneurs and their business/corporate sponsors with planning, preparing, and filing the complete immigration package with the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS).

What Startup Visas Are Available in the USA?

Generally, there are two types of visas available for immigrants who want to start businesses in the United States.

One path leads to permanent residency (“green card”), while the other is considered a “non-immigrant” visa (visitor, study, or work permit).

Permanent Resident Visas vs. Non-Immigrant Visas

A permanent resident visa or “immigrant visa” is intended to allow the individual to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely.

A non-immigrant visa does not grant the option to become a permanent resident in the U.S. The individual must qualify under one of the green card categories and file a separate application. Non-immigrant visas are utilized most often for individuals who are in the U.S. for temporary reasons, such as:

  • Tourism
  • Business
  • Temporary work
  • Studying
  • Medical treatment

Although they are not permanent, non-immigrant visas can still enable an immigrant to live and work in the U.S. for several years.

Our team at DHP can help you decide which type of visa makes sense for your immigration goals.

The Best Startup Visas for Entrepreneurs

Generally, these visas are what we would recommend for individuals or company owners seeking to start a business in the U.S.

Comparing EB-Visas

EB-1 Visas: Employment-Based Immigration, First Preference

The EB visa is for individuals who want to work permanently in the US. EB visas are available to certain individuals based on their job skills.

Only roughly 140,000 immigrant visas are available in this category every year.

EB visas have five “levels,” each with a different order of preference. EB-1 visas are given first preference.

EB-1 applies specifically to individuals with:

  • Extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics through national or international acclaim – No offer of employment required.
  • Outstanding professors and researchers – Must be pursuing tenure or tenure track at a university or other institute of higher education.
  • Multinational manager or executive (This is the immigrant version of the L-1 Intracompany Transfer visa.)

Each type of EB-1 visa qualification has its unique requirements as well.

EB-2 Visas: Employment-Based Immigration, Second Preference

Second-preference immigrants will receive higher priority compared to other employment-based applicants, except EB-1 applicants. Having higher priority means that you are more likely to get into the roughly 140,000 spots available for EB visas.

EB-2 visas specifically apply to those who meet at least one of the following qualifications.

  • The job involved must require an advanced degree or equivalent in education and experience.
  • You have exceptional ability in sciences, arts, or business.
  • You are requesting that the labor certification (“PERM”), that would otherwise be required, to be waived because it would be in the best interest of the United States to permit you to live and work in the country.

Other qualifications include things like showing you have at least ten years of full-time experience in your occupation and that you are licensed to practice in your chosen profession. Your unique circumstances will dictate what type of evidence you need to provide for an EB-2 visa application.

Family of EB-2 visa holders can also be admitted to the US under an E-21 or E-22 visa. For this visa, “family” includes your spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21.

EB-5 Visas: Employment-Based Immigration, Fifth Preference

The other EB visas operate very similarly to the first two, with each preference having fewer qualifications and requirements. The last EB visa is EB-5. It is more focused on people who want to invest in the United States rather than simply gain employment.

In general, it permits an investor, their spouse, and unmarried children under the age of 21 to get an EB-5 visa if certain conditions are met, including:

  • Meeting a minimum investment amount that varies based on where the business will operate.
  • Creating or preserving at least ten full-time jobs for qualifying workers.

Recent EB-5 Changes

The EB-5 program changed as a result of the U.S. government’s regulatory changes to the program that went into effect as of November 21, 2019. Specifically, the minimum investment amount was increased to $1.8 million (and $900,000 for investments located in targeted employment areas) and changing how targeted employment areas are defined.

DHP is highly experienced in preparing and successfully filing EB-visas. Contact us to learn more about how we can help.

H-1B Visas: Specialty Occupations

An H-1B non-immigrant visa may be available to those who perform services in a “specialty occupation.” They may also work with the Department of Defense cooperative research and development, or they could be a fashion model who has distinguished merit or ability.

The “specialty occupation” qualification is the most common reason that this particular visa is used, but it is not a common visa. The H-1B visa is highly selective.

“Specialty occupation” is not defined in terms of a particular industry. Instead, it is based on whether the worker has a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, and whether that particular job would require this precise expertise.

The employer files this visa application on behalf of the individual, but it must go through a specific job offering process for US workers before getting the required Labor Condition Application (“LCA”).

Additionally, the employer must offer the worker the job ahead of time to qualify for the visa. Learn more about the highly-specific requirements of an H-1B visa, or contact our business immigration attorneys for help.

E-2 Visa: Treaty Investors

A treaty investor is a foreign national of a country with which the United States holds a treaty of commerce and navigation. This individual must have also invested a minimum amount of money in a business venture in the US.

Certain employees of this particular company may also qualify for an E-2 visa. The USCIS maintains a running list of countries that have this type of treaty with the United States.

Although EB visas are similar, the key differences between an EB-5 visa and an E-2 visa include:

  • The E-2 visa requires lower minimum investment, no fixed minimum number of employees, has country-specific requirements, and requires a reasonable return on investment within a reasonable time to qualify for the visa.
  • On the other hand, an EB-5 visa has no country-specific restrictions and its rules apply to applicants from all countries.

As an E-2 treaty investor, holding the nationality of a treaty country, you must own at least 50% of the enterprise or possession of operational control by managing or meeting specific employment qualifications. The investment may not be “marginal” and must be “substantial” as defined in the Foreign Affairs Manual (“FAM”) and U.S. statute and regulations. Learn more about our E-2 visa services.

L-1 Visa: Intracompany Transferees

L-1 visas come in two varieties: L-1A and L-1B.

L-1A is specifically for executives and managers, while L-1B is for those who possess specialized knowledge but do not necessarily serve in a management role.

This visa allows a US employer to transfer a worker who meets specific qualifications from a company outside of the US to a related business at a location in the United States.

It also allows companies to send an executive from another country to the U.S., to establish or manage a branch, affiliate, or subsidiary of a foreign company.

The O-1 Visa: Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

The O-series visas are for those who have extraordinary abilities, usually signified by “national or international acclaim.”

The individual must also prove they are living in the US on a temporary basis to work in their area of extraordinary ability.

The O-series visas only apply to the following categories of work:

  • Education
  • Sciences
  • Business
  • Athletics
  • Arts
  • Motion picture or television industry

More About O-Visas

O-2 visas are available to those who will accompany someone who qualifies for an O-1 visa. This person must be an “integral part” or “essential” to the O-1 visa holder’s work.

O-3 visas are available to spouses and children of those who have O-1 visas. The EB-1 green card category has similar requirements but a higher standard.

Choosing the Best Startup Visa Option 

Every company has different needs, and your visa needs to be tied to a corporate sponsor will depend on many factors. Perhaps the most important consideration is what you and the company want to accomplish. Are you or your company more interested in bringing workers to the U.S. from another country? Are you looking to make a substantial investment in the United States? Do you want to expand your existing company to the U.S.?

Ready for the Next Steps?

The immigration attorneys at David Hirson & Partners, LLP, can help you review all of your options as an entrepreneur or business owner, looking for startup and existing business visa pathways to the United States. Contact us today to get started.