The Many Pathways to Nonimmigrant Entrepreneur Visas

If you are new to the immigration process, have a look at some of the different paths that foreign entrepreneurs who have already started or would like to start a new business in the United States have to immigrate permanently to the United States. Below are some of the most commonly obtained non-immigrant visas and a short outline of each one’s particular merits. For a complete list of nonimmigrant and immigrant visa pathways, please visit www.uscis.gov.

The B-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa with an initial stay period of six months. You may be eligible for a B-1 visa if you are coming to the United States as a business visitor to secure funding or office space, negotiate a contract, or attend certain business meetings in connection with opening a new business in this country.

You may be eligible for an H-1B Specialty Occupation visa if you are planning to work for the business you start in the United States in an occupation that normally requires a bachelor’s degree or higher in a related field of study (e.g., engineers, scientists or mathematicians), and you have at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in a field related to the position. This visa is also a non-immigrant visa and has an initial period of stay in the United States up to 3 years.

Another non-immigrant visa is the O-1A visa. If you have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, which can be demonstrated by sustained acclaim and recognition, and you will be coming to the United States to start a business in your field, an O-1A visa may be right for you. Extraordinary ability means you have a level of expertise indicating you are one of the small percentage of people who have risen to the very top of your field. The initial period of stay in the United States is three years, with extensions available.

The E-2 Treaty Investor visa is another pathway that might be the right tool. You may be eligible for an E-2 visa if you invest a substantial amount of money in a new or existing U.S. business. You must be from a country that has a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States or a country designated by Congress as eligible for participation in the E-2 non-immigrant visa program. For a list of treaty countries, visit the Department of State website.

You may be eligible for an L-1 visa for “intra-company transferees” if you are an executive, manager, or a worker with specialized knowledge who has worked abroad for a qualifying organization for at least one year within the three years preceding the filing of your L-1 petition. The organization must seek to transfer you to the United States to work in one of the capacities listed above. The initial period of stay in the United States for this non-immigrant visa is up to 3 years (1 year for new office petitions). Extensions are possible in up to 2-year increments. The maximum period of stay is seven years for managers and executives, five years for specialized knowledge workers.