Below is a selection of potential visa options for foreign business owners. The nonimmigrant visa options may allow foreign business owners to explore or start a new business in the United States. The immigrant visa paths may allow foreign entrepreneurs who have already started or will start a new business enterprise in the United States to immigrate permanently to the United States.
Choose a visa classification to learn if you may qualify.
B-1 Business Visitor
You may be eligible for a B-1 visa if you are coming to the United States as a business visitor if you want to secure financing or office space, negotiate a contract, or attend certain business meetings in connection with starting a new business in this country.
Initial period of stay in the United States: Generally up to 6 months. Extensions possible.
F-1 / OPT Optional Practical Training
You may be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT) if you are an F-1 student in the United States and you seek to start a business that is directly connected to your major area of study. Students in English language training programs, however, are ineligible for OPT.
Maximum possible work authorization: An F-1 student may be authorized for up to 12 months of OPT, and becomes eligible for another 12 months of OPT when he or she seeks another post-secondary degree at a higher degree level. An F-1 student with a qualifying Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) degree may apply for a 17-month extension of their post-completion OPT.
H-1B Specialty Occupation
You may be eligible for an H-1B 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 (e.g., engineers, scientists or mathematicians), and you have at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in a field identified with the position.
Initial period of stay in the United States: Up to 3 years. Extensions possible in up to 3 year increments. Maximum period of stay generally 6 years (extensions beyond 6 years may be possible).
O-1A Extraordinary Ability and Achievement
You may be eligible for an 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. Extraordinary ability means you have a level of expertise indicating you belong to the small percentage of people who have risen to the very top of your field.
Initial period of stay in the United States: Up to 3 years. May extend or renew the period of stay in 1 year increments as necessary to complete or further the event or activity.
E-2 Treaty Investor
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 nonimmigrant visa program. For a list of treaty countries, visit the Department of State website.
Initial period of stay in the United States: Up to 2 years. May extend or renew the period of stay in 2 year increments.
L-1 Intracompany Transferee
You may be eligible for an L-1 visa for “intracompany transferees” if you are an executive, manager, or a worker with specialized knowledge who has worked abroad for a qualifying organization (including an affiliate, parent, subsidiary or branch of your foreign employer) for at least one year within the 3 years preceding the filing of your L-1 petition (or in some cases your admission to the United States). The organization must seek to transfer you to the United States to work in one of the capacities listed above.
Initial period of stay in the United States: Up to 3 years (1 year for new office petitions). Extensions possible in up to 2 year increments. Maximum period of stay: 7 years for managers and executives; 5 years for specialized knowledge workers.
EB-1 Extraordinary Ability
You may be eligible for the EB-1 extraordinary ability immigrant classification if you have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics as demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim and recognized achievements in the field of expertise. In addition, you must show that you will continue working in your area of extraordinary ability. Extraordinary ability means that your level of expertise indicates that you are one of the small percentage of individuals who have risen to the very top of your field. You may self-petition as an extraordinary ability individual since a job offer is not required for this classification.
EB-2 Classification and National Interest Waiver
The EB-2 classification is divided into two sub-categories: professionals with advanced degrees and individuals with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business. Although a job offer from an employer and a labor certification from the Department of Labor are generally required for the EB-2 classification, you may be eligible to self-petition if you are asking for a waiver of the labor certification requirement based on the national interest.
EB-2 Advanced Degree Professional
You may be eligible for this category if: (1) you are a professional holding a U.S. master’s degree or higher or foreign equivalent degree that relates to the field you will be working in; or (2) you have a U.S. Bachelor’s degree or foreign equivalent degree and at least 5 years of progressively responsible experience in your field after receiving your Bachelor’s degree.
EB-2 Exceptional Ability
You may be eligible for this category if you have exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business. Exceptional ability means that you have a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered in the sciences, arts or business.
EB-5 Immigrant Investor
You may be eligible for this category if: You invest $500,000 or more in a new commercial enterprise that creates or preserve at least 10 full-time jobs.
There are a variety of options that may be available to you as an entrepreneur to come to the United States to start or expand a business. To plan accordingly for your particular circumstances, you should consider your immigration options as early as possible when conceptualizing your business plans and goals. To identify the visa pathways that are most appropriate for your circumstances and plans, it is helpful to consult with an immigration attorney. Because immigration law in the United States is becoming tougher and tougher, the process for entering the United States by any method is extremely difficult. The immigration attorneys of Geygan & Geygan, Ltd. have the experience necessary to help you understand the process of obtaining a visa, that meets your needs and what requirements must be met. To discuss your visa questions and concerns, contact our office today to schedule your free consultation. We can be reached by calling 513-791-1673.