Why are startup founders moving to the USA now?

According to Forbes, 55% of US Billion dollar startups have a founder who came to the U.S. as an immigrant.

Whether it is access to angel or VC money, the accelerators, the networks, the language or the market, there are many reasons why founders come here.

And the time is now.

Post-pandemic, it’s fairly easy to visit the USA again.

The U.S. Immigration services and Consulates still have a backlog, so it pays to join the line sooner rather than later.

What visa do I need for short term visits to the USA?

Most people come here under the B-1 visa for business visitors and B-2 visas for tourists. These allow you to stay for 6 months, pitch to investors, conduct market research, attend conferences and business meetings with potential customers, and even participate at startup accelerator programs. You can apply to extend your stay inside the U.S. for another 6 months.

If you’re from certain countries (including most of Europe and Australia) you can also apply via ESTA, the visa waiver program. There is no visa interview but you can only stay for 90 days and not extend or change your stay to another visa category. Whichever you choose, you won’t be able to work for a US company while you’re here.

So these can be useful as a preliminary step, but these are not long term solutions – B-1/B-2 and ESTA do not allow you to work for your American startup.

Not- immigrant visa means you’re not intending to move to the U.S. permanently

There are a range of “non-immigrant visas” which are useful depending on your situation. Each visa comes with a lot of requirements but here’s a summary:

  • E-1 or E-2 Visas work where the visitor is a citizen of one of 136 treaty countries and is coming to the US to work in international trade (E-1) or is a principal investor directing operations in the USA (E-2). These visas require that certain percentages of the company’s shares are held by the same nationality as the applicant, so founders need to beware the effects of funding rounds as these proportions will change, and with it your eligibility under this visa.
  • H-1B visas are good for highly qualified “speciality occupations” – i.e. people with a bachelor’s degree. You’ll need to be sponsored by your startup, in which you must be an employee and not a majority owner, so it’s not great for founders. It is also quite literally a lottery. With exceptions for certain employers, only 85,000 are given out in any year, every March.
  • L-1A visas are filed by non-US employers when they have a new office identified in the US and need to send an executive over to set it up. It’s great for founders who have been running their company for over a year and want to set up a branch in the USA. It’s valid for 1 year but can be renewed up to a maximum of 7 years.
  • O-1 visas are for those who possess nationally or internationally recognised “extraordinary ability or achievement.” There’s no cap because not many people fall into this category.
  • International entrepreneur parole (IEP) is a 30-month discretionary parole for those who “provide a significant public benefit”. It can be useful for up to three founders of the same business who have at least 10% ownership in a US corporation less than 5 years old. The business must have received a certain amount of investment from US investors, who must meet strict (and bafflingly specific) economic thresholds as well.

Immigrant visas and Green Cards

If you want to stay in the USA permanently, you’ll need a green card.

The preferred option for most founders are the EB-1A (for people with extraordinary ability) and EB-2 NIW (which stands for National Interest Waiver, and is for people with exceptional ability or an advanced degree).

The key to both is that they are “Employment Based” – i.e. as a founder you’ll need a business plan for your company or detailed explanation how your future work would impact the U.S. national economy.

The third option is sponsorship by your company for EB-2 or EB-3 PERM employment-based green card. Your employer will need to obtain certification from the Department of Labor and then file an immigrant petition for alien worker.

Family migration, tax and corporate law

This alphanumerical soup of visas is not all founders have to contend with. You’ll want to make sure your tax position is sorted and that your company or branch set up properly.

You might also want your family to accompany you.

These add layers of complexity that we can help with directly and through our network of advisers across the country.

The road is long but worth taking

Like those other billion-dollar startup founders moving to the USA, you can make your dream come true here.

With our experience in helping founders do exactly what you’re thinking of doing, we can help guide you along the way.

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