International Startups I L-1
The L visa is quite flexible in that the regulations carve out an option for "new offices" which allow a relatively young foreign company seeking US expansion to obtain L-1 status. By doing so, a foreign company can send the necessary personnel (usually the founders) to the US in order to oversee and lead the development of the new office. In order to qualify, the foreign company must continue to regularly operate abroad while the new US operation must demonstrate that it has the capacity to expand within 12 months (a business plan for the US entity containing financial & personnel projections must be included with the initial application). If approved, the status is only valid for 1 year, which means that a second application must be submitted after only 12 months of US operations. At that time, it must be shown that the new US office accomplished the organizational goals set out in the original business plan. It is for this reason that companies must carefully prepare for both of these applications well in advance. Otherwise, a legitimate company can receive a devastating setback when the second application is denied and the company needs to shut down operations in the United States. However, with proper planning, this pathway can be an incredibly useful visa for entrepreneurs, startups, and even established corporations that are simply expanding into the United States for the first time.
Additional potential benefits of receiving such visa status include work authorization for the applicant's spouse as well as a pathway to permanent residence.
National Interest Waiver I EB-2
As one can imagine from the title above, the key to qualifying for this pathway is by demonstrating an ability to positively impact the national interests of the United States. And while this may sound almost impossible to prove, this rarely used Green Card category recently underwent significant changes due to the
Dhanasar case decided in late 2016. This case created a more friendly set of requirements for entrepreneurs. For example, assuming the entrepreneur can establish underlying eligibility,
Dhanasar states that "an endeavor that has significant potential to employ U.S. workers or has other substantial positive economic effects, particularly in an economically depressed area, for instance, may well be understood to have national importance." Therefore, entrepreneurs seeking to develop a business in the United States may be able to present a successful "national interest" argument.
If one can qualify for this pathway, the benefits are incredible because the applicant can self-sponsor (and thus no US company is required), and, if approved, it leads directly to Green Cards for the applicant, his or her spouse, and their unmarried children under 21 years old.
Business Visitor I B-1
By far the most commonly issued visa, the tourist / business visitor visa is undeniably a very important aspect of the US immigration system. And while most understand the tourist aspect of this visa (known as B-2), many do not realize all of the potential uses for the business visitor aspect (known as B-1). For example, entrepreneurs can use this visa category in order to attend accelerator programs in the United States. With approximately thirty different business purposes pre-approved by the US Government, there are a surprising number of circumstances that can prove appropriate for a B-1 business visitor. However, there are also many business activities which are not permitted under B-1 status. Therefore, one should be fully and properly informed prior to applying for this surprisingly useful visa.
Extraordinary Ability I O-1 & EB-1
There are two extraordinary ability pathways: one leads to a temporary work visa (known as the O-1 visa) and the other leads to a Green Card (known as EB-1A). Both of these options are designated for highly-skilled foreigners who wish to continue working in their field of expertise, which must fall within the broader fields of sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. As one might suspect, these immigration pathways are quite difficult because they require proof of truly exceptional skills or achievements in the relevant field. Being “very good” at one’s job usually is not enough to qualify for these pathways, as one must demonstrate that he or she is truly towards the top of his or her respective job field. Therefore, a successful application must prove sustained success and significant recognition of one's abilities on the national or international level. For the entrepreneur, such proof can include evidence of successful business accomplishments as well as proof of awards or or other forms of recognition. Official letters written by widely respected industry leaders can also be useful. For artists, notable media attention regarding the applicant’s success or abilities are typically a key element of a successful application. One notable disadvantage of the O-1 visa compared to the EB-1 Green Card is that the O-1 requires a US sponsor/employer while the EB-1 Green Card allows for individual self-petitioning (even if the applicant is located outside of the United States).
If approved, O-1 status is typically given an initial approval period of three years, but it has the potential to be continuously extended without any official maximum limit. Conversely, Green Cards issued under the EB-1A pathway are unconditional and thus permanent.
Investment Pathways I E-2 & EB-5
UPDATE: Israelis are eligible for the E-2 investor visa as of May 1, 2019
There are essentially two investment visa pathways - one leads to a Green Card and the other a temporary work visa. And while the Green Card pathway (also known as EB-5) requires an investment of $500,000 - $1,000,000 in order to qualify (and most likely increasing soon), the temporary work visa pathway (known as E-2) has no official minimum investment requirement. Instead, E-2 applicants must only prove that they have invested (or are in the process of investing) sufficient funds to operate a legitimate business in the United States with growth potential. Employees of such companies can also potentially obtain E-2 status.
The E-2 visa is great for those who are eligible as it can be continuously extended without limitation (as long as the business continues to exist). Additionally, the spouse of an E-2 visa holder can obtain employment authorization to work in any job within the US, and the unmarried children (under 21 years old) of an E-2 visa holder can attend public school.
However, this visa is not as easy to obtain as it may seem, as the investment must still be significant, transparent, and heavily documented. Also, the business must have significant growth potential. With that said, the E-2 visa can be a perfect solution for entrepreneurs.