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Can I Get an H-1B as a Startup Founder?

BY IN H-1B On March 23, 2017

I frequently get asked this question by aspiring entrepreneurs. The short answer is, yes. If the Alcorn Immigration Law team sets you up properly for success, you can get an H-1B as a startup founder.

However, if you have an H-1B from a company other than your intended startup, you would face restrictions regarding your employment. Among them, an H-1B visa holder:

  • Should only start a limited liability company (LLC) or a C corporation.
  • Cannot work for the company s/he starts even if the work is unpaid unless your startup specifically petitions for you to work there with USCIS. (You can only do work specified in approved petitions.)
  • May participate in some limited activities of the company as an investor, owner, and as an occasional volunteer.

At Alcorn Immigration Law, we help a startup founder get H-1B status without jeopardizing her/his ability to legally remain in the U.S.

Getting an H-1B as a Startup Founder

When we provide a consultation to a startup founder, we first determine if s/he:

  • Already has an H-1B.
  • Needs to get an H-1B in the annual April lottery
  • Can get a “cap-exempt” (no lottery) H-1B by mentoring business students at a university through the GEIR program.

We craft a strategy that is specifically tailored your goals, your immigration history, and the nature of your company in the U.S.

At a consultation, we also consider your company’s financial health. Do you have traction? Angel investors? Venture capital? Contracts with clients? Revenue? Money in the bank? If you are personally investing $100,000 or more, you may be better off pursuing another visa option if you are eligible.

Startup Founder with an H-1B

We also help you consider who to team up with to bring your venture to life while retaining your H-1B status. Some options:

  • If your spouse is on an H-4 visa and has a work permit, your spouse can manage the business.
  • Partner with U.S. citizens or individuals with green cards to manage the business. That would leave you to participate in the company as a passive investor. Any profit posted by the business could be passed on to you and other investors.
  • Appoint a chief executive officer to run your business. Again, that leaves you to participate in the company as a passive investor and benefit from any profits from the venture.

Our team also assists startup founders in determining what business structure—either an LLC or C corp—works best for your venture and tax situations.

If your startup venture becomes successful, you will have more options to grow it and stay in the U.S., including applying for an EB-2 green card with a National Interest Waiver for entrepreneurialism.


Contact Us

As a prospective startup founder, consult an immigration attorney, business attorney, and CPA before starting or investing in any business. The Alcorn Immigration Law team has helped many entrepreneurs on H-1B visas follow their dreams.


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Sophie Alcorn

Sophie Alcorn is a Stanford-educated, New York Times-featured expert on United States Immigration Law. She founded Alcorn Immigration Law, Silicon Valley's premier immigration and nationality law firm, in 2015. Sophie and her team obtain visas and green cards for highly-motivated individuals to build the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley, having successfully handled hundreds of immigration cases for investors, established and venture-backed corporations, founders, and families. Sophie hails from Orange County, where she was chosen as Top Attorney by Orange County Metro Magazine in 2012 at the age of 28. In 2015 Sophie joined the ranks of The National Advocates Top 40 under 40, a select group of young attorneys who demonstrate superior qualifications, leadership, influence, and stature. Sophie is a public speaker on immigration law who conveys the nuances of immigration law in a clear, understandable manner. She lives in Mountain View with her family.

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