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The Top 10 Things Every Startup Founder Should Know About U.S. Immigration Law

BY IN Immigration On May 11, 2017

U.S. immigration laws and policies are not only complex and confusing, but they are constantly changing. Here are the Top 10 things every startup founder or prospective startup founder should know before creating or growing their company in the U.S.

10. Creative Immigration Strategies Exist

Devising a strategy for international entrepreneurs to create or grow their startup in the U.S. sometimes takes creativity. On my blog, I frequently discuss creative strategies, as well as news or changes that will impact immigration and possibly alter these strategies. Check it out here.

All of us on the Alcorn Immigration Law team enjoy the challenge of finding creative immigration solutions and customizing strategies to help an international startup founder meet her or his professional and personal goals.


9. Visitors Are Prohibited from Doing Hands-On Work

International entrepreneurs who want to come to the U.S. for business activities as visitors under the B-1 visa or the Visa Waiver Program (see #7).

Under a B-1 visitor for business visa, you will be allowed to engage in business activities, such as attend a conference, consult with business associates or investors, or negotiate a contract.

A B-1 visa allows a visitor to stay for six months, with the option to apply for a six-month extension. However, B-1 visa holders cannot perform hands-on work.


8. Visitors Cannot Be Paid by a U.S. Source

In addition to not being able to perform hands-on work, you are prohibited from being paid by a U.S. business or other U.S. source while in the U.S. under any visitor business visa.


7. Visa Waiver Program Enables Short Trip on Short Notice

Under the Visa Waiver Program, citizens of 38 countries are allowed to enter the U.S. for business for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. Before entering the U.S., visa waiver travelers must apply online for travel authorization.

The Visa Waiver Program allows you to travel to the U.S. on short notice. However, your stay in the U.S. cannot be extended beyond the 90 days. Like the B-1 visa, you cannot do hands-on work or get paid by a U.S. source under the Visa Waiver Program.


6. Investors Want to Make Sure You Are Here to Stay

Or at least stay in the U.S. long enough to see their investment pay off.

Foreign founders need to prove to accelerators, angel investors, venture capitalists, and other investors that no issues exist with their immigration status. Investors don’t want to risk funding a startup only to see the founder deported or otherwise forced to leave the country after six months or a year.

Moreover, VC-backed startups typically go public or are purchased after seven to 10 years.


5. Hiring Foreign Students Is an Option

You can hire foreign university students with F-1 visas to help you get your startup off the ground. F-1 visa holders can apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) in their field of study while attending school or after graduation.

Students approved for a post-graduation OPT may apply for a 24-month extension if they graduate with a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) degree. To hire a STEM OPT candidate, you must submit a training plan to the university for approval. This plan is best crafted in consultation with an immigration attorney.


4. Getting an H-1B Through Your Startup Is Possible, But…

It’s difficult. And it may become even more so for startups if President Trump makes good on proposed changes to the H-1B process. Still, applying for an H-1B through your own company is possible. Remember, a strategy should be tailored to your goals, immigration history, your company in the U.S., and its financial prospects.

For more details, see my recent blog post on the subject or contact us.


3. Global Entrepreneur-In-Residence Programs

More than a dozen U.S. universities offer entrepreneur-in-residence programs. These programs enable immigrant entrepreneurs to get a visa to remain and build their companies in the U.S.

Global Entrepreneur-In-Residence Coalition (Global EIR), a nonprofit network of entrepreneurs, investors, and universities, partners international founders with universities, mentors, investors, or cities. These partnerships enable founders to stay in the U.S. to create jobs and contribute to local economies.

Currently, San Jose State University, a Global EIR partner, is seeking immigrant entrepreneurs to start or grow their startups in Silicon Valley.


2. International Entrepreneur Rule

Unlike several other countries, the U.S. does not have a visa for immigrant entrepreneurs who start a company that creates jobs. When Congress failed to create a startup visa, the Obama administration came up with a creative substitute: the International Entrepreneur Rule.

The International Entrepreneur Rule gives U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) the discretion to grant parole—or a temporary stay in the U.S.—to qualifying immigrant entrepreneurs. Immigrant entrepreneurs must show they have created successful startups that have the potential for business growth, jobs, and innovation.

Before President Obama left office, the rule was set to go into effect on July 17, 2017. However, the Trump administration put the rule up for review. No word yet on the future of the International Entrepreneur Rule, but I remain optimistic it will become a reality. President Trump has expressed his support for merit-based immigration, which the International Entrepreneur Rule promotes.


1. Start at the End

Figuring out what you want is the best way to figure out how to get it. We always ask our clients what their goals are and craft an immigration path for the company or individual accordingly.

Are you an immigrant entrepreneur who needs to raise $100 million to start your company? We can strategize ways to make that happen. Are you a startup founder who wants to work and live in Silicon Valley with your family by your side? We can help make that happen. Contact us.


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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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