Essential US Visa Options Every International Startup Founder Must Know

A complete guide to navigate work visas for entrepreneurs looking for US market entry.

May 30, 2024 · 3 Minute Read

Essential US Visa Options Every International Startup Founder Must Know

You don’t have to hold a US visa or Green Card to register or purchase a company in the United States. However, establishing a business in the US doesn’t authorize its individual owners to work in the US. Foreign citizens must obtain the appropriate visa to live and work in the US.

What are the US visa options for international startup founders?

Securing a work visa can seem daunting at first. We recommend consulting with our legal partners to help outline your goals and timeline. Below is a quick summary of some common visa options for startup founders.

‍O-1A Visa for individuals with extraordinary ability

For foreigners that have extraordinary abilities and/or special talents that can be demonstrated through accomplishments (e.g. foreigners that have created an app or software that received substantial media coverage). The O-1 visa grants individuals the ability to temporarily live and work in the US for three years.

E-2 Investor Visa

The E-2 visa allows nationals from certain treaty countries to make an investment into a US business and thereby enter the US to work for that business. Foreign entrepreneurs must have at least $100,000 available to invest in their startup business in the US. If that investment qualifies the founder for an E-2, they are able to run the company and live in the US.

‍H-1B Visa for tech workers

This visa is for foreigners who will be considered employees at a company based in  the US. Applicants will need a sponsor from the United States; however, a foreign co-founder of a US company can qualify as an employee under this H-1B visa if they meet the various requirements including occupation type, salary, and others. 85,000 H-1B visas are issued annually. To address the demand, USCIS runs an annual “lottery” in which about 30% of applicants are randomly selected.

L-1 Intracompany Transferee

The L-1A visa is for managers and executives who are transferring to the US from a company abroad. The L-1A is great for founders who have already created a startup abroad, have been working for the startup for at least one year, and want to open a US office for the startup.  It’s also an option for companies that have employees overseas that need them in the US temporarily.

International Entrepreneur Parole

Allows up to three foreign co-founders to enter the US to provide significant public benefit to the US through business growth and job creation. This means they don’t need an employer sponsor. To qualify for IEP for an initial 30-month period, founders must demonstrate the following:

1. The startup is a US corporation that is less than five years old.

2. They have at least a 10% ownership stake in the startup, and the founder is central to and plays an active role in the startup.

3. For the initial parole application, the startup must demonstrate having raised $250,000 in funding from “qualified investors” or $100,000 from qualified government grants or awards.

4. When funding originates from investors, it must be shown that the investor has made a minimum investment of $600,000 over the previous five years. These investments must have either created at least five qualified jobs or generated a minimum of $500,000 in revenue, with an annualized growth of at least 20%.

5. The startup’s qualifying US investors have made aggregate investments of no less than $633,952 in startup entities over five years. Additionally, at least two of these entities have each created five jobs or generated a minimum of $528,293 in revenue, with an annualized revenue growth of at least 20%.

Explore this detailed article by Sophie Alcorn, founder of Alcorn Immigration Law, on BeDeck, discussing, ‘Which US Visa Is Best For International Startup Founders’?

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