Law Offices of Stuart J. Reich, PLLC

Practice Limited to Immigration & Nationality Law

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New York, NY 10004

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Does a “start-up” or “entrepreneur” visa even exist? How can I legally start a company in the US?

Q: Is there such a thing as a "start-up visa" or an "entrepreneur visa" in the US?

A: Not really.

There have been several proposals – especially over the last several years – to create visa categories relevant to the modern entrepreneur. None have them have gone through to the point of becoming law.

Right now, we temporarily have something called the International Entrepreneur Rule ("IER") - this is an Obama administration rule that can provide up to five years

But, just because there's nothing called a "start-up visa" or "entrepreneur visa" doesn't mean that there's no visa that can be used for start-ups or entrepreneurs!

Q: So, if there is no “start-up” or “entrepreneur” visa, does this mean it’s impossible for someone to get a visa to start a business in the US?

A: Not at all – we help people get visas to begin a business in the US all the time. But, it requires solid analysis and often some creativity and flexibility.

There are four main temporary/non-immigrant visas that we look to when analyzing the options for an entrepreneur:

  • The E-2 Treaty Investor Visa - Probably the closest thing we actually have to being a visa for start-ups/entrepreneurs, at least in terms of the original purpose of the visa. The E-2 visa is created by treaty between the US and the individual’s home country…so very often individuals won’t qualify by virtue of citizenship even though all other criteria may be a good fit (most notably, we receive many inquiries from nationals of India and China seeking to start a business, but we have to find other options as the US doesn’t have the requisite treaties with these countries). This comes the closest to a visa originally intended to promote entrepreneurship, but carries requirements that often don’t sync well with the modern start-up…especially those that are technology-related or seek to “boot-strap.”
  • The H-1B Specialty Occupation Visa – One of the most common employment visas, but often not a good fit for entrepreneurs because of issues with availability, timing, and equity/control limitations. Only makes sense for certain very specific situations.
  • The L-1 Intracompany Transferee Visa – For an individual transferring from an overseas company where they have been working to start a US company that will have a qualifying relationship to that overseas company…in this context, most often an overseas parent opening a US subsidiary to move into the US market. The L-1A is for managers and executives and is most often used in the new-company context (an L-1B exists for people with specialized knowledge of the overseas company’s techniques, practices, technologies, etc. – but is rarely used in an entrepreneur context)
  • The O-1 Extraordinary Ability Visa - As the name implies, this visa is intended for individuals who have already accomplished a great deal in their field. Generally speaking, the longer a career a person has had, the easier it is to meet the criteria…though we have successfully obtained these for some “serial entrepreneurs” who have attained a great deal at a relatively young age.

With some of these visa types (primarily the E-2 and L-1), it was actually envisioned that these would be used to begin a business in the US. However, normally these were designed for larger ventures -where a great deal of employment, investment and real estate would be involved. The challenge is often to fit the modern start-up to the visa requirements.

Depending upon the nature of the business and the individual’s background, there may be other visa types which may be a good fit for the situation, and which we would explore.

Contact us here to arrange a consultation, to inquire about retaining us to handle your immigration matter, or simply to suggest topics you would like to see covered on our site.

The above is presented for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship with our firm. The information provided should not be used as guidance in pursuing an immigration matter absent consultation with a qualified immigration attorney.