Articles Posted in start-up companies

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Beginning April 3, 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will temporarily suspend expedited processing of H-1B visas, a service previously available to H-1B petitioners known as premium processing. The reason: to reduce overall H-1B processing times and prioritize processing of H-1B extensions nearing the 240-day mark. Premium processing previously guaranteed a 15-day processing time, or refund of the $1,225 premium processing fee. Although premium processing did not increase a petition’s chances of being selected for an H-1B visa, it gave petitioners the benefit of waiting a shorter period and allowed selected petitioners the option of upgrading their application to premium processing after filing.

Petitioners will not have the option of paying for the premium processing service for a period of at least 6 months beginning April 3, 2017. The suspension will affect all H-1B petitions filed on or after April 3, 2017 including all petitions filed for the FY18 H-1B regular cap and master’s advanced degree cap exemption. Additionally, the suspension may affect petitions that are cap-exempt, but will not apply to other eligible nonimmigrant classifications filed with Form I-129.  While the premium processing service is suspended, petitioners may not file a request for premium processing (I-907) for an I-129 Petition for H-1B worker until USCIS has announced that it has resumed premium processing for H-1B petitions. Beginning April 3, 2017 if a petitioner submits a single check combining fees for premium processing and the Form I-129 USCIS will reject both applications (not just the request for premium processing). To avoid this DO NOT submit any premium processing requests on or after April 3, 2017.

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It is our pleasure to announce that USCIS has now published the Final International Entrepreneur Rule in the federal register. The final rule is estimated to benefit approximately 2,940 foreign entrepreneurs on an annual basis beginning July 17, 2017. The rule will make it easier for eligible start-up entrepreneurs to obtain temporary permission to enter the United States for a period of 30 months, or 2.5 years, through a process known as “parole,” for the purpose of starting or scaling their start-up business enterprise in the United States. The foreign entrepreneur’s stay may be extended for an additional 30 months to allow the entrepreneur to continue to oversee and grow their start-up company in the United States. The decision about whether to “parole” a foreign entrepreneur under this rule will be a discretionary determination made by the Secretary of Homeland Security on a case-by-case basis (INA Section 212(d)(5), 8 U.S.C. 1182(d)(5)).

The goal of this final rule is to encourage foreign entrepreneurs to create and develop start-up companies with high potential for success in the United States, and enhance economic growth through increased capital spending and job creation.  Under this rule “parole” will be granted to eligible entrepreneurs who can demonstrate that their company’s business operations are of significant public benefit to the United States by providing evidence of substantial and demonstrated potential for rapid business growth and job creation. Such demonstrated potential for rapid growth and job creation may be evidenced by: (1) significant capital investment from U.S. investors with established records of successful investments or (2) attainment of significant awards or grants from certain Federal, State, or local government entities.

The final rule will allow up to three entrepreneurs to seek “parole” per-start up entity, as well as their spouses and children. Entrepreneurs who qualify for “parole” may only work for their start-up business entity in the United States. Their spouses in turn will be eligible to apply for employment authorization once in the United States.

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The H-1B visa is one of the most coveted visas in the United States for several reasons. One of the biggest perks of the H-1B visa is that it is granted for a period of three years, and can be extended for an additional three years. Recipients of the H-1B visa can also bring their dependents to live with them in the United States on an H-4 visa. The H-1B visa is also a popular option because it gives workers the flexibility of accepting and entering new employment, made possible by the portability provision of the H-1B program (8 U.S.C. § 1184(n)). The portability provision allows an H-1B worker to change jobs without having to risk falling “out of status.” Recently, USCIS also improved its portability provision with the passage of a new law that will give H-1B workers who have been laid off a 60-day grace period to transfer to a new employer. But perhaps the greatest upside to the H-1B visa however, is that it is one of the few visas that allows a nonimmigrant to apply for permanent residency as a beneficiary of an immigrant visa petition, without the immigrant petition having any negative affect on their H-1B status. This privilege is recognized in the law and is known as “dual intent.” Foreign nationals holding a “dual intent” visa such as an H-1B visa are allowed to file a green card petition, while continuing employment under the terms of their visa, and may also travel on their visa without seeking permission from USCIS.

In this sense, the H-1B visa is one of the few visas that opens a direct path to permanent residency. Other popular employment visas such as the E-2 treaty investor visa do not create a direct path to permanent residency and are not considered “dual intent” visas.

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On December 27, 2016 in Matter of Dhanasar, 26 I&N Dec. 884 (AAO 2016) the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) handed down a groundbreaking decision which has changed the analytical framework for determining eligibility of national interest waivers. This new decision will affect foreign nationals who are pursuing a green card based on employment in the EB-2 category, and who are eligible for a “national interest waiver.”

The national interest waiver is a discretionary waiver of the job offer and labor certification requirement made possible by subparagraph (A) of section 203(b)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This section of the INA states that the Secretary may, when it deems it to be in the national interest of the United States, “waive the requirements of subparagraph (A) that an alien’s services in the sciences, arts, professions, or business be sought by an employer in the United States.”  In addition to meeting a three-prong test of eligibility, to obtain a national interest waiver, the foreign national must be a member of a profession holding advanced degrees or their equivalent or prove that “because of their exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business they will substantially benefit prospectively the national economy, cultural or educational interests, or welfare of the United States.”

Without this discretionary waiver, EB-2 applications must be accompanied by a labor certification and their employer must go through the process of advertising the position to prove to immigration that there are no other applicants who are qualified, willing, and able to fill the position that the foreign national is expected to fill. Employers must also meet prevailing wage requirements as established by law. Establishing the national interest waiver in other words made it easier for qualifying foreign nationals in the EB-2 category to skip the job offer and labor certification requirement, streamlining their path to permanent residency.

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Today August 26, 2016 we bring entrepreneurs around the world exciting news regarding a new measure USCIS plans to implement designed to benefit entrepreneurs of startup companies. USCIS has announced a new proposal that will make it easier for certain foreign entrepreneurs to receive temporary permission to enter the United States, also known as ‘parole,’ for the purpose of starting or scaling their start-up business enterprise in the United States.

The rule has been referred to as the ‘International Entrepreneur Rule’ which will give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to expand discretionary statutory parole status to eligible entrepreneurs of startup companies, who can demonstrate that the startup enterprise they are interested in creating, has a substantial potential to yield rapid growth, and job creation in the United States.

Under this new rule, DHS would be able to grant parole on a case-by-case basis to eligible entrepreneurs of startup companies who can demonstrate the following:

  • At least a 15 percent ownership interest in the startup enterprise in question;
  • That they take on an active and central role in the startup enterprise’s operations;
  • That the startup enterprise has been formed in the United States within the past three years; and
  • That the startup enterprise has proven to yield a substantial and demonstrated potential for rapid business growth and job creation as evidenced by:
  1. Having received a significant investment of capital of at least $345,000 from certain qualified U.S. investors that have a proven track record of success i.e. showing established records of successful investments;
  2. Having received significant awards or grants of at least $100,000 from federal, state, or local government entities; or
  3. By partially satisfying one or both of the above criteria, in addition to presenting other reliable and compelling evidence to show the startup entity’s substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation in the United States;

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If you are a foreign entrepreneur, you have probably discovered that the United States immigration system is very limited in that there are very few visa options available to entrepreneurs that do not tie down the entrepreneur to a foreign employer, as is the case for the L and H visas. To make matters worse, if your ultimate goal is to obtain a green card to live and work in the United States permanently, you must work for an American employer willing to sponsor your adjustment of status. Although there are few exceptions, the main avenue through which entrepreneurs can gain permanent residence is either through family-sponsorship or employment-based sponsorship.

To obtain permanent residence through an employer you must either a) be a professional employed by a U.S. employer willing to sponsor your green card b) demonstrate extraordinary ability in your industry (science, arts, education, business, or athletics, c) work in a management or executive position abroad requiring international transfer to the United States or d) qualify as an EB-5 investor. In either of these cases, the U.S. employer must submit the I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker for you, before you can apply for permanent residence. If your ultimate goal is not to obtain a green card, then you have more options available to you.

We decided to write about this topic because we have found that many entrepreneurs that visit our office are not well-informed on other visa types that put them on a more direct path to permanent residence. Often times the topic of conversation leads to the E-2 Treaty trader visa, by far the most discussed visa type among entrepreneurs. Few entrepreneurs however have heard about the L-1 visa classification, that may in some ways be more beneficial to foreign entrepreneurs wishing to live and work in the United States permanently. Below we discuss both visa types and the advantages and disadvantages of both visas.

The E-2 visa, the most talked about visa:

Without a doubt, the most popular visa option entrepreneurs ask about is the E-2 visa. Many entrepreneurs however do not know that the E-2 visa is not available to everyone, and it is not a path to permanent residence. The E-2 visa is a non-immigrant treaty investor visa that is only available to foreign nationals from specific treaty countries. The E-2 visa allows foreign nationals to carry out investment and trade activities, after making a substantial investment in a U.S. business that the foreign national will control and direct. E-2 visa investors can either purchase an existing U.S. business or start a new business.

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A recent working paper published by Harvard economist, William R. Kerr, and Wellesley economist, Sari Pekkala Kerr, is making waves on the subject of immigrant entrepreneurship. The study asks: just how important are foreign-born entrepreneurs to our economy? Are their contributions truly significant?

The study’s abstract reads as follows:

We examine immigrant entrepreneurship and the survival and growth of immigrant-founded businesses over time relative to native-founded companies. Our work quantifies immigrant contributions to new firm creation in a wide variety of fields and using multiple definitions. While significant research effort has gone into understanding the economic impact of immigration into the United States, comprehensive data for quantifying immigrant entrepreneurship are difficult to assemble. We combine several restricted-access U.S. Census Bureau data sets to create a unique longitudinal data platform that covers 1992-2008 and many states. We describe differences in the types of businesses initially formed by immigrants and their medium-term growth patterns. We also consider the relationship of these outcomes to the immigrants’ age at arrival to the United States.

The study is important because it forces members of Congress to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, in order to determine whether or not it is beneficial for the United States to create more opportunities for highly-skilled entrepreneurs and professionals. Regrettably, the immigration debate has largely centered around illegal immigration to the United States, ignoring calls to create more flexibility for highly-skilled immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs. As it stands today, immigrant entrepreneurs can only obtain a green card via sponsorship from a United States employer. The majority of entrepreneurs are forced to remain in the United States on a temporary ‘dual intent’ nonimmigrant visa, until a U.S. employer agrees to sponsor their green card. Visa options are very limited for highly-skilled immigrants. Even for the most brilliant of entrepreneurs, this process requires time and patience. Our current immigration laws are doing us a disservice since they are keeping out some of the most talented entrepreneurs in the world. Immigrant entrepreneurs are increasingly important because the number of businesses and American jobs they create is on the rise.

Here are some of the study’s findings:

  • As of 2008, at least one in four entrepreneurs among start-up companies are foreign-born. Similarly, at least one in four employees among new firms are foreign-born
  • 37% of new firms had at least one immigrant entrepreneur working for the company
  • At least 1 in 3 start-up firms were founded by an immigrant entrepreneur, with an increasing rate from 1995-2008
  • The share of immigrants among all employees working for start-up companies is on the rise
  • Immigrant employees in low-tech positions comprise about 22.2% of start-up companies, while 21.2% of immigrants work in high-tech positions in start-up companies
  • Among new start-ups backed by venture capitalists, 60% had at least one immigrant entrepreneur
  • Immigrant employees working for a start-up company backed by venture capitalists have higher mean average quarterly earnings

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14604464454_ab9f59b1e0_zA new lawsuit has been filed in federal court challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s authorization of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) for STEM students in the United States. The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers is seeking an end to the STEM OPT program because they claim the program is putting American technology workers at a competitive disadvantage. As previously reported, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers had been battling the Department of Homeland Security in court for the past year asking a federal judge to invalidate 17-month OPT extensions granted to STEM students, because DHS violated the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

In response, the federal judge had ordered the Department of Homeland Security to publish a new final OPT rule to allow certain F-1 students with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics to obtain employment authorization. DHS published the final rule earlier this year, replacing the previous 17-month STEM extension rule that had been in place since 2008. The new rule published by DHS allows certain F-1 students to apply for 24-month extension of their optional practical training program (OPT) in order to continue working in the United States following the completion of their studies. This new rule went into effect on May 10, 2016. The same plaintiffs who challenged DHS are coming forward yet again, this time questioning DHS policy, and alleging that the STEM OPT program is putting businesses first instead of protecting American technology workers.

The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers is a labor union that represents the interests of American technology workers, who they claim are losing out on jobs to foreign workers because of guest worker programs. The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) and the labor union are working together to dismantle the program which they say circumvents American labor protections in favor of cheap labor. In a recent statement the IRLI claims that the DHS exceeded its authority by allowing the STEM OPT program to exist. According to them, “not only does the OPT program create more competition for suitable unemployed and underemployed American workers, but it creates a tax incentive for unscrupulous employers to hire foreign labor over American workers because aliens on student visas and their employers do not have to pay Medicare and Social Security taxes.”

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Throughout the next few months, USCIS will begin the process of returning H-1B petitions that were not selected in the H-1B lottery for fiscal year 2017. Each package will contain the respective H-1B petition along with a rejection notice specifying that the petition was not selected in the lottery. If you would like a copy of your rejection notice, please contact your employer or the attorney that filed your petition with USCIS. If you were not selected in the H-1B lottery for fiscal year 2017, there are a few visa options you may want to consider applying for. As always you can visit our website to read about the various different visa types that may be available to you. To discuss your options moving forward, please contact us for a free consultation. Do not despair. Many applicants that were not selected in the H-1B lottery in previous years, have been chosen in subsequent years.

Long Term Options for Employment

Employment-Based Green Card

Typically, the employment-based green card application is the most permanent long term option for employment. The drawback is that obtaining an employment-based green card is a very long process that will require you to maintain another nonimmigrant status, while your green card application is pending. For more information on employment-based green cards please click here.

Family-Based Green Card (Adjustment of Status within the United States)

If you are the spouse, parent or child of a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible for family-based permanent residency. The green card application includes the application for employment authorization, which is granted within 3 months of filing. Employment authorization allows the applicant to work while their application is in process. Please be aware that the 3-month time frame for employment authorization is only for applicants applying for adjustment of status from within the United States. For more information about this process please click here.

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On May 04, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security published a proposed rule in the Federal Register, announcing that filing fees for many USCIS petitions and applications are expected to increase for U.S. employers and foreign nationals. The proposed regulation stipulates that filing fees may be adjusted for certain immigration and naturalization benefit requests by USCIS. The increase in filing fees was considered after USCIS conducted a comprehensive review of its fees and found that the current fees do not cover the cost of services provided by USCIS. According to USCIS, in an effort to fully recover costs and maintain adequate services, “an adjustment to the fee schedule will be necessary”. According to the regulation, fees for most employment-based petitions and applications would be raised by an average of 21%, though other types of petitions may experience a higher increase in filing fees.

According to DHS, the higher fees will more accurately reflect the current cost of processing immigration applications and petition. A portion of the increased fees would provide additional funding for refugee and citizenship programs as well as system support for interagency immigration status verification databases.  The increase in filing fees will not take effect until the federal government approves the regulation, which is expected to take several months following the close of the 60-day comment period on July 5, 2016.

According to the new fee schedule under consideration, employment-based petitions would be the most impacted by the increase in filing fees. The filing fee for Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, would increase by 42% to a fee of $460, from the current rate of $325.  Similarly, the filing fee for Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, would increase by 21% to a fee of $700, from the current rate of $580. The complete fee schedule under consideration has been provided below for your reference.

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program is expected to be the most heavily affected by the new fee schedule. The filing fee for Form I-924, Application for Regional Center Under the Immigrant Investor Pilot Program, would increase by a rate of 186% requiring Regional Centers seeking designation under the program to pay a filing fee of $17,795 instead of the current rate of $6,230. In addition, Regional Centers would be required to pay a $3,035 annual fee to certify their continued eligibility for the designation. Currently, there is no fee in place for annual certification. The filing fee for the I-526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, an application associated with the EB-5 visa program, would also increase to a rate of $3,675, a 145% increase up from the current rate of $1,500. The filing fee for an investor’s petition to remove conditions on residence would remain unchanged under these new regulations.

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