Top 7 Visas for Start-up Entrepreneurs and How to Get Them


Start-up entrepreneurs who wish to come to the U.S. to open a business have several immigration options. It is important that you understand the requirements, benefits, and downsides of each and choose the one that best fits your situation.

B-1 Business Visa

A B-1 business visa is a non-immigrant visa issued to those who wish to enter the United States for a business purposes. You are eligible to apply for a B-1 visa if you want to consult with a business associates, participate in a required medical clerkship without any remuneration, embark on independent research which does not benefit any U.S. institution, or participate in educational, professional scientific or business conventions, seminars, or conferences.

The validity period for this visa will differ depending on your country of origin. If you are seeking entry into the U.S. for business reasons for the first time, you may be allowed to stay in the U.S. for a period of time long enough to enable you conduct your business. However, the maximum period of stay allowed per visit is 6 months. But you can also apply for another six-month extension if you needed. A B-1 visa can be used for multiple entries in so far as it has not expired.

There are certain tasks that you are and are not allowed to do while in the U.S. on a B-1 visa. If you are in the U.S. with a B-1 visa, you are allowed to negotiate business, discuss planned purchases or investment, solicit sales or investment, attend and participate fully in meetings, conduct business research, and interview and hire staff. You are not allowed to look for employment, run a business in the U.S., or to take part in sporting and entertainment events as a professional.

You can apply for a B visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate from any country. But it is advisable to apply from your country of origin or your country of permanent residence.

H-1B Entrepreneur Visa

An H-1B visa allows you to enter the U.S. to work. You must have a bachelor’s degree (or higher) or the equivalent in education and experience.  Foreign degrees equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree or higher are accepted.  The job must require this degree level and/or experience for the position, and the duties involved must be specialized or complex enough that such a degree is necessary to perform these duties. You must work in a specialty occupation.  And, you must be sponsored by an employer; individuals cannot apply for an H1-B. Your job must also fit specific wage requirements. There is an annual quota on the number of H-1B visas issued each year. The standard length of time that the visa is granted for is three years, with extensions sometimes granted.

If you own your own company, you may be able to demonstrate that there is an employer-employee relationship if the control of your work is exercised by someone other than yourself.  For instance, if your company has investors, a board of directors, preferred shareholders, or other factors that show that your organization has the right to control the conditions and terms of your employment, then it is possible for you to meet this requirement.  Specifically, it should be shown that the right to hire, fire, pay, supervise, or otherwise control your work is done by others.

O-1 Visa

O-1 visas can be issued to entrepreneurs who have already started or are about to start a new business in the U.S. In order to obtain an O-1 visa, one must show that he or she is an alien of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. This visa allows individuals to come to the United States for up to three years, with extensions available after that period has elapsed if the applicant is able to prove that he or she is still outstanding in the field. The O-1 visa does not require a college education and does not require a prevailing wage. You are allowed to stay in the United States on an O-1 visa for the amount of time necessary to complete the event or activity with your petitioner employer that you list when you apply for the O-1 visa and can be extended.

Evidence of the applicant’s extraordinary ability in his or her field must be well-documented. You will need to provide sufficient evidence that you are at the top of your field by submitting extensive supporting documentation of your accomplishments, such as awards, membership in associations, presentations, publications, etc., along with your application.

E-1 Visa

An E-1 visa is generally issued to treaty traders. Non-immigrants of the United States can be allowed to enter its territory if he maintains international trade. The volume of trade should be enough to justify the worth of the trader to trade successfully in United States. There are no mandatory limits on the quantity of trade. The E-1 visa enables applicants to live and stay temporarily in the United States. Initially, the E-1 visa is valid for two years, after which an extension may be granted.

To qualify as an E-1 visa or treaty trader, you must be a national of a country with which the United States maintains treaty relations of navigation and commerce. The treaty trader must have substantial trade running with the country. The treaty trader must have a principal trade with the United States and the qualified country that is listed in the navigation and business treaty of the United States. Trade refers to the exchange of items between the treaty country and the United States.  Items like goods, services, banking, insurance, transportation, tourism, technology, and news information can be considered as trade commodity. To qualify as an employee of a treaty trader, the individual must belong to the same nationality as the treaty trader.

E-2 Visa

E-2 visas are generally issued to treaty investors. Non-immigrants of the United States can be allowed to enter its territory if only he maintains significant investments with U.S. The volume of investment should be enough to justify the worth of investor to invest successfully in the United States. There are no mandatory limits on the amount of investment required. An E-2 visa enables applicants to live and stay temporarily in the United States. Initially, the E-2 visa is valid for two years, after which an extension may be granted.

To qualify for an E-2 visa, the treaty investor must be a national of a country with which the United States maintains treaty relations of navigation and commerce.  The treaty investor must be an active investor in an affiliated organization of the United States.  The treaty investor must enter United States only to direct investment to enterprises of the United States. Investment refers to the placing of a significant capital or funds to gain profits from them.  It must be noted that if an investment fails then there is a risk of losing the entire capital or fund that is tied with the investment. To qualify as an employee of a treaty investor, the individual must belong to the same nationality as the treaty investor.

L-1 Visa

The L-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa that enables a U.S. employer to transfer an employee from one of its affiliated offices abroad to one of its offices in the U.S. The L-1A visa is for an intra-company manager or executive. The L-1B visa, on the other hand, is for an employee with “specialized knowledge.” Qualified employees entering to establish a new office are allowed a maximum initial stay of one year. All other qualified employees are allowed a maximum initial stay of three years. Extensions of stay may be allowed in increments of up to an additional two years, until the maximum limit of seven years is met.

In order to apply for an L visa, the petitioning U.S. entity must have a qualifying relationship with your entity abroad where you have been employed as a manager, executive, or worker with specialized knowledge. In other words, the U.S. office must be an affiliate, parent, subsidiary, or branch of the foreign entity. The employer must also Currently be, or will be, doing business as an employer in the United States and in at least one other country directly or through a qualifying organization for the duration of the beneficiary’s stay in the United States as an L-1.  While the business must be viable, there is no requirement that it be engaged in international trade. There must also be sufficient physical space secured for a new office and the new office must be active and operating within one year after your admission to the U.S. if requesting an extension of stay.

TN Visa

If you are a Canadian or Mexican citizen who wants to work in the U.S., a TN visa grants you permission to enter and work in the U.S. in a professional capacity. You can maintain your TN visa status indefinitely. TN visa status is initially granted for a three year period, depending on the employer’s need, but it can be renewed for an additional three years and there is no limitation on the number of renewals.

A TN-1 application can be submitted at the border and a decision can be rendered on the day the application is made. You must intend to engage in employment in an approved profession and have an offer of employment. You must possess the necessary credentials to be considered a professional in the approved profession that you are applying under.  A bachelor’s degree or higher is usually required for all approved professions.  If your profession requires licensing, then you must possess the required license(s). Also, you must intend to stay in the U.S. for only a temporary period.  You can be denied TN status if you have a pending immigration petition.

To figure out which visa type is right for you, feel free to contact our law office.