Immigration Tips for Startups

By John E. Exner IV

10 tips to prepare for the most frequent immigration scenarios faced by startups:

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  1. If the company will be owned, in-whole or in-part by a foreign investor, immigration planning should start as early as possible – even before the company is established. There are visas available to foreign entrepreneurs who are investing a significant amount of money into a new U.S. business. This visa application process should be handled in concert with the creation of the business.
  2. If the U.S. business will have a foreign office (parent, subsidiary, or affiliate) the managers, executives, and essential personnel from the foreign office(s) may be able to travel to the United States on multinational transferee visas.
  3. If the U.S. business is recruiting from local U.S. universities and colleges, many of these candidates may be foreign nationals on U.S. student visas. These individuals may be eligible for at least one year of employment authorization in the U.S. following graduation.
  4. Make note that citizens of certain countries have access to specific U.S. work visas that are not available to other countries. Usually, this is the result of trade agreements and treaties between the U.S. and the specific foreign country.
  5. The most common U.S. work visa (the “H-1B visa”), is subject to an annual lottery. The government only issues 85,000 H-1B numbers each year, more than 200,000 petitions are filed each year for those available numbers. The government conducts a random automated lottery to select the cases that will be processed. As a result, identifying alternatives to the H-1B visa is increasingly necessary.
  6. Individuals who have previously held an H-1B visa may be eligible to “recapture” time on that prior visa. This is essential information, as it allows the individual to bypass the annual H-1B lottery.
  7. Individuals who have earned awards and significant recognition in their field may be eligible for an “extraordinary ability” visa. This visa is available to foreign nationals working in any field, provided they can demonstrate a significant level of extraordinary accomplishments and/or original contributions to the field.
  8. Immigration is not always employment-based. Many times, foreign national candidates have access to legal status and employment authorization through U.S.-based family members.
  9. U.S. work visas are often limited in duration and availability. Temporary immigration solutions are often accompanied by, or influenced by long-term immigration solutions and strategies for obtaining U.S. permanent resident status (a “green card”).
  10. Immigration is never a one-size-fits-all process. The majority of immigration cases are highly tailored solutions that accommodate specific needs of the company and the individual.



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