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Getting A U.S. Visa for Entrepreneurs & Investors

Author: Ethan Davis

There's a reason the United States is known as the land of opportunity – it has one of the most fertile economies in the world, one that owes much of its success to the hard work of immigrants from all over the globe.

According to a 2011 report by the Partnership for a New American Economy, companies founded by immigrants bring in roughly $1.7 trillion.The National Venture Capital Association also reported in 2013 that companies founded by immigrants employ around 600,000 people.

This brief guide will introduce you to the different types of U.S. visas appropriate for entrepreneurs, investors and skilled workers, and give you important facts you should know about the process.

Competition for these visas is fierce – especially if you seek one of the coveted H-1B visas, open to skilled specialty workers and heavily used by the tech industry. The 2016 process opened April 1 and, for the fourth year in a row, requests for the 85,000 available visas exceeded the supply within five days. A lottery for the spots will be held to determine who gets the visas.

Visas for Entrepreneurs

The U.S. offers six types of nonimmigrant visas for entrepreneurs, investors and skilled workers (note that the visas listed below can be extended beyond their initial period of stay). These are the options:

  • B-1 Business Visitor (Up to 6 months). A B-1 enables you to stay in the U.S. while you network, hold meetings, set up an office and complete similar duties. However, you will not be allowed to collect an income from a U.S. .
  • F-1/Optional Practical Training (OPT) (Up to 12 months). If you already have an F-1 student visa, you can apply for an additional 12 months or more with OPT if you plan to start a business directly related to your degree program.
  • H-1B Speciality Occupation (Up to 3 years). This allows foreigners to work in the U.S. if the position requires theoretical or technical expertise in such fields as science, engineering, medicine, mathematics or architecture. Authorities generally look for a high salary as proof of the value of this job.
  • O-1A Extraordinary Ability and Achievement (Up to 3 years). You can try for this one if you have extraordinary expertise in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics (and have the documented recognition to back it up).
  • E-2 Treaty Investor (Up to 2 years). If you live in a country that has a treaty of commerce and navigation with the U.S. (click here for a list of them), and have already invested a substantial amount of money with U.S. company, this visa may be for you.
  • L-1A Intracompany Transferee (1 to 7 years). Generally this visa is for individuals opening a U.S. branch of a foreign company company – or to enable a U.S. employer to transfer an executive or manager from a foreign affiliated office to one of its U.S. offices.

If you are an entrepreneur who would like to stay here permanently, investigate these two visas :

  • EB-1 Extraordinary Ability. Similar to the O1-A listed above, you'll have to prove you're one of the most successful people in your field to come to the U.S.
  • EB-2 Classification and National Interest Waiver/Advanced Degree Professional/Exceptional Ability. These generally go to individuals with master's degrees (at least) and high ability. It is difficult to get one of these if you're self-employed unless you can get a National Interest Waiver which, as its name implies, is given if your work will directly benefit the U.S. economy or the quality of life of its citizens.
The Visa Process

First, you'll need a U.S. citizen or employer to sponsor your petition (forms I-130 and I-140), which you'll file with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Since you'll likely be filing a business-based visa, you'll have to check your priority date to find out how long you must wait for a visa, due to annual limits set on certain visa classes. You'll also have to choose an agent who will accept communications from the National Visa Center (NVC). If you like, you can be your own agent.

Next you'll need to pay your processing fees online or by mail. Be sure to check the fees for each type of visa before you begin.

Once you submit an application to the NVC, you'll need to collect all necessary financial and supporting documents. There will also likely be a medical exam you'll need to complete.

Once your application is submitted and fees paid, you'll be asked to sit for an interview at your local U.S. Embassy/Consulate. Bring all original documents of your application, as well as your passport and medical results.

Following your interview, you'll be told at the Embassy/Consulate whether you've been approved for a visa. If not, you'll be told why and where you can go for further information. For more details, click here.

The Bottom Line

The visa application process is thorough and tedious. However, few countries offer as many rich opportunities for entrepreneurs as the U.S. does. If you'd like to get started working in the States, start your visa application process today.

If you're an American looking for visas abroad, check out Tips for Getting a Permanent Visa and Best and Worst Countries For Entrepreneurs.

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