A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy reports that immigrant-owned companies contribute approximately $1.7 trillion to the US economy. The same companies also employ about 600,000 people – a significant chunk of the US workforce. These figures go some way to showing how immigrant contributions are a pillar of the US economic success, a fact that is recognized by the US government and reflected in their visa programs for foreign entrepreneurs.
The US has the following six types of visas on offer for business investors and entrepreneurs:
F-1 OPT (Optional Practical Training): This visa is for students with an existing F-1 student visa who intend on starting a business in their field of specialization, and is granted as a 12 month extension to their existing visa.
L-1A Intracompany Transfer: This visa is valid from anywhere between one and seven years, and is typically issued to allow US companies to transfer their foreign employees from one of their offices abroad to their US offices. This visa can also be issued to foreigners looking to open an office in the US.
E-2 Treaty Investor: Several countries have signed travel and business agreements with the US, and applicants from these countries who have a significant amount of money invested in a US business can obtain this visa, which is valid for up to two years.
B-1 Business Visitor Visa: This type of visa allows applicants to reside in the US for a period of up to six months to complete preliminary business setup processes such as meetings, networking, etc. Applicants are not permitted to generate any income within the US during this period of stay.
H-1B Specialty Occupation Visa: This visa applies to foreign workers in the fields of architecture, mathematics, medicine, engineering, and science. In order to qualify for this tier, applicants need to provide proof of their expertise in the field, as well as a high paying job offer. Visas are typically valid for up to three years under this program.
O-1A Extraordinary Ability and Achievement: This three year visa is issued upon providing proof of extraordinary skill in science, art, academia, business or sports.
While all the above visas can be extended beyond their initial validity period, foreign entrepreneurs looking to permanently settle in the US can apply under the following two categories:
EB-1 Extraordinary Ability: This visa is almost identical to the O1-A visa and to qualify an applicant must prove that they are a person of extraordinary expertise, skill, and success in their respective field.
EB-2 Classification: This type of visa is issued to applicants whose work is judged to be of direct benefit to the US national interest in terms of the economy or quality of life of its citizens. Applicants need to possess a post-graduate degree to qualify for this program, and possess an exemption known as National Interest Waiver in case they do not have a job offer in the US.
To apply for any of the above listed categories, applicants will need a US citizen or employer to sponsor the application to be filed with the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services). Applications should be checked against priority dates since each category is subject to annual quotas and this may affect the waiting period.
Along with all the supporting documents and processing fees, applicants will also be required to submit certain medical test results.
After submitting all the required documents, applicants are also required to undergo an interview at their local US embassy/consulate, following which they are informed if their visa application has been approved or rejected, and what further steps they can take from then on.
While the US visa application procedures can be drawn-out and laborious, for budding entrepreneurs the world over it is a small price to pay for the opportunity to realize the American dream.
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