There are now a number of visa options for foreign entrepreneurs to explore or start a new business in the United States, according to immigration experts. The immigrant visa pathways may also allow foreign entrepreneurs who have already started or are about to start a new business in the United States to immigrate permanently to the country.
‘There are a number of visa options and the initial period of stay in the United States is generally up to six months but extensions are possible,’ said a spokesman for the US Immigration Service. A B-1 visa may be suitable for someone coming to the United States as a business visitor in order to secure funding or office space, negotiate a contract, or attend certain business meetings in connection with opening a new business in the country. The Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a possibility for overseas students in the United States who want to start a business that is directly related to their major area of study. Students in English language training programmes are not eligible for this option.
A student may be authorised for up to 12 months of OPT, and becomes eligible for another 12 months of OPT when he or she seeks another post secondary degree at a higher degree level. Also some students with a qualifying Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) degree may apply for a 17 month extension of their post completion OPT. Someone planning to work for a business they have started in the United States in an occupation that normally requires a bachelor’s degree or higher in a related field of study such as engineers, scientists or mathematicians, and who has at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in a field related to the position may be eligible for an H-1B visa.
There is also an O-1A visa for those with an ‘extraordinary ability’ in the sciences, arts education, business or athletics, which can be demonstrated by sustained acclaim and recognition. ‘Extraordinary ability means you have a level of expertise indicating you are one of a small percentage of people who have risen to the very top of your field,’ explained the spokesman. With this the initial period of stay in the United States is up to three years but this may be extended or renewed in one year increments as necessary to complete or further the event or activity.
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If you invest a substantial amount of money in a new or existing US business you could opt for E-2 visa. To be granted this visa you must be from a country that has a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States or a country designated by Congress as eligible for participation in the E-2 non-immigrant visa programme. This allows an initial two year stay and the visa can be renewed in two year increments. ‘There are a variety of options that may be available to you as an entrepreneur to come to the United States to start or expand a business. To plan accordingly for your particular circumstances, you should consider your immigration options as early as possible when conceptualising your business plans and goals,’ the immigration spokesman said.
‘To identify the visa pathways that are most appropriate for your circumstances and plans, it may be helpful to consult with an immigration attorney,’ he added.