Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”
My co-founders and I think we might qualify for International Entrepreneur Parole.
How long does it take to get IEP approved? How does that compare to other options that are available to startup founders, and can my spouse work?
— Committed COO
Great questions! With Thanksgiving in the United States tomorrow, I’m reflecting on how appreciative I am of you and everyone who submits questions to this column, wherever you are in the world!
My law partner Anita Koumriqian and I recently chatted on our Thanksgiving gratitude podcast episode about all the things we appreciate about U.S. immigration in 2021, including how grateful we are that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced this year that it would continue the International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP) program. (In May, USCIS under the Biden administration announced it was rescinding a proposal created by the previous administration that would have ended the IEP program.)
I recommend that you consult an immigration attorney who has experience filing IEP applications. Remember, only up to three individuals from the same startup can get IEP. Take a look at these previous Dear Sophie columns in which I discuss the qualifications for IEP and the IEP process. An immigration attorney will also be able to offer alternative options and steps to take based on the unique needs and situations of you and your leadership team.
Timing is still an unknown
The time it takes USCIS to process IEP applications remains uncertain for now, but we are still fervently advocating for anyone who may be eligible to take this path.
USCIS began processing IEP cases just this year, and it does not offer an estimate on processing times for Form I-941, the application for IEP, on its Case Processing Times webpage.
So far, IEP applications are not eligible for premium processing, the optional service that guarantees USCIS will make a decision or request additional evidence within 15 calendar days. Hopefully, as USCIS adjudicates more of these cases, Form I-941 will be added to the agency’s processing times page. And, there’s always the option to seek an expedited request with USCIS.
We started preparing our round of IEP applications on behalf of startup founders at the beginning of May. We began filing them to USCIS about three months ago, and we’re currently awaiting decisions on those cases. Stay tuned — we’ll dedicate a podcast episode to the IEP process and interview an IEP recipient once we receive a decision!
Work authorization for spouses
Some employment visas enable dependent spouses to apply for an employment authorization document (work permit). Besides IEP, you and your team might be eligible for some of them, such as the J-1 visa for educational and cultural exchange, the E-2 visa for treaty investors, the E-3 visa for Australians in specialty occupations, the L-1A visa for intracompany transferee managers and executives and L-1B visa for intracompany transferees who are specialized knowledge workers.
With the exception of the J-1 visa, processing times for most of these visas can run six months or longer, although premium processing is available for the E-2, L-1A, and L-1B visas. Your immigration attorney can help you identify the best options that fit your time frame.
The dependent spouses of H-1B visa holders are only eligible to apply for a work permit if the H-1B visa holder has submitted an I-140 green card petition and the I-140 has been approved by USCIS, or if the primary H-1B holder is eligible for AC21 extensions. Depending on the type of green card and the beneficiary’s country of birth, getting a green card could take a couple years or more.
Also, keep in mind that H-1B visas have certain requirements that could affect an international founder’s terms of employment and equity. Take a look at this previous Dear Sophie column on how your startup can sponsor you for an H-1B.
I do also want to mention that given the current strong demand for talent, companies are increasingly willing to sponsor individuals for a work visa. So, the spouses of the executives at your startup could find an employer that is willing to sponsor them for a work visa or green card, bypassing the need to obtain a work permit. That would enable your startup to sponsor you and your team for O-1A visas, which are the quickest to obtain.
Green card options
Obtaining green cards for your team will also enable spouses to work. The employment-based green card that has the quickest processing time is the EB-1A extraordinary ability green card, which many of our founder clients pursue.
Premium processing is available for the EB-1A, and the process for obtaining an EB-1A green card has been further streamlined this year: Under the Biden administration, USCIS has eliminated mandatory interviews for employment-based green card candidates, which should help with the interview scheduling backlog.
All the best to you and your team on finding the best path forward on your immigration journey and for your startup! To reiterate, while IEP is still new, we are incredibly excited for the opportunity and encourage you to consider it.
Have a question for Sophie? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space.
The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.
Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!