Dear Sophie: When can I finally come to Silicon Valley?

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.”

Dear Sophie:

I’m a startup founder looking to expand in the U.S. I was originally looking at opening an office in Silicon Valley to be close to software engineers and investors, but then … COVID-19 🙂

A lot has changed over the last year — can I still come?

— Hopeful in Hungary

Dear Hopeful:

How and where work is getting done in Silicon Valley (as well as in much of the world)  shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, yes, it can still make business sense for many to join the Silicon Valley ecosystem.

According to a recent report from PitchBook, Silicon Valley will continue to be the center for VC investment and high-tech talent, even though several large tech companies relocated out of Silicon Valley and implemented full-time work-from-home policies — and many predicted that “the Bay Area tech scene as we know it would be lost, and VC would find a new home.”

Clearly, while the pandemic’s impact on the venture industry will be felt in years to come, VC will continue to be centered in Silicon Valley. In a recent episode of my podcast, I discussed work trends and how to use immigration to support company priorities as well as attract and retain talent in the United States.

The PitchBook report points out that Silicon Valley “has kept a tight hold on fundraising in the U.S., closing on commitments exceeding $151 billion over the past five years, more than the rest of the U.S. ecosystems combined. LPs have continued to funnel capital to area VCs because of the region’s track record of success, which includes 17 of the 22 U.S. companies to ever receive a private valuation of $10 billion or more.”

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn

So while VCs will likely return to the old ways of networking and funding post-pandemic, we’ll see a hybrid of online and in-person meetings because there are so many benefits to in-person networking and exchanging ideas.

From my personal experience living in countries including Germany, Russia, Italy and Spain, I found that language immersion, cultural immersion and cultural differences matter. Having local cultural knowledge can be important for international entrepreneurs, and critical to marketing if the U.S. is your target market. You could try to gain that knowledge remotely, but it’s so much easier to learn how to tailor your product or service to the U.S. market by being here. In addition, it’s easier to foster company culture and innovation with at least some in-person meetings between team members; it’s difficult to do that solely through online meetings. And time zone alignment helps to get teamwork done.

Moreover, recruiting talent from within Silicon Valley can make business sense as well. There is a lot of amazing talent already here (whether from the U.S. or immigrants) and based on the conversations I have every day, the lure of Silicon Valley remains strong.

There are many visa options for you as a startup founder to come to Silicon Valley and explore the market. A B-1 visitor visa for business would allow you to visit the U.S. for six months and extend for up to another six months to meet with prospective investors, negotiate contracts, search for office space or incorporate a new business. However, you should be aware that no hands-on paid work by a U.S. entity is allowed. Moreover, make sure immigration officials know you are entering the U.S. as a business visitor — not a B-2 tourist visitor for pleasure — since the B-1/B-2 visa are often issued together.

If your startup has been in operation for at least a year, you could apply for an L-1A for intracompany executives to open an office in the U.S. for your startup and live and work temporarily here. The L-1A visa offers a direct path to an EB-1C green card for multinational managers and executives.

If you already know you want to remain in the U.S. for the long haul, you can petition on your own for an EB-1A green card for individuals of extraordinary abilities or achievement or the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card for individuals of exceptional abilities.

President Joe Biden ended the Trump-era ban on the issuance of green cards at U.S. embassies and consulates. COVID-19-related measures have seriously impacted U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as well as the U.S. State Department, which operates the consulates and embassies around the world, so the sooner you submit your application, the better.

Wishing you the best on your journey!


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!