We recently held office hours at Draper University to answer immigration questions from the current batch of students in the summer startup training program. Thanks to one of our clients—a graduate of the program—Draper staff invited me and my colleagues, Jeff Huang and Gabby Phillips, to talk to interested students about their options.
When we arrived, Draper U was filled with dozens of students from all around the world excitedly buzzing and planning on their startups. We were thrilled to see VC founder Tim Draper leading students through a startup simulation game, inspiring them to build their companies.
More than a dozen young international entrepreneurs spoke with us, expressing deep frustration with the immigration system in the U.S. We echo that frustration. Some international students found it difficult just to get a visa to attend the program. Most of these highly motivated entrepreneurs asked how they could stay in the U.S. to build their startup after they graduated from the program.
One conversation I had stood out. I explained some of the immigration options available to entrepreneurs to a young adult in the program. He said our system is “messed up” and “unfair and stupid.”
He said, “So, you’re saying there’s no easy way to do this unless I’ve worked a long time, earned a ton of awards, already have a company back home, or I’m already rich. That’s going to take years. I don’t even want to focus on college. I already have an idea that’s going to work, and just want to dive right in.”
This young entrepreneur hit the nail on the head. Our immigration system is “messed up.” Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs, even those with investor backing, and especially those who are young, find it difficult to qualify quickly and easily for existing visa options. If the U.S. offered a startup visa, international entrepreneurs stand a chance of diving right into their company to innovate and create jobs for U.S. workers. Instead, the Trump administration is dismantling the International Entrepreneur Parole program, the next best alternative to a startup visa.
Still, options exist for young international entrepreneurs. If your goal is to start or grow your company in the U.S., you need to devise a plan now with deliberate steps to achieve that goal.
Options for Entrepreneurs
In the meantime, traditional visa and green card options still exist, including:
- EB-1A green card: The requirements for an EB-1A are rigorous. You must demonstrate “extraordinary ability” in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. However, you may submit an EB-1A petition without an employer sponsor or the lengthy and expensive labor certification.
- EB-1C green card: If your startup has been in business in the U.S. for at least a year, it can sponsor you for an EB-1C.
- EB-2 National Interest Waiver: If you have an advanced degree or “exceptional ability” in the sciences, arts, or business, you may be eligible for an EB-2 green card with a National Interest Waiver (NIW). As with the EB-1A green card, you may submit an EB-2 NIW petition without an employer sponsor or labor certification.
- E-2 Visa for Treaty Investors: If you can invest in your startup and hold citizenship in a country with an investment treaty with the U.S., you may be eligible for an E-2 visa. Even if your home country does not have an investment treaty with the U.S., you can gain eligibility for an E-2 by first becoming a citizen of Grenada.
- L-1A visa: If you’ve already established your startup abroad and you’ve been working at the startup for at least a year, you could apply for an L-1A to open a U.S. office.
- Entrepreneur-in-Residence Programs: Some U.S. universities offer programs that enable you to get an H-1B visa to mentor business students while building your company in the U.S. Global EIR, a nonprofit network of entrepreneurs, investors, and universities, connects international founders with universities, mentors, investors, or cities. San Jose State University, a Global EIR partner, seeks immigrant entrepreneurs to start or grow their startups in Silicon Valley.
Schedule a Strategy Session
The Alcorn Immigration Law team can help. We enjoy the challenge of customizing immigration strategies that enable international entrepreneurs to achieve their personal and professional goals. If you would like a strategy session about your options, contact us.
We believe immigration leads to innovation. We can help whether you’re in Silicon Valley or on the other side of the world. We’re eager to help you find the best strategy to enable you to live and work legally in the U.S.