Here’s a story our Columbus immigration law firm knows very well. Hitesh Kothari and Parag Mehta came to the U.S. from Rajkot, India. In 1989, they purchased an old hardware store in Hartford, Connecticut. After starting with one store and three employees, Express Kitchen now hires scores of workers at locations across Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Express Kitchen generates more than $17 million in annual revenue, and the still-growing company offers stiff competition regionally to Lowe’s and Home Depot. Kothari and Mehta were jointly named as Connecticut’s Small Business Persons of the Year in 2014.
If you are an entrepreneur from outside of the United States, you probably already know what Hitesh Kothari and Parag Mehta knew when they here arrived from India – that the business and investment opportunities here in the U.S. are abundant.
What are the best available visa options for an entrepreneur who wants to buy a business or launch a startup company in the United States?
IS AN O-1 VISA RIGHT FOR YOU?
One popular way to launch a business in the U.S. is with an O-1 visa. This option is often chosen by business people who want to bring their entrepreneurial talents and skills to the United States.
The O-1 nonimmigrant visa is for foreign nationals with a demonstrable record of recognized achievement in the sciences, arts, education, athletics, or business.
The O-1A visa is for persons with exceptional achievements and abilities in education, science, sports, or business. An O-1A visa allows an entrepreneur enter the United States to work for his or her own business or for another business.
The O-1B visa is for persons with exceptional achievements and abilities in the arts, television, or the motion picture industry.
IS THE L-1A VISA RIGHT FOR YOU?
The L-1A is a non-immigrant work visa that remains valid only for a brief time. However, with extensions, the L-1A visa can remain good for up to seven years. Larger U.S.-based employers may request multiple L-1A visas with a single application.
If you have already established a business in your home nation, and you now want to launch a startup in the U.S., you can establish an affiliate or a subsidiary of the startup in your home country, and you may then enter the U.S. with an L-1A visa as an executive of that company.
IS THE E-1 VISA RIGHT FOR YOU?
One advantage of the E-1 and E-2 visas is that there is no annual limit on how many of these visas may be issued. However, a foreign national who is applying for the E-1 or E-2 visa must be coming to the United States to work in an executive or supervisory capacity.
Foreign nationals from eligible treaty partner nations who conduct significant international trade with the United States may qualify for the E-1 trader visa. At least half of the trader’s imports and exports must be to and from the United States.
IS THE E-2 VISA RIGHT FOR YOU?
The E-2 treaty investor visa is offered to qualifying investors from U.S. treaty partner nations who make a substantial investment in an established U.S.-based business. You may also apply for the E-2 visa as an investor in your own startup company that you wish to launch in the U.S.
To qualify for an E-2 treaty investor visa, you must be from a nation that has a qualifying treaty of commerce, navigation, or a similar agreement with the U.S. An E-2 investment must be made in a real, operating commercial enterprise that produces real services and/or products.
To acquire an E-2 visa, an international investor must demonstrate that his or her investment will create jobs as well as profits. Investors who are currently in the United States will need to apply for a change of status (by submitting a Form I-129) in order to qualify for and obtain an E-2 visa.
You must already be in possession of the funds that you intend to invest, and you must be able to prove that those funds are legitimate and came to you from legal sources.
IS THE TN VISA RIGHT FOR YOU? WHAT ABOUT THE E-3 VISA?
If you are a citizen of Mexico or Canada, the TN visa allows you to work in the United States for a U.S. or foreign employer. Mexican and Canadian citizens may quickly enter the U.S. with a TN visa and avoid the red tape and complications involved with acquiring an H-1B visa.
There is no limit to the extensions a that a TN visa holder may be granted, and few extension requests are denied. What’s most important is that the TN visa applicant must have prearranged employment or a job offer waiting in the U.S. Self-employment is prohibited with a TN visa.
The E-3 visa is strictly for persons from Australia who enter the U.S. to work in a field that requires theoretical or specialized experience and knowledge. The E-3 visa is good for two years, but there is no limit on the number of extensions that are allowed.
SHOULD YOU APPLY FOR A NATIONAL INTEREST WAIVER?
Founders of their own companies may be able to obtain a green card by applying for a national interest waiver. A green card may be granted if you can prove that your admission to the United States as a lawful permanent resident will be in the national interest.
You are not required to have a specific offer of employment in order to qualify for a national interest waiver.
WHERE CAN YOU GET THE IMMIGRATION HELP YOU NEED?
International traders, entrepreneurs, investors, and the businesses they work for have a number of other immigration options.
To learn more about coming to the United States as an entrepreneur or as an investor, and to learn more about the full range of available business and employment visas, you should arrange a consultation – from anywhere in the world – with a qualified Columbus immigration attorney.
Every visa takes time and patience to acquire, so it is vital to begin the process as quickly as you can. If you plan to do business in the United States, take advantage of the help that a trustworthy, experienced immigration law firm can provide. An attorney’s help is your right.