How to move to the USA with your startup: 3 real visa options, their features and statistics

    The Internet is full of articles on the topic of moving to the United States, but for the most part, these are rewrites of the pages of the site of the American Migration Service, which are devoted to listing generally all the ways to come to the country. There are a lot of these methods, but the truth is that most of them are inaccessible to ordinary people and the founders of IT projects.

    If you do not have hundreds of thousands of dollars that you need to invest in developing a business in the USA to obtain a visa, and the duration of your stay on a tourist visa is too short for you, read today's review.

    1. Visa H-1B

    H1-B is a work visa by which foreign specialists come to the USA. Theoretically, not only Google or Facebook, but also a regular startup can arrange it for their employee and even the founder.

    There are a number of features in applying for a visa for a startup founder. First of all, it is necessary to prove relations of the “employee-employer” format, that is, in fact, the company should have the opportunity to fire an employee, despite the fact that he founded it.

    It turns out that the founder should not have a controlling stake in the company - it should not exceed 50%. There should be, for example, a board of directors that has a theoretical right to evaluate the work of an employee and decide on his dismissal.

    Few numbers

    There are quotas for H1B visas - for example, the quota for the fiscal year 2019 amounted to 65 thousand, while 199 thousand were submitted for receiving such a visa in 2018. These visas are awarded during the lottery. Another 20 thousand visas are issued to those specialists who received education in the USA (Master's Exemption Cap).

    Life hacks

    There is a small life hack, which from time to time is advised in discussions about the H1-B visa. Universities can also hire employees on this visa, and for them, like for some other non-profit organizations, there are no quotas (H1-B Cap Exempt). Under this scheme, the university hires an entrepreneur, he conducts lectures for students, participates in seminars and informally continues to work on the development of the project.

    Here is a description of the story of such a founder’s work on a project as an employee of a university in Massachusetts. Before you try to go this route, you should consult with a lawyer regarding the legality of such work.

    2. Visa for talented people O-1

    O-1 visa is intended for talented people from various fields who need to come to the USA to carry out work projects. Business representatives are given an O-1A visa, while a subtype visa of O-1B is intended for artists.

    In the case of startup founders, the design scheme is similar to what we described for the H1-B visa. That is, you need to create a legal entity in the USA - usually this is C-Corp. The founder’s share in the company should also not be controlling, and the company should have the opportunity to part with this employee.

    At the same time, it is necessary to prepare a visa petition, which contains evidence of the “extraordinary” nature of the employee whom the startup plans to hire. There are a number of criteria that must be met in order to obtain an O-1 visa:

    • professional awards and prizes;
    • membership in professional associations, where extraordinary specialists are accepted (and not all in a row who can pay a membership fee);
    • victories in professional competitions;
    • participation as a jury member in professional competitions (clear authority for evaluating the work of other professionals);
    • media references (project descriptions, interviews) and own publications in specialized or scientific journals;
    • a significant position in a large company;
    • any additional evidence is also accepted.

    To obtain a visa, you must prove compliance with at least several criteria from the list. You can tentatively assess your chances using the checklist at the end of this white paper on the O-1 visa .

    Few numbers

    I could not find any recent data on the percentage of approval and rejection on O-1 visas. However, the network has information for the fiscal year 2010. Then the US Migration Service received 10,394 applications for O-1 visa, of which 8,589 were approved, and 1,805 people received refusal.

    How are you today

    There is no evidence that the number of applications for an O-1 visa has seriously increased or decreased. It is important to understand that the ratio of approvals and denials published by USCIS cannot be considered final.

    Obtaining an O-1 visa is a two-step quest. First, your application is approved by the migration service, and then you must come to the US Embassy outside this country and get the visa itself. The subtle point is that an officer at the consulate may refuse to issue a visa, even if the petition has been approved by the migration service, and such cases periodically happen - I know at least a few.

    Therefore, it is worth preparing well for an interview at the embassy and answering all questions about your upcoming work in the USA without hesitation.

    3. L-1 Visa for transferring an employee from a foreign office

    This visa may be suitable for entrepreneurs who already have a working and legally registered business outside the United States. Such founders can start a branch of their company in America and move to work in this subsidiary.

    It also has its subtle points. In particular, the migration service will require justification of the need for a company in the US market and the presence of physical employees who come from abroad.

    Important facts and statistics

    The local office must be open before you apply for a visa. Among the supporting documents of the migration service officers will be interested in a detailed business plan, confirmation of office rent, etc.

    In addition, the employee must officially work in the foreign office of the parent company coming to the United States for at least a year.

    According to USCIS statistics , after 2000, more than 100 thousand L-1 visas are issued each year.


    In this article, we have listed three types of visas that can be called the most suitable for founders of startups that do not have significant resources, but are going to live in the United States. Investor visas and B-1 business travel visas do not fit into these criteria.

    An important final tip: before taking any move-related actions, gather as much information as possible and, ideally, find a migration lawyer with the help of someone you know personally who has moved to America in the way you need.

    My other articles on doing and promoting a business in the USA:

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