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Investing in America: How Foreign Entrepreneurs Can Leverage the U.S. Immigration System for Business Success

By Elizabeth Ji, Founder of The Ji Law Firm

Don’t believe the haters decrying America’s economic decline. No matter what click-baity articles say, the U.S. continues to be the land of opportunity. Especially for ambitious foreign entrepreneurs. In fact, tremendous opportunity exists for startups, especially when they better discern our immigration process as well as the strategic approach to visa categories such as the E2, L1, and H1B.

Such understanding can be key to turning immigration challenges into opportunities for business growth in the lucrative U.S. market. Being both informed and strategic in your decision-making can make or break your chances. Therefore, as we approach the H-1B visa season—what I celebrate as “Christmas in March”—from March 6 to March 22, applicants can better set themselves up for success with early preparation. (Check out my above piece for more info.)

Now in this article, I offer insights into the E2, L1, and H1B visas. Each category is tailored to the needs of entrepreneurial ventures at various growth stages. Let’s now unpack how foreign entrepreneurs can leverage the U.S. immigration system to make their big dreams a living, breathing reality.

E2 Visa: The Investor’s Path

I’ve guided many clients through the E2 visa process. It’s specifically designed for entrepreneurs from treaty countries eager to make a substantial investment in a U.S. business. The E2 visa’s appeal lies in its direct control over the investment and the flexibility it confers on business operations.

Even so, it’s critical to note up front that it requires a “substantial” initial investment, as mentioned in the USCIS description. Also it’s only available to nationals of treaty countries. My tip for aspiring E2 visa applicants? Focus on developing a strong, detailed business plan and ensure proof of your investment funds are readily available. Given that the Foreign Affairs Manual states, “No set dollar figure constitutes a minimum amount of investment to be considered ‘substantial’ for E-2 visa purposes,” requirements will vary from case to case.

L1 Visa: Intra-Company Transfer

The L1 visa facilitates transfer of key employees—managers, executives, or those with specialized knowledge—from an international company to its U.S. subsidiary or branch. Unlike the E2, this visa does not require investment in the U.S. Still, it necessitates that an employee has been with the company for at least one out of the past three years.

The inherent challenge? Proving the managerial or executive nature of a given role. To this end, documenting operations and an employee’s significance is helpful. For those looking to eventually secure a Green Card, the L1 visa can be quite an advantageous step on this path when planned correctly. However, U.S. operations must be ready to support the employee/applicant in the process.

H1B Visa: Specialty Occupations

As briefly discussed, the H1B visa operates under a competitive lottery system due to high demand, opening on March 6. It is a critical period for U.S. companies seeking to fill specialized positions and for foreign workers possessing requisite skills. This visa mandates a bachelor’s degree or higher and is subject to an annual cap—this year was set at 65,000 under the regular category, with an additional 20,000 visas allocated to applicants holding a master’s degree.

The competitive selection process, detailed in my previous article, offers hope to thousands. Yet it also poses a challenge due to the limited number of slots. Although often associated with tech companies, the H1B visa, aimed at employing foreign workers in specialty occupations requiring theoretical or technical expertise, can also be strategic for entrepreneurs with specialized skills seeking to play a critical role in their startups.

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In my years of experience, I’ve had the privilege of guiding many entrepreneurs through the U.S. immigration process. One story that stands out is that of a person we shall call Behzad. A business visionary hailing from France, his journey exemplifies the strategic use of the visa categories in our discussion.

Behzad’s ambition was to introduce his innovative tech solution to the American market. With a strong business plan and solid investment, we identified the E2 visa as the optimal pathway. As to be expected, the laborious process involved detailed documentation of his investment, a comprehensive business plan, and a clear demonstration of the potential for job creation.

Upon securing his E2 visa, Behzad established his startup in Austin, Texas. This move allowed him to gain major market traction, leading to the expansion of his team. We are now contemplating the H1B visa process to bring in a key new member with expertise critical to his continued growth.

Behzad’s success story highlights the importance of understanding the U.S. immigration system and leveraging the appropriate visa categories to support your business objectives. Now, let’s close with some tips to do this right.

 

Tips to prepare effectively:

  • Start Early: Begin visa applications, like the H1B, well in advance to meet submission deadlines.
  • Leave nothing to chance: For visas like E2 or L1, prepare a detailed business plan.
  • Get your documents in order: Familiarize yourself in advancewith all the forms required for your case.
  • Stay Updated: Keep on top of immigration laws and policies by consulting reliable sources.
  • Seek professional help: Given such legal complexity, solicit advice from a top immigration attorney to ensure things go your way.

At the end of the day, foreign entrepreneurs and talent are vital to the U.S. economy. They provide a symbiotic relationship between immigrant innovation and domestic economic growth. More, they introduce innovative market solutions and generate greater employment opportunities. By leveraging various options offered by the U.S. immigration system, foreign entrepreneurs stand to promote domestic innovation and competition—which benefits consumers. And of course, such ventures often address unmet needs, introduce novel services or products, and create positive ripple effects for Americans and other residents.

For all these reasons, we at The Ji Law Firm advocate for streamlined visa processes and help to guide entrepreneurs like Behzad every step of the way. Do you seek a strategic, yet compassionate attorney to help you on your own entrepreneurial journey to greatness? If so, please email me today: eji@myjilaw.com. Let’s make your American dream come true.

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