Founding a U.S. Startup & Getting a Work Visa

This is a guest post from our friends at Legalpad!

If your goal is to obtain a U.S. work visa, founding a U.S. company could help you get a visa. However, you’ll likely have to do more than just start a company to qualify for a U.S. work visa. 

Let’s go into the specific ways that founding a U.S. startup might make it easier to get a U.S. work visa:

  1. Your Startup Can Sponsor Your Work Visa

All U.S. work visas require a sponsoring company. If you don’t have a U.S. company willing to sponsor your visa, starting your own company and sponsoring yourself can make it easier for you to get to the U.S. 

Keep in mind: To avoid a visa denial, you’ll need to establish an employer-employee relationship. Thankfully, a simple way to do this is to own less than 50% of the company’s shares, or establish a Board of Directors

2. Satisfying Visa-Specific Qualifications

Each work visa has unique qualifications. While there aren’t any visas you’ll automatically qualify for by starting a company, milestones you hit as a founder could satisfy visa qualifications. 

  • Investing in your startup: You could qualify for the E-2 investor visa if you invest in your U.S. company. 
  • Raising venture capital funding: Securing funding from internationally recognized VC firms could help you meet one O-1 visa criteria (you need to meet three of the eight criteria to get an O-1 visa).
  • Go through an accelerator: Participating in a top accelerator like Y Combinator, Techstars, and 500 Startups could help you meet one O-1 visa criteria.
  • Getting press: As your startup gains traction, press articles about you and your company may be published. Articles in prestigious news outlets can help you meet one O-1 visa criteria.
  • Becoming a successful startup: Being the founder of a successful startup could help you meet two additional O-1 visa criteria—the original contributions and critical employment criteria. 
  • Starting a new office in the U.S. for your existing company: If you are the founder of an existing company outside the U.S., you might be able to start a U.S. office and transfer to the U.S. with an L-1 visa

Overview of the Best Work Visas for Startup Founders

The O-1A visa is the only visa with criteria that align with common startup founder accomplishments like raising venture capital funding and participating in accelerator programs. Meeting at least three of eight flexible criteria will secure you three years of work authorization with unlimited extensions.

If you have already founded a startup outside the U.S. and would like to expand operations to the U.S., the L-1 visa might fit. You can work in the U.S. for up to seven years if you qualify.

Investing in your U.S. company could qualify you for an E-2 visa to work for your company! There is no minimum investment amount. Nationals from specific treaty countries qualify. 

Next Steps

The best path forward will depend on your unique situation. You might find that getting a job at an existing U.S. company that sponsors visas may be easier than starting your own company. However, many entrepreneurs come to the U.S. on work visas each year. If you’d like to discuss your immigration case, contact our friends at Legalpad, who specialize in visas for startups.

Excerpt: Although founding an American company does not guarantee you a visa, it might make it a little easier to get one.

Annie Blay
Annie Blay
Content Specialist at Legalpad
Doola's website is for general information purposes only and doesn't provide official law or tax advice. For tax or legal advice we are happy to connect you to a professional in our network! Please see our terms and privacy policy. Thank you and please don't hesitate to reach out with any questions.
LLC 101
Popular Posts

Get started with doola and launch your US business

Turn your dream idea into your dream US business, today.