Whether you are Human Resources leader at an established American tech company, or the founder of a foreign startup, one of the biggest hurdles is selecting the right visa path for your employees and/or co-founders. We’re here to help with everything work visa-related so you can go back to focusing on what is most important—growing your business in the U.S.
Immigrants are essential to technological innovation in the U.S. Nearly 45% of 2019 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Immigrants also make up an increasing percentage of employees at American technology companies, in part due to the talent shortage in the U.S.
Our team at Legalpad has witnessed firsthand the incredible things accomplished by immigrants, through our mission of helping connect global talent to opportunity. Whether you are Human Resources leader at an established American tech company, or the founder of a foreign startup, one of the biggest hurdles is selecting the right visa path for your employees and/or co-founders. We’re here to help with everything work visa-related so you can go back to focusing on what is most important—growing your business in the U.S.
Here are three visa options for temporary workers:
The O-1A is arguably the most advantageous startup visa option for people who do qualify. The O-1 is approved in increments of three years but can be extended indefinitely, unlike other visa categories that have extension limitations. In addition, there is no prevailing wage requirement, which makes it easier for early-stage startups to employ visa holders without having to pay any particular wage.
The challenge with the O-1A work visa is that it is meant for individuals at the top of their field, and not everyone qualifies. But many startup founders—especially founders of startups that have raised funding or gone through an accelerator program—do end up qualifying for the O-1A! Other employees that can show documented success in their field may qualify as well.
Even if the person you want to hire has previously been told that they don’t qualify for the O-1, we encourage you to reach out to our team. Many of our clients have come to us after being told by numerous law firms that they don’t qualify for the O-1. Don’t assume the person you want to hire is not qualified until you chat with our team of startup immigration experts.
The L-1 visa is worth exploring if you have employees at a foreign company that you’d like to bring over to a parent, subsidiary, brand, affiliate, or sister company in the U.S. To qualify, your employees must have worked as an executive, manager, or specialty worker (such as a software engineer) continually for the past three years at the foreign company.
The L-1 is a great option for co-founders or other qualified employees of a foreign startup that have a spouse who would like to work in the U.S. as well because L-2 holders can freely work for any U.S. company.
Unlike other visa options, the L-1 requires you to set up a physical office space in the U.S., which may be a challenge for remote teams. The L-1 visa application process is also different based on whether or not L-1 visas have been previously granted to other employees at the same company.
The H-1B visa for specialty occupation workers:
The H-1B is easily the most well-known nonimmigrant visa option for working in the United States. H-1B visa applicants usually must have a bachelor's degree or higher in a specialized field and their employer must be willing to pay them a prevailing wage.
It is fairly easy to transfer from one U.S. company to another on an H-1B. If you are looking to hire someone who is already working at another U.S. company on an H-1B, simply transferring their H-1B status over to your company could be a good option. Another advantage of the H-1B visa is that it is a dual intent visa, which means that there is a streamlined path for applying for a green card.
There are some limitations to the H-1B, though. There is a lottery system and only a certain amount of H-1Bs are approved each year. In addition, there are strict timelines for H-1B start dates, making it a less than ideal option for companies looking to hire new employees quickly.
Other visa options:
If the O-1, L-1, and H-1B visas don’t feel like the right fit for the employees you want bring over to the U.S., it might be worth looking into the TN visa for Canadian and Mexican nationals, or the E-2 visa for investors.
What about immigrant visas?
Immigrant visas like the EB-1 and EB-2 put foreign nationals on a path to getting a green card, however, they do not provide U.S. work authorization by themselves. Because of this, it is a good idea to secure a nonimmigrant temporary work visa (such as the O-1, L-1, H-1B, TN, or E-2) first and then begin looking into a green card path for your employees.
Securing work visas shouldn’t get in the way of your company’s growth in the U.S. Legalpad specializes in immigration for startups. We’ve helped hundreds of startup founders and their employees secure work visas and green cards. Reach out if you’d like to talk through the best options for your team.