Congratulations on graduating from an accelerator program! That’s a huge accomplishment. If you’re an international founder, either abroad, or currently living in the U.S., you’re probably wondering, “What do I need to do next?” The U.S. immigration system can overwhelm anyone, especially with the added challenges of COVID-19. This blog post outlines the key details to keep in mind as you transition from the accelerator program to growing your startup.
Check your current visa status or start planning
If you’re already in the U.S., check your visa status. If you’re on B-1 status, you have the flexibility to remain in the U.S. while you focus on closing your round. You may be eligible to apply for an extension online or file a paper application to extend your status before the expiration of your B status. Learn more about the B-1 here.
Are you a student on F-1 or J-1 status? You’ll want to know about the most common options for students such as applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT), transferring to the H-1B, or applying for the O-1. More on the O-1 below!
If you are currently outside the U.S. and you are interested in traveling and growing your startup in the U.S., you can still apply for a work visa. It is never too early to map out a plan, figure out your timeline, and evaluate your options.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, USCIS is still processing and approving cases and consulates are slowly re-opening! If you apply for a work visa and it is approved, you’ll need to check with your local Consulate/Embassy’s website for the specific status of whether the location is open for visa stamping.
There are still entry bans to be aware of. Be sure to check on the latest travel restrictions before you plan for any travel to the U.S. The land border restrictions between the U.S. and Canada and the U.S. and Mexico in place since March of last year have been extended every month since. There are also U.S. entry bans for foreign nationals who have been in any of the following countries during the past 14 days: China, Iran, United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa and the European Schengen area. Check here for the most up-to-date traveler information.
Consider applying for the O-1 visa
Most venture-backed founders, especially startup accelerator graduates, qualify for the O-1 visa. The O-1 is a temporary work visa for those with extraordinary ability. It is initially valid for three years. There is no limit to the number of times you can renew your O-1 as long as you continue to meet the qualifications. You can apply anytime, from anywhere in the world. The O-1 visa is considered an ideal option for startup founders because of the flexible criteria and the path it creates to seek permanent residency.
- Awards: You raised venture capital
- Critical Employment: You founded a venture-backed startup
- Press: You get coverage in major media
- Judging: You’ve judged a startup competition
- Memberships: You’ve gone through an accelerator program
- High Remuneration: You have significant equity in a venture-backed company
- Scholarly Articles: You’ve authored scholarly articles
- Original Contributions: You invented something original
Learn more about the O-1 criteria here.
The number-one benefit of accelerator programs are the connections you make, so be sure to stay in touch with your network. Your accelerator community could be the catalyst for a successful fundraise and recruiting opportunity. Your connections may also be useful if you’re thinking about long-term options for living and working in the U.S.
Stay laser-focused on growth
Remember that you're a founder, not a global mobility expert. Your visa situation doesn’t have to distract you from the exciting momentum you’ve built. With a little preparation from you, Legalpad takes care of the paperwork so you can focus on growing your company.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article should not be relied upon as legal advice.