Do any current US visas help startup founders?

In the past, we’ve talked about foreign entrepreneurship in America, and also about famous H-1B recipients who went on to become founders of some household companies that employ tens of thousands of American citizens. Typically, these founders have had to build companies alongside their sponsored work positions, which can quickly take its toll on a professional and delay company launches and innovation. Now, we are at an interesting moment in immigration where it seems government officials are speaking up in support of startups. A California representative, U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the LIKE Act for startup founders in the House of Representatives to her colleagues.


Currently, there is a great new program for aspiring entrepreneurs is International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP), a new immigration rule in the United States that allows CEOs, CTOs and others to live in the U.S. and run their company for 2.5 years with an option for a 2.5-year extension. Your spouse can also obtain a work permit. To qualify for the IEP, applicants need to own at least 10% of a U.S. company. Applicants will also want to show that the company bank account has at least $250,000 raised from qualified U.S. investors. 


By contrast, the LIKE act would allow applicants in similar positions to stay for a visa term of 8 years if the company creates substantial jobs and stimulates the economy. There are also a slew of pro-applicant terms such as the ability to apply for consecutive startup visas, a path to allocate employee visas for startups, and keeping startup green cards separate from the visa bulletin. 


If you are already in the US and on an H-1B visa, you can launch a startup while employed at your current H-1B job. Once your company is established, your company can apply for an H-1B on your behalf. Having co-founders at your startup is a strong recommendation, especially ones that are American citizens, should you need them to sponsor you as an employee or colleague in the future. It will also help you meet requirements later when your startup needs a board of directors (not just you) to be able to fire you and demonstrate that your company has a system of checks and balances, even as a startup. 


As you can imagine, the H-1B startup process is intricate and complex. It is advised to hire an H-1B attorney to help ensure your application is successful. This allows you to focus on growing your startup, and legal professionals spearhead your immigration status.