Dear Sophie! What are the visa options for international founders?

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Here is another edition “Dear Sophie”, an advice column answering immigration questions about working in tech companies.

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“Your questions are vital to spreading the knowledge that enables people around the world to rise above boundaries and achieve their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you work in HR, are a founder, or are looking for a job in Silicon Valley, I am happy to answer your questions in my next column.”

TechCrunch+ members get access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase an annual or two-year subscription with a 50% discount.

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Dear Sophie,

A few years ago I founded a startup in Pakistan with a couple of co-founders. One of the co-founders and I want to move to the United States to access the market.

What visa options do we have? Thanks in advance for your help!

— Purposeful in Pakistan

Dear Purposeful,

Congratulations on your decision to develop your business in the USA!

Before I delve into visa options, I want to point out that it is important to set up your company so that it can successfully sponsor you and your co-founder and other employees for visas and green cards, as well as attract investors. I recommend that you seek the help of an immigration lawyer and a corporate lawyer.

In addition, many companies help founders both in the United States and abroad to register their business in the United States, open a business bank account there, and coordinate legal paperwork and other tasks.

The visa options for you and your co-founder will largely depend on:

  • Ownership structure of your business in the USA.
  • How much will be invested to set up your business in the USA.
  • your abilities and experience.
  • The success that you and your company have achieved or should achieve.
  • Who needs to come to the US and what they will need to do while in the country.
  • Your deadline.
  • Your current international travel needs.

Also, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • All work visas that allow you and your co-founder to temporarily live and work in the United States require your startup or agent to petition for you and your co-founder.
  • Some work visas require your startup to demonstrate that you and your co-founder are like any other employee in your startup, meaning that you are under the supervision of someone who also has the ability to fire you and your co-founder, and neither , nor your co-founder owns a majority stake in the startup. This is known as an employer-employee relationship.
  • You may have to wait several months before you can enter the United States. Although the US Embassy in Islamabad and the Consulate General in Karachi have resumed work visa processing and have the authority to cancel visa interviews, they can only refuse interviews if the visa applicant has previously applied for a visa. Currently, the waiting time for an interview is several months. (There are some consulates that still have multi-year waiting times.)

Here are the work visas my firm most often considers for startup founders:

Visa O-1

O-1A The Extraordinary Aptitude Visa is for individuals who have achieved national or international recognition and are leaders in their field.

Composite image of immigration lawyer Sophie Alcorn with the TechCrunch logo in the background.

Image credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (Opens in a new window)

To qualify for an O-1A visa, your startup must be based in the United States and must demonstrate that an employer-employee relationship exists between you and the startup, or you must find an alternative agent for sponsorship purposes. A person must meet three of the eight criteria, some of which include:

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