As published in the August 18, 2013 edition of the Sunday Business Post:
Any entrepreneur seeking to enter the US market must consider visa needs, from initial concerns of traveling back and forth, to bigger picture visa options and significantly, how current immigration reform proposals are likely to impact visa options in the future.
Visa Waiver and the B-1 Visa for Business
Initially, travel to the US is easy for Irish nationals; Visa Waiver permits trips of up to 90 days visa-free for business or pleasure but there is little understanding of what ‘business’ is permitted and how far this envelope can be pushed.
Tips for business trippers
- Know what ‘business’ is permitted, including generally: meetings; negotiating contracts; consulting with business associates; attending a convention or conference; short-term training; litigation; after-sales service if a contract exists; pre-investment activities.
- Know what ‘business’ is not permitted, including: working; soliciting business if you’re a principal; engaging in work as an consultant (ISP); after-sales service if no contract exists;
- Every business visitor should have written evidence of purpose of travel and ties outside the US every time they seek entry to produce if necessary. Documenting purpose of travel, e.g. itinerary for meetings and ties, e.g., employment (letter from employer) and residence (personal bank statement showing salary/mortgage/rent).
- A pattern of frequent but short trips is preferable to long trips. Don’t push it.
- One strike and you’re out. If almost half your time, cumulatively, is being spent in the US, you will almost certainly be denied entry and can never use VW again. Explore B-1 visa before this happens.
- Seek expert advice re visa options. It’s tricky and not intuitive.
When a company requires a US presence, there is usually a need to transfer managers and skilled employees. Visa options include intra-company transfer (L-1) visas, treaty investor (E-2) and trader (E-1) visas and visas for professionals (H-1B). Availability, eligibility, pros and cons, associated risks, timing and costs of each category must be explored in every case. For more details on these visa types please consult our free e-guide at www.obrienandassociates.com .
Any current treatment of US visas must include some reference to the immigration reform bill currently under debate in the US Congress. While it’s widely accepted that some reform measures will be introduced, it’s still impossible to predict what version will finally pass the House, as many of the provisions passed by the Senate are still hotly contested. Almost all areas of US immigration are slated for reform, and while much media attention has focussed on the undocumented, considerable benefits for entrepreneurs and highly skilled workers have received little press. A cursory treatment only is possible here.
Broadly, the following provisions of the Senate bill are of most interest to Startups:
H-1B annual quota for bachelor’s degree holders almost doubled to 110,000; advanced degree holders quota increased by 5,000 to 25,000 but restricted to STEM graduates
- INVEST (Investing in a New Venture, Entrepreneurial Startups and Technology) Visas – new 3 year “Startup Visa” for entrepreneurs who have raised $100K of financing or generated $250K in annual revenue; renewable indefinitely if certain criteria met. Unlimited number of these visas available.
- 10,000 INVEST green cards made available – requirements are more stringent than for INVEST visas
- A new category of employment based (EB) green card has been added which is merit-based (points system). The bill also favours STEM graduates in many respects in the existing EB green card category for Master’s holders.
- The current per country cap on employment based green cards which has led to huge backlogs for populous countries (e.g., India) is removed.
- E-3 visas – currently only available to professionals from Australia. The Senate bill proposes to broaden this category to include non-graduates as well as professionals; significantly, Ireland will receive a quota of 10,500 visas per year.
The proposed bill is a sweeping overhaul, and there’s a lot more in it but any version of immigration reform that passes will surely include significant benefits for startups and entrepreneurs. Keep an eye on our website for the latest news updates: https://obrienandassociates.com/comprehensive-immigration-reform/ .