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Immigration Law Blog

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Visa for Start-Ups (O-1)

You are an immigrant entrepreneur with a great idea. You launched your product, you got funding, people are starting to talk about the product, and the press is interested. But there is a problem. You don’t have an immigration status that allows you to work in the U.S. and take your company to the next stage – what do you do?

At this time of year, H-1Bs (visas for Specialty Occupation workers) are not available and they can, in any case, pose challenges for Start-Ups, so what other options are available? In the next few issues we will be discussing some successful strategies that have worked for immigrant entrepreneurs. This month, we describe the O visa – for “extraordinary aliens.”

Often times, people under the misconception believe that the only way they can get an O-1 visa is if they have won the Noble Prize. While someone with the Noble Prize is a likely contender for an O-1, there are many other people who can qualify – including Entrepreneurs. 

An O-1 requires that you meet 3 out of 10 criteria. An Entrepreneur may be able to document satisfaction of these requirements using various types of unique evidence, including:

  • USCIS now recognizes that venture capital funding or other similar investments, such as those from an angel investor, may be used to establish that you have received a “nationally or internationally recognized award for excellence.”
  • If there has been press about the start-up, especially in well-respected business and technology publications, this can be used to establish that “material has been published about you.”
  • Your investors and mentors, who are well respected entrepreneurs, themselves, can write support letters to establish that you have made an “original business-related contribution of major significance” by discussing how your product is a game changer or otherwise “disruptive.”

The above, are just some examples, of the types of evidence that can be used to support an O-1 petition for an Entrepreneur. A successful O-1 petition must be well documented with strong support from the experts in the field. And while it won’t work for everyone, it’s worth exploring, especially, if your idea may be the Next Big Thing!  The O-1 is a great option for start-ups, and although a start-up specific Visa does not currently exist, USCIS is starting to take notice of this unique business model.

The immigration petitions of start-up companies are extremely unique and to handle that challenge, USCIS Adjudicators have been given special training, tools and information to facilitate the informed adjudication of entrepreneurial petitions. Officers are in a better position to help pass judgments on the unique merits of the highly complex and specialized nature of these cutting edge businesses. The Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR) Initiative was created under the direction of President Obama and the Secretary of State and initiated by USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas. The program provided hands-on training and collaboration between entrepreneurs, start-up industry insiders and USCIS adjudicators. In a February 2014 press release, USCIS deemed the program a great success and indicated that Officers are now savvy to the unique features and business models associated with entrepreneurial and venture funded start-up petitioners. While many hurdles still exist, we remain hopeful that the training received by USCIS officers will help in facilitating approvals for cases when merited.

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Peddibhotla Law Firm, is well positioned to assist start-ups with their immigration needs. Contact Us today for more information.


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