There are a variety of visa options for foreign business owners and entrepreneurs. One of the more overlooked options is the O-1 visa.
O-1 visas are reserved for proven, talented individuals who are at the top of their respected fields. While this visa may not be ideal for every entrepreneur, it could grant a unique opportunity to those who have had previous success or received recognition for their other business endeavors.
What is an O-1 visa?
The O-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for those with extraordinary achievements or abilities in science, art, education, business or athletics. In order to be approved, the applicant must be planning to work within their area of extraordinary ability while in the United States.
O-1 visas allow foreign nationals to stay in the U.S. for an initial period of three years. You can then apply to extend your visa in one-year increments. There is no limit to the number of times you can apply for an extension, as long as you continue to do the same kind of work that was described in your initial O-1 visa application.
Many believe O-1 visas are reserved for renowned scientists, artists, musicians, movie stars and athletes. While this is true, the O-1 visa is also available to entrepreneurs and business owners who demonstrate extraordinary ability in their field.
O-1 visa requirements for entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs must meet the same qualifications as a prominent scientist or artist – that is, they must demonstrate their extraordinary ability in business. This can include:
- Awards or recognition in business or in your particular industry
- Significant media coverage
- Judging a business or startup-related competition
- Receiving significant funding from investors or venture capitalists
As a businessperson seeking an O-1 visa, you can plan for several of these requirements ahead of time. If you plan on founding a startup in the U.S. in the coming years, you can seek media coverage or recognition in advance to ensure you qualify. Some investors would even be willing to commit to funding before you receive your visa, as many understand that you would need funding secured before you apply.
What other visa options are available?
O-1 visas are flexible and subjective, making them easier to receive for some entrepreneurs. However, this category does not work for everybody. If you are unable to prove your abilities or expertise, you will likely not qualify.
Some entrepreneurs have found success in applying for L-1 visas if they are employed by a related foreign business. Others apply for EB-5 or E-2 visas if they have significant capital to invest in U.S. business.
The best way to determine which visa you should apply for would be to consult a U.S. immigration attorney. Finding the best path forward to temporary or permanent residency requires a custom plan for your unique circumstances.