August 21, 2023

How to get a US visa as a startup founder

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If you're a startup founder, a US visa can open new doors for growth and expansion, launching you and your business to new heights. The United States has created an environment conducive to entrepreneurship  —  one with access to large markets and a thriving ecosystem for enterprising innovators.

The startup environment gives you a chance to test your ideas, try out new business methods, and use creative thinking, risk-taking, and adaptability to gain momentum. International founders often apply for US visas for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Large customer base
  • Venture capital and investment opportunities
  • Vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem
  • Collaborative opportunities with other startups and industry leaders
  • Networking and mentorship
  • Access to top talent and skilled professionals
  • Global opportunities for research, development, technology, and innovation

So, what are your options? 

E-1 and E-2 visas

The E-1 visa (treaty trader) and E-2 visa (treaty investor) are non-immigrant visas for individuals from countries with treaties with the United States. These visas allow founders from treaty countries to engage in substantial trade or investment activities in the US.

The E-1 visa permits individuals to work in the US for an enterprise that conducts substantial trade between the US and their home country.

The E-2 visa allows founders to invest a large amount of money into a US business venture.

Eligibility and requirements

Founders from countries with an eligible treaty with the US can apply for these visas. 

Let’s explore the eligibility criteria — note that these can vary depending on the specific treaty requirements:

  • The business must maintain the treaty country's nationality, meaning the business seeking the visa must originate from a country that has a qualifying treaty or trade agreement with the US
  • The majority ownership or control of the business must be held by nationals of the treaty country
  • The trader or investor must have a substantial investment or trade volume with the US

EB-5 job creation visa

The EB-5 visa is an employment-based immigrant visa program that grants permanent residency to those who invest a substantial amount of capital in a new US commercial enterprise that creates jobs for US workers.

The EB-5 visa offers a pathway to permanent residency for founders who meet the program's investment and job creation requirements.

Eligibility and requirements

Investment capital required is cash and all real, personal, or mixed tangible assets belonging to and controlled by the immigrant investor. The combined capital will be valued at fair-market value in US dollars. A minimum investment of $800,000 is needed for a targeted employment area. The visa application includes infrastructure projects. 

At least ten full-time jobs must also be created for qualifying US workers, and the EB-5 investor must invest the required capital into a new commercial enterprise. 

L-1 multinational transfer visa

The L-1 visa is designed for intracompany transferees, allowing multinational companies to transfer key employees to their US branch, subsidiary, or affiliate. It can be suitable for startup founders with an established company abroad.

The L-1 visa offers non-immigrant status for eligible intracompany transferees and their families, allowing them to temporarily work and live in the US.

Startup founders who are owners or executives of a foreign company and plan to establish a US office or have an already-existing US presence can apply for the L-1 visa. 

Eligibility and requirements

Qualifying applicants must meet the following criteria for green card consideration: 

  • The applicant must have been employed by the foreign company for at least one continuous year within the past three years
  • The US branch or subsidiary should have a qualifying relationship with the foreign company

O-1 visa: individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement

The O-1 visa is for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in specific fields, including science, education, business, arts, or athletics. Their dependents are also eligible.

The O-1 visa grants temporary non-immigrant status to its recipients. 

Eligibility and requirements

O-1 visas are classified based on the kind of ability in question. According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, they are: 

  • O-1A: Individuals with an extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics (not including the arts, motion pictures, or television industry)
  • O-1B: Individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry
  • O-2: Individuals who will accompany an O-1 artist or athlete to assist in a specific event or performance
  • O-3: Individuals who are the spouse or children of O-1 and O-2 visa holders

Key points: 

Applicants must show evidence of extraordinary ability, such as awards, publications, memberships, or judging roles. It is important to note that O-1 visas are limited to individuals who are a small percentage of the very best in their fields. 

Applicants must be planning to temporarily come to the United States to continue working in their extraordinary ability field. Some examples of these fields include science, education, business, and athletics.

These visas are granted for a specific duration depending on the nature of the project or assignment.

They do not directly lead to permanent residency.


Securing a US visa as a startup founder can open up exceptional opportunities for growth, both personally and professionally. 

Remember that visa processes can be complex, and seeking guidance from legal professionals can greatly enhance your chances of success. We offer incorporation, compliance, and access to a network of experts and professionals in various fields — including immigration. Click below to start your incorporation today.

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