6 Best U.S. Visa Options for Startup Entrepreneurs

For anyone thinking about launching their startup in the United States, the unfortunate truth is that the visa can be a pain. From paperwork to waiting times, navigating the US visa process isn’t easy. However, with changing landscapes and the rise of the entrepreneur, lawmakers in the US are quickly trying to change the system to get more bright minds in the country.

As of now, there are a few different ways to go to the United States. Bear in mind that each of these visas has special requirements and some do and don’t allow you to actually work while in the country.

In order to find out which visa is right for you, check out this infographic and learn more below about each type of visa.


Here is more information about each visa.

H-1B: This is a non-immigration visa that employers must apply for on behalf of their employees. The company sponsors professional workers who hold a position that at least requires a bachelor’s degree (or experience equivalent to this in the field). After obtained, the recipient can then work in the US for the company.

For Startups: The company must be able to hire, fire, pay, and supervise the employee, so this visa is tricky for startup founders. The company must have enough finances to support the founder in the US (either money in the bank or investment).  Since the founder is the one that hires, fires, etc., the company must provide evidence that there is a separate Board of Directors in order to “supervise” this employee and secure the visa.

Duration: 3 years (extendable to six years).

L-1: L-1 visas are not typically for early stage startups, since they are for international companies that have offices in the US and abroad. This visa is for intra-company transfers for employees who have been at the company for at least one year. Spouses can be sponsored to go along with employees on this visa.

For Startups: If you are setting up a new company in the US, you can receive the L-1A visa for 1 year. The requirements are strict and can be found here.

Duration: 1 year to open an office; 5-7 years to work.

O-1: If you have extraordinary talent (and you can prove this ability) in arts, sciences, education, business, or athletics, you can apply for this visa. To secure this visa, you’ll need national and international acclaim in three out of eight categories, and you have to show you want to continue using this talent in the United States.

For Startups: If you have a PhD or some extraordinary talent uncommon in the United States, you can apply for this visa.

Duration: USCIS determines the length of stay.

E-2: This visa is for foreigners coming from a country that the US has a treaty with that are investing a significant amount in a US business. USCIS states that the applicant must “be investing a substantial amount of capital in a U.S. business,” but no specific amount is given.

For Startups: This visa has been called the “entrepreneur visa”, because applicants have been granted this for investing in US companies in a variety of amounts. So if you have the cash, look into this visa.

Duration: Maximum 5 years.

B-1: This visa is for a “temporary business visitor”, who “will be participating in business activities of a commercial or professional nature in the United States”. This is a short-term visa for people who want to sign contacts, close estates - basically someone who has business in the United States.

For Startups: You cannot work on this visa, but if you want to network or have investor meetings, you can apply for this visa.

Duration: 1-6 months (6 months maximum).

J-1: If you just want to train, and not work, this is the visa for you. You must have been accepted into an approved program in the United States. USCIS states it must be for “the purpose of teaching, instructing or lecturing, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, receiving training, or to receive graduate medical education or training.”

For Startups: You absolutely cannot work on this visa, but if you want to train in the United States to prepare your startup to launch there, it’s worth looking into this visa.

Duration: Length of program.

As you can see, each visa has strict requirements, so depending on where your startup is at the time, it’s worth taking a look at these for working or networking opportunities in the United States.