Ask Sophie: Which US visas are best for international founders? | TechCrunch

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Here’s another edition of “Ask Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

TechCrunch+ members receive access to weekly “Ask Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie, 

I am from Georgia but I live in Poland. I created my startup in Delaware a few years ago. To realize it and grow it, I need to move to the U.S.

I have a business plan and a market plan, but no immigration plan. What’s your advice? Which visa should I apply for?

— Global Georgian

Dear Global,

Congratulations on creating a plan and following through to expand your startup in the United States! I am committed to helping founders like you make the world a better place by coming to the U.S. to achieve your dreams. Thanks for reaching out!

Before I dive into your visa options, let me pass along some advice that Daniel Zawarczynski, the Austrian Trade Commissioner to the U.S. and co-director of Open Austria, offered to startup founders during our recent podcast. “Use all the resources you have on the ground and build your local network,” he advised. “Knowledge can be acquired so easily through Google and YouTube videos, but knowing the right people to trust and who trusts you is really the path to success.”

To start building that network of trusted individuals, I suggest consulting with an immigration attorney to help guide you on your immigration journey to the United States based on your business plan, timing, your long-term goals, your education, your qualifications and your unique situation.

Now, let’s lay out your immigration options!

“Transferring” to the U.S.

The L-1A visa for intracompany transferee executives and managers offers a great option for international founders who have been working for their startup abroad for at least one of the past three years and want to open an office in the U.S. If you have been working for a legal entity in Poland that’s related to your startup, your Delaware entity could sponsor you for an L-1A visa to come to the U.S. to open an office here. You will have to provide evidence that you have been on the payroll of your startup for at least a year through pay slips or tax documents.

The L-1A visa application will require you to submit documents such as business plans, growth models and organization charts. You will need to show that you have secured an office in the U.S. and that the U.S. office will support your position within one year of the L-1A visa being approved. Even though more people are working remotely in the U.S., the L-1A requires your company to have a physical office, which is also considered a sign that your company is serious, viable, growing and even hiring. We’ve been successful in getting L-1 visas approved for companies situated in a co-working space, but I would still recommend a stand-alone office within it.


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