Here is another version “Dear Sophie,” an advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at tech companies.
“Your questions are critical to spreading the knowledge that allows people around the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” said Silicon Valley immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn. “Whether you’re looking for a job in Human Ops, as a founder, or in Silicon Valley, I’d love to answer your questions in the next column.”
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We have established a startup in Colombia, and are considering opening a sales office in the US! I will be moving, and my co-founder will continue to manage our engineering team from Columbia.
I am currently considering both the E-2 Investor and L-1A Executive visas. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
– Brave Colombian
What an exciting time and opportunity for you and your team! Congratulations on your US expansion and progress to this point. These visas are two great options for startup entrepreneurs to move to the United States to expand their businesses.
Let me begin by giving an overview of both the E-2 visa for contract investors and the L-1A visa for corporate transfer executives and managers. Both visa applications are scrutinized by immigration officials, so I recommend working with an immigration attorney to make a strong case.
The E-2 visa provides an excellent option for international founders whose country has a trade and commercial agreement with the US.The US State Department maintains a list of treaty countries. Colombia and more than 75 other countries are on the list, including Pakistan and Taiwan, but other countries such as China and India do not currently have the necessary agreements. E-2 allows international founders to live in the United States and invest significant capital to build a business here.
For a founder to qualify for an E-2 visa as an investor or essential employee, at least half of the U.S. business must be owned by persons or companies in your country of citizenship. This can be complicated for startups after multiple rounds of liquidation from US investors. However, if you are creating an already profitable Colombian subsidiary and are not looking to raise VC capital in the US, that may not be a big deal for you. Talk to an attorney to confirm your international organizational structure and fundraising plans.
Although the E-2 requirements do not specify a specific minimum amount of capital that must be invested in the US entity, immigration officers require large, upfront investments in office space, equipment, and inventory, usually in the $100,000 range. Receiving a pre-seed or Series A round in the US or another country can help streamline this part of your case, but is by no means necessary. Some founders have succeeded in qualifying for the E-2 by transferring valuable intellectual property to their US company.
While the E-2 does not require a U.S. business to create future employment, immigration officials may consider it a non-employment opportunity, which does not bode well for E-2 approval. Already having US workers or having a business plan that involves hiring in the US may help your E-2 approval.