When folks think of foreign nationals coming to Silicon Valley, Asia comes to mind the most. In reality, however, many are coming from Europe, and they are bringing their technology, customers, and proven track record with them.
European entrepreneurs in technology, science, and other industries, who already have a business in their respective home countries, often create a U.S. subsidiary or affiliate company, especially in the Silicon Valley area. It is not just the SAPs or Siemens of the world, either. Many are start-ups that view setting up shop in this region as a major benefit for taking their business endeavors to the next level.
Silicon Valley presents highly fruitful opportunities, know-how, and ideal conditions for thriving, cutting-edge tech companies. Once the decision is made to move the start-up to the United States, European entrepreneurs eventually realize that they will need a visa to get their business off the ground, running, and profitable. Some will come in under ESTA or using the B-1 visitor visa option, if they intend to engage in very limited and highly temporary business activities in the United States and leave the day-to-day operations in the hands of others. However, U.S. immigration authorities at airports and other ports-of-entry will eventually challenge a person who enters the country as a visitor frequently or for relatively long periods at a time.
Most European entrepreneurs and business owners will want to spend a significant amount of time in America to spearhead the development of their new company. For them, the L-1 visa is often the best option. It provides for admission of foreign nationals who, within three years preceding the application for L-1 visa status, were employed abroad continuously for one year by a parent, branch, affiliate, or subsidiary of the U.S. petitioning company (in this case their start-up). The one-year employment must be full-time, take place outside of the United States, and cannot be met by working part of the year for an affiliate or branch in the United States. However, time spent in the United States in, say, another status will not interrupt the continuity of the one year, as long as there is a qualifying relationship between the U.S. and foreign entities.
L-1A visas are for positions in managerial or executive capacities, while L-1B visas are for positions involving specialized knowledge. To qualify for the L-1A visa, foreign nationals must have been in a managerial or executive position abroad, but do not have to be transferred to the United States in exactly the same capacity. One other benefit of the L-1A visa is that it provides a potential platform from which to apply for a green card down the road, if the foreign national qualifies as a high-level multinational executive or manager.
It is a complex and somewhat time-consuming process, but very doable with great benefits to those interested in having a presence in Silicon Valley or another U.S. city. My advice for foreign entrepreneurs considering establishing a presence here would be to have a solid immigration plan as part of their overall U.S. business strategy. Be sure to allow for enough time to implement such a plan so that desired outcomes and timelines can be met.
About the author:
With more than a decade of immigration law experience, Higgs Fletcher & Mack’s Regina Knoll represents a diverse group of people and business entities in a wide array of immigration matters pertaining to visits to the United States. This includes business and pleasure activities, temporary and permanent employment opportunities, and study and exchange studies. She can be reached at [email protected].