How do I start my own business?

Q: I recently graduated from a U.S. university and would like to start my own business. I have been told that it might be difficult under the current immigration laws. Is there any hope?

 A: It is true that under the current immigration law, your options are very limited if you want to start your own business. As you may know, a foreign national has difficulty sponsoring him or herself for an H-1B visa despite having a professional degree. If there are no changes in current the immigration system, your options would be:

 1. E-1 Visa:

 To qualify for an E-1 visa, you must be a citizen of a country that has a treaty of commerce with the U.S. Your company must carry on substantial trade between the U.S. and your country of origin, and this trade must be at least 50% of your company’s trade. Substantial trade generally refers to the continuous flow of international trade items, involving numerous transactions over time, and this may be a difficult burden for start-up companies to meet.

 2. E-2 Visa:

 For an E-2, as with the E-1, you must be from a country that has a treaty with the U.S. The E-2 requires a substantial investment of capital in the U.S. company and you must prove that the treaty investor will develop and direct the enterprise or is a manager or essential employee of the company. The lower the total cost of the enterprise, the higher, proportionately, the initial investment must be to be considered substantial. Since most start-ups do not require the large initial investments that the E-2 requires, this visa is also difficult to get for entrepreneurs.

 3. Start the company and work for it for a year:

If you just graduated from school on an F-1 visa, you can obtain a year of Optional Practical Training (OPT). This allows you to work in the U.S. for 12 months after graduation. You could start your company and work for it during your OPT year, but you would not be able to work for your own company beyond this time, unless you convert to some other type of visa.

Some good news here is that Congress is currently debating an immigration bill that would provide a much better option for foreign nationals in your situation. This visa would provide entrepreneurs with three year status initially, provided that a business entity or the government has invested $100,000 into your business or your business created three jobs and $250,000 revenue during the prior 2 years. There are several variations being considered.

If the immigration bill passes, it would be a good idea to consult with a qualified immigration attorney who can help determine if you would be a successful candidate for the new visa, and if so, to guide you through the process.

| Nonimmigrant