U.S. Business Expansion and Immigration Opportunities for Foreign Business Owners
The U.S. Immigration Law and Policy provides several opportunities for foreign entrepreneurs and investors to expand their business in the United States.
The most commonly known ways are the EB5 and the E visa programs.
The EB5 program allows investors willing to invest $500,000 (minimum) to seek U.S. permanent residency. This is usually a tough road. The investor has to demonstrate the source of funds, create 10 full time jobs in the United States for U.S. persons and sustain the operation for at least 2 years. Moreover, the $500,000 option is not readily available and in most instances the investor must put forward $1000,0000 to establish a new business. Other costs could run anywhere between $60,000 to $200,000 depending on the planned operation. Usually speaking the entire process to obtain the U.S. Permanent Residency could last for around 3 years.
The other common pathway is the E visa. This program is available to citizens of certain treaty countries. Under this program, an eligible person may invest a substantial amount (usually anywhere from $60,000 to $250,000) to either establish a trade or a business in the United States. Such investors (or Treaty Investors/Traders) are granted an E visa to live and work in the United States. This is a very good option for persons who do not want to immigrate to the United States in the long run since the E visa does not create a road to permanent residency. Often times, such investors may seek another Employment Based (EB) method to permanent residency without interrupting their E status. A very successful business person may well be eligible for permanent residency based on National Interest Waiver (EB2) or as an alien of Extraordinary Ability (EB1A).
While those are the commonly known mechanisms, there is another mechanism known as the L1 visa/EB1-C that allows business owners to expand their existing overseas businesses in the United States and as an incidental benefit to this expansion - obtain permanent residency in the United States. This could be considered as a hybrid or the in-between of the EB5 and the E programs. Under this mechanism, an overseas business owner, who sees potential in expanding their business to the United States could establish a branch-office/subsidiary or another related business entity which could become the vehicle for business expansion in the United States. The most common example would be that of an exporter of goods/services to the United States. That exporter may want to establish an office in the United States for operational efficiency and/or business development. This could also work for a variety of other businesses that have interest in expanding their base to the United States. In such instances a manager, executive or a specialized skill worker in the foreign office can seek an L1 visa to work in the newly established United States office. For a newly established office the L1 is initially granted for a year. At the end of year, the L1 may be renewed if the business continues to need the skills of the manager, executive or the specialized worker. If USCIS agrees with the business they renew the L1. Thereafter, if the person is working in a managerial/executive role, they may seek a permanent residency under the EB1-C category.
There are several reasons why this mechanism may be very attractive for small to medium sized business owners operating in another country. First because the cost of expansion is not as high as some of the other options. Second, the opportunity to expand the business in the United States could make real business sense. United States is a large consumer market with the biggest immigrant population. Often times inroads into a community could open up hitherto unexplored business opportunities. Third, it creates a very straight forward path to permanent residency if there is a valid need to do so. Last, the L1 program does not come laden with several requirements like job creation, minimum investment requirements and such. Thus, if there is a legitimate overseas business with real opportunities in the United States, exploring this program is a must. Our office has successfully represented manufacturers and exporters of industrial goods, apparel and such in leveraging the L1 program to expand their business in the United States.
This article contains general advice and information. While effort is taken to ensure accuracy the immigration programs and the policies are in constant flux. It is therefore highly recommended that you consult a U.S. Immigration Attorney to evaluate the options available to you.