Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
As the U.S. economy experiences rapid growth this year, immigration attorneys are seeing a sharp rise in the number of foreigners wishing to launch new businesses in the U.S. But even though these entrepreneurs may have good ideas that could potentially create new jobs, the legal path to opening up shop could be a minefield.
Phynart Studio | Getty Images
Despite the daunting process, it’s important for entrepreneurs to always remember that as long as you have an idea or a venture that you’re committed to, there are ways to make it a reality. The important thing is that you start right, solidify a long-term vision and fully understand all the options available to you. As an entrepreneur and immigration attorney, I believe that entering the U.S. market consists of three primary steps.
Step one: Devise your business strategy
Focus on what it will take to create your company, goals, long-term strategy and financial projections. Entrepreneurs oftentimes focus so much on getting to the U.S. that they lose sight of the business and investment required, which is the real key to obtaining the visa.
A lot of immigrants trying to launch a business in the U.S. don’t realize, for example, that they can even start their business while still living overseas. Incorporating businesses, signing and negotiating contracts, attending business meetings, hiring employees, and more are all things that new businesses don’t have to wait for their visa to be finalized to do and that immigration lawyers stateside can help you accomplish no matter which industry you operate in: technology, architecture, banking, food management or even art. The whole process becomes more challenging, though, if a business doesn’t pursue the right visas for its employees.
Related: From Student to Tech-Startup Founder, How an Immigrant Entrepreneur Was Able to Thrive in the U.S.
Step two: Find the right visa to fit your business model
Once you have a business plan, you can move on to finding the right visa for you. New business owners don’t always realize the breadth of visas available for themselves and the employees they want to hire. The H-1B visa gets a lot of media attention, but there are some important drawbacks. To start, the H-1B is limited to 65,000 new visas each year (with some exceptions when applicants have advanced degrees), and if your name isn’t drawn in a given year, you’re forced to wait another year to try again.
Meanwhile, L visas allow businesses seeking to expand into the U.S. to open new offices while EB-5 and E-2 visas are an option for people looking to invest in U.S. enterprises, and EB-1 visas create an avenue for artists trying to live and work in the U.S. Each situation is unique, and identifying which one best suits a business’s needs is absolutely essential for successfully starting a new company in the U.S.
Related: 5 Important Lessons From Immigrant Entrepreneurs
Step three: Have in-depth discussions with your attorney to avoid pitfalls
Some of the biggest setbacks we’ve witnessed when working with entrepreneurs hoping to kickstart a new business in the U.S. have been the result of choosing the wrong visa. When someone applies for the wrong visa, the process can take months to resolve and, ultimately, limit his or her ability to go through the immigration process and get started on the work he or she really wants to do. This is part of why building out a long-term strategy is so important: If things don’t get off on the right foot, businesses begin crashing into obstacles they might have otherwise avoided.
As an immigrant, entrepreneur and attorney, I understand just what the immigration process means for individuals. Immigrant-run enterprises, businesses and brands have been central to building the U.S. into what it is today. We also understand why putting a long-term vision in place for a business is always the first step — because while going through the immigration process is complex and often intimidating, the value that immigrant employees and entrepreneurs bring to the U.S. is too large to truly measure.
Related: The 5 Advantages You Have If You’re an Immigrant Entrepreneur