The U.S. economy tries to encourage foreign entrepreneurs to invest in businesses in this country. There are several pathways for such entrepreneurs to explore economic opportunities here on nonimmigrant visas or to establish and manage new businesses in the U.S. on immigrant visas that put them on the road to permanent residency or citizenship.

Non-Immigrant Visas

There are a number of non-immigrant visas available to entrepreneurs, each with different specifications. These include:

B-1 Business Visitor

B-1 visas are available for individuals coming to the U.S. as business visitors exploring options to secure office space, arrange financing, attend business meetings or negotiate contracts with an eye toward opening a new business in this country. B-1 visas are issued for 10 years. A B-1 visitor can enter the U.S. for 6 months.

F-1/OPT Optional Practical Training

F-1/OPT visas are available for students studying in the U.S. The exception is that individuals who have been studying in English language training programs are ineligible for these visas.

F-1 students may obtain authorization for up to 12 months of OPT and be eligible for another 12 months if they seek another postgraduate degree. Students with qualifying science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) degrees can apply for 17-month extensions.

H-1B Specialty Occupation

If you are planning to work for a business in the U.S. that requires at least a bachelor’s degree in a field like engineering, science or mathematics, and you have that degree, you may be entitled to stay in the U.S. for up to 3 years. It is possible to obtain an extension for another 3 years. Typically, the maximum stay is limited to 6 years, but in certain cases other extensions in 3-year increments may be obtainable. With an H1B visa there is a way to eventually become a lawful permanent resident.

O-1A Extraordinary Ability and Achievement Visas

For individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics who wish to come to the U.S. to start a business in a related field may be awarded an O-1A visa. Such individuals must be able to document ongoing recognition, acclaim and a level of expertise that puts them at the very top of their chosen field of endeavor. O-1A visas allow residency in the U.S. for up to 3 years and may be extended in 1 year increments as deemed necessary.

E-2 Treaty Investor

If you are prepared to invest a significant amount of money in a new or existing U.S. business, you may be eligible for an E-2 visa, assuming you come from a country that has a treaty of commerce and navigation with this country or has been designated by Congress as eligible for participation in the E-2 nonimmigrant visa program. Those who enter the U.S. on an E-2 visa can stay in the U.S. for up to 2 years and may extend the period they are allowed to remain here in 2-year increments indefinitely.

E-1 Treaty Trader

The treaty trader visa allows foreign nationals to enter the United States for the purpose of directing and developing import/export trade between the U.S. and the treaty country.By virtue of the various reciprocal treaties of trade and navigation between the United States and selected foreign countries, certain foreign investors may qualify for the E-1 treaty trader visa.This non-immigrant visa is available to nationals of treaty countries who conduct import or export trade between the United States and the trader’s home country and whose presence is necessary to direct and develop that import/export enterprise.

L-1 Intracompany Transferee

L-1 visas are designed for executives, managers or workers with specialized knowledge who have worked abroad for a qualifying organization for 1 of the 3 years preceding filing for the visa. Known as “intracompany transferees,” such individuals must have worked for an affiliate, parent, subsidiary or branch of their foreign employer and the organization must be seeking their transfer to the U.S. to work in a similar capacity. L-1 intracompany transferees are allowed to stay in the U.S. for up to 3 years — 1 year for new petitions with possible extensions in up to 2-year increments. Maximum stays on this visa are 7 years for managers and executives and 5 years for workers with specialized knowledge.

Immigrant Visas

There are also several types of immigrant visas available for entrepreneurs eager to develop businesses in the United States. These include:

EB-1 Extraordinary Ability

EB-1 visas are available to individuals who are demonstrably at the very top of their fields in the arts, education, the sciences, business or athletics. Such people must be able to prove that they not only have achieved national or international acclaim for a sustained period of time in their area of expertise, but that they intend to continue working in that field. A small percentage of people who have risen to the pinnacle of their profession are allowed to self-petition. A job offer is not required for this designation.

EB-2 Classification and National Interest Waiver

There are two subcategories for the EB-2 classification: [1] individuals with outstanding ability in the sciences, arts or business and [2] professionals with advanced degrees. In order to receive an EB-2 classification, it is typically necessary to have both a job offer and a labor certification from the Department of Labor, but in some cases, if you are asking for a waiver of the labor certification requirement based on the national interest, you may be eligible to self-petition.