Sophie Alcorn, attorney, author and founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley, California, is an award-winning Certified Specialist Attorney in Immigration and Nationality Law by the State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. Sophie is passionate about transcending borders, expanding opportunity, and connecting the world by practicing compassionate, visionary, and expert immigration law. Connect with Sophie on LinkedIn and Twitter.
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For the past five years, I have been running the Boston-based biotech startup I co-founded while living in Pakistan while my co-founder has been living in Boston. Now I want to move to the U.S. to expand our business. What options are available to me?
— Plucky Pakistani
I’m appreciative of all the international founders like you who come to the U.S. to innovate, create jobs, and contribute to the economy! And kudos to you! It sounds like your biotech has hit the sweet spot to sponsor you for a visa as well as a green card if you want to stay in the U.S. permanently.
Be sure to work with an immigration lawyer, who can guide you and your startup through this process and set up your startup for success in sponsoring international talent. An immigration lawyer can also prepare you for an in-person interview at the embassy or a consulate in Pakistan if you are required to have one. You may be able to get an interview waiver for the visa options below if you apply before the end of the year. Until then, consular officers have the discretion to waive the visa interview requirement for certain work visas if you were previously issued a visa and have never been denied one.
Now, let’s dive into your best options.
The L-1A visa for intracompany transferee executives and managers is a great option for startup founders who are either looking to set up a new office in the U.S. or — like you — want to move to the U.S. to work from an already existing office.
Your startup must meet certain requirements to sponsor you for the L-1A. Your company will need a physical office location in the U.S. if it doesn’t have one already. Unlike other visas, for an L-1A petition it’s actually required and can also serve as evidence of business viability. Your company will likely also need to submit business plans, growth models, and organization charts.
For the L-1A, you must have been working for your startup in Pakistan for at least one continuous year within the past three years for a related company, have an executive or managerial position at your startup’s U.S. office, and make decisions and supervise employees.
If the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approved you for an L-1A, it will be good for three years initially. You can renew your L-1A twice for two years each, which will give you a maximum stay of seven years as an executive in the U.S.