Dear Sophie: Which visa is best for bootstrapping a startup?

Sophie AlcornContributor
Sophie Alcorn is the founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley and 2019 Global Law Experts Awards’ “Law Firm of the Year in California for Entrepreneur Immigration Services.” She connects people with the businesses and opportunities that expand their lives.

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

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Dear Sophie,

I’m a founder from Germany. Our product is already generating around $200,000/year right off the bat. Our customers are mainly U.S.-based, and we don’t plan to raise any capital from investors.

I’ve been looking into the new startup visa option and the E-2 and L-1B visas, and I’ve been pretty heads-down focused on building the product, so I’m not famous.

What’s my best option for bootstrapping my startup in the U.S.?

— Game-Changing in Germany

Dear Game-Changing,

Congrats on your early traction and U.S. market expansion! You don’t need to qualify for an O-1A to make it to the U.S., and it’s good to remember that there are a variety of work visas out there. Let me dive into each of the options you’ve mentioned for your specific set of circumstances and offer a few others.

IEP and the proposed startup visa

Congress has not yet approved the legislation that would create a startup visa. However, the International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP), the option closest to a startup visa, is available right now.

On Thursday, June 16 at noon PT/3 p.m ET, Sophie Alcorn will join a Twitter Space with Senior Editor Walter Thompson to answer your questions about living and working legally in the U.S.

To get a reminder before the chat starts, please follow @techcrunch on Twitter.

To qualify, both IEP and the proposed startup visa require a founder to raise funds from qualified U.S. investors or secure a government grant or award, in addition to other criteria. Since you have not and do not plan to raise funds for your startup, neither IEP nor the proposed startup visa would be right for you.

E-2 visa requires a big investment

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

The E-2 visa for treaty investors or essential employees is ideal for startup founders and team members whose home country has a treaty of commerce and navigation with the U.S., as Germany does. (The citizens of 81 treaty countries are eligible for the E-2 visa.)

In addition to being a citizen of a treaty country, you must own at least 50% of the company, have direct control of the company, or at least 50% of the owners of the company must be citizens of the same treaty country.

To qualify for an E-2, you would have to demonstrate that you have invested or are in the process of investing a “substantial amount of capital” in the U.S. to establish and grow your startup or that the company has made this investment and now you need to work there.

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