Ask Sophie: Which visas are best for US startup accelerators?
Here’s another edition of “Ask 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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I co-founded a startup last year, and my co-founder and I were just accepted to an accelerator program in the United States!
What type of visa can we get to come to the U.S. that allows us to stay there so we can grow our startup after the accelerator ends?
— Jazzed in Johannesburg
Congrats on being accepted into a U.S. accelerator! That’s wonderful news — and a great accomplishment that will not only bolster your startup but will also help your immigration journey.
I recommend you work with an immigration attorney who can guide you and your co-founder on your respective path to living and working in the United States and prepare you for the interview process at the U.S. consulate in Johannesburg.
If an interview is required, the wait time for scheduling an interview for a nonimmigrant visa at the U.S. consulate in Johannesburg is usually about 30 days, according to the U.S. Department of State Visa Appointment Wait Times page.
People seeking entry to the United States through visas requiring nonimmigrant intent must demonstrate to visa officials that their stay in the U.S. is only temporary, and they intend to eventually return to live in their home country. If a consular officer believes an individual intends to remain permanently in the United States, that officer will likely deny the visa application.
Now, let me dive into the visa options for coming to the United States.
B-1 business visitor visa
You and your co-founder can get a B-1 business visitor visa to participate in the accelerator program, which will enable you to stay initially for six months. To apply for a B-1 visa, you must fill out Form DS-160, the State Department’s online nonimmigrant visa application. Once you complete that form, you will need to print the confirmation page and bring it with you to your interview at the U.S. consulate. If your application is approved during the interview, it can take a couple of weeks for the visa to be processed and delivered.
Even though the B-1 business visitor visa and the B-2 tourist visitor visa are typically issued together as a single visa, make sure to specifically request B-1 business visitor visa status and tell the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer when you arrive in the U.S. that you will be participating in an accelerator program and conducting business during your stay here. That’s really important!
Always be aware that all of your future visits or stays in the U.S. can be affected by your reasons for coming to the U.S., the visa you use, what you say to immigration officials at your visa interview and when you arrive in the U.S., what you do while you’re in the U.S., and when you leave.