While there are plenty of ways to start a business in the U.S. on a temporary visa, what about those entrepreneurs who want to make the U.S. their home?
Fortunately, the United States Center for Immigration Services (USCIS) is well aware of the part that small business owners play in the U.S. If getting a green card and becoming a lawful permanent resident is your goal, then your small business may be the key.
What is a green card?
A green card is essentially a permanent resident card that allows immigrants to live and work in the U.S. The green card is the name for the permanent resident card that is granted because it has a green title on it.
If you get a green card it grants you an official immigration status in the U.S. and it also grants you certain rights and responsibilities in the country, it's valid for 10 years after it's granted. Those with plans to become a naturalized citizen have to have a green card first.
3 ways to get a business green card through your startup business
So, you have a business plan in mind, and you’ve secured the location, the funding, and the personnel to get your startup rolling. The question is: How to get there?
There are a number of ways to visit the United States temporarily through your business but only a few ways to get your business green card. This is because most employment-based business green cards require you to have a job offer in order to qualify. Since business owners are their own bosses and don’t have job offers, you can imagine the difficulties this creates.
However, there are some ways to get around the job offer requirement so that you can start your business in the U.S. under a green card. Here are the top three:
1. EB-1 green card for extraordinary people
There are three groups that qualify for the EB-1:
People with extraordinary achievement
Outstanding researchers and professors
Managers and executives
Because the last two groups require a job offer, we want to set our lofty sights to the first group: people with extraordinary achievement.
Sure, it might sound vague, but the process of defining “extraordinary people” is actually quite precise. If you have a really well-known international award like the Nobel Prize or Pulitzer Prize, you have nothing to worry about. For the rest of us mortals, there are other things that can prove extraordinary achievements like a high salary, published work, exclusive membership, or exhibited material.
EB-1 green card for business owners example: Heidi wants to start her own taxology firm in the U.S. She has already worked in the area for 15 years and has won several awards for her contributions to the growing field. She has published scholarly articles on the subject and also generates a large salary from her efforts. In this scenario, the EB-1 business green card would be ideal for Heidi to start her firm in the U.S.
Keep in mind that the EB-1 is a very difficult business green card to get your hands on. That’s why this next option is a common way to get your green card through your business.
2. EB-2 green card with a national interest waiver
As the most popular employment-based green card by far, the EB-2 is also meant for three kinds of people:
People with exceptional ability
Advanced degree holders
National Interest Waiver holders
While the first two are impressive by themselves, it’s the third group that we want to focus on as entrepreneurs.
Under normal circumstances, an EB-2 applicant would first need to get a job offer from a U.S. employer and have that employer go through an extensive recruitment process to find out if there are any qualified American workers for the position. The employer would then have to file a petition on behalf of the person getting the green card.
However, the National Interest Waiver (or NIW) lets you file a petition for yourself, bypassing the job offer and recruitment requirement. This is perfect for small business owners, who otherwise would not be able to apply without an employer.
While this is great news, the requirements for the NIW can be pretty steep. In order to qualify, you need to convince the USCIS of three things:
Your business will have a substantial positive impact on the U.S. economy, culture, society, education, technology, etc.
You are capable of making the business succeed. This can be shown by past successes, financial capital, or a specialized degree.
That the United States would stand to benefit from waiving the job offer requirement.
You might need to gather some letters of recommendation from experienced colleagues or former employers in order to prove that you’re able to make the business succeed. Two years of experience can also go a long way in convincing the USCIS that you’re qualified.
If you’re a doctor interested in starting your practice in the U.S. with the NIW, you need to adhere to a different set of rules. Namely, you need to work in a medically underserved area for the first five years of your practice.
Essentially, you need to be able to prove that your business would be in the nation’s best interest. This is more difficult than it may sound, so it’s always best to have an immigration attorney go over your qualifications and evidence.
3. EB-5 green card for investors
This business green card is a bit less popular than the EB-2, and for good reason. The EB-5 allows foreign nationals who are ready to invest quite a bit of money into a new commercial enterprise to enter the U.S. so that they can work on that enterprise.
How much do you need to invest for a business green card?
The reason this green card is less popular is the amount of money that needs to be invested. The USCIS requires at least a $1 million investment in order to qualify. However, if you are starting your business in a rural area or an area with high unemployment, the minimum will be set to $500,000. You will also have to show that their new business will provide positions for 10 full-time employees as well.
For many foreign small business owners and entrepreneurs, this may be out of reach. However, it still stands as a great way to use your business to get a green card if you have the funds.
Which business green card is best?
In the end, the answer really depends on your circumstances. No green card path is simple or easy for small business owners, but with some dedication and an experienced attorney, some doors may start opening for you. Remember that each immigration scenario is unique and it’s best to view these options on a case-by-case basis.
Many entrepreneurs might want to consider the EB-2 National Interest Waiver as an option. However, if you are among those people that can qualify for either the EB-1 or the EB-5 green cards, there is a whole host of advantages that come along with these more prestigious options.
If you’re interested in starting a small business in the U.S. and taking that first step to success, these are the best options to live permanently in the country and make that dream a reality.
What are your green card other options?
If none of the green card options above are applicable, you aren't completely out of luck. There are other ways for you to try and get permanent residency in the U.S. and a green card.
The eligibility categories for getting a green card include through a family member, through employment, as a refugee or asylum seeker if applicable, and more. You can find the whole list of eligibility categories on the USCIS website.
This article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.