For foreign nationals seeking to live and work in the United States, obtaining a visa is one of the most challenging barriers to overcome for a successful entry into the country. Generally speaking, there are limited visa options for German entrepreneurs. That said, we’ve provided a brief overview of the most relevant ones and have gathered some resources to help you in deciding which visa may be right for you. To give you the most important information at a glance, we have included a table briefly describing each visa at the bottom of this article.
The Visa Waiver Program and the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
German entrepreneurs seeking to visit the U.S. for a short/temporary period of time and look into whether expanding to the U.S. might be worthwhile may be able to utilize the Visa Waiver Program (via ESTA).
Germany is one of the 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program, which allows German citizens to enter the U.S. without a formal U.S. visa. The Visa Waiver allows a foreign national to stay in the U.S. for up to 90 days for business (non-employment) or tourist purposes.
An application for the Visa Waiver Program can be made on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
B-1 Visa: Temporary Business Visitor
For foreign nationals seeking a temporary stay in the U.S. for more than 90 days, the B-1 visa may be a good option. B-1 visa holders are eligible to stay in the U.S. for up to 6 months at a time. The B-1 visa allows foreign entrepreneurs to enter the U.S. temporarily to participate in business (non-employment) activities, such as consulting with business associates, networking events, negotiating contracts, looking at office space, etc.
Sometimes American incubators and accelerators may write recommendation letters for foreign nationals seeking this type of visa to allow them to temporarily visit the U.S. German Accelerator happily provides a recommendation letter for a B-1 visa to any company accepted to our program.
More information regarding the B-1 visa can be found on the U.S. Travel website.
L-1 Visas: Intracompany Transferees
The L-1A visa is intended to enable multinational companies to transfer a foreign executive or manager to a related (subsidiary, parent, branch, affiliate) U.S. entity, to also work in an executive or managerial capacity. This visa can be granted for one year initially and thereafter extended up to seven years. Entrepreneur executives can utilize the L-1A to establish a “new office” in the U.S. if one does not yet already exist.
The L-1B visa is granted to employees of multinational companies with a specialized knowledge related to that company. On the L-1B visa, skilled employees can be transferred to a a related U.S. company to also work in a specialized knowledge capacity. Visas granted for this purpose initially guarantee one year of stay and can be extended for a total of five years.
For both the L-1A and L-1B, it is required to have an established office in Germany or elsewhere outside of the U.S. An individual will only qualify for this type of visa if they have been employed with their sponsor company for at least one out of the last three years and a physical location for a U.S. office has been officially secured.
It is important to note that the L-1 visa is tied to the company that is sponsoring the visa. If an employee leaves their sponsoring company, the L-1 visa may no longer be valid.
E-2 Visa: Treaty Investors
If an entrepreneur has a substantial amount of money to invest or has already invested in their U.S. business, they may qualify for an
E-2 visa. The U.S. grants E-2 visas to investors from certain foreign countries that maintain a treaty of commerce with the U.S. Germany is one of several countries that have such a treaty with the U.S. This qualifies German citizens to apply for an E-2 visa.
While the initial stay granted for an E-2 visa is two years, the visa may be renewed indefinitely so long as the foreign national can prove his/her intent to return to their home country.
O-1 Visa: Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement
If an entrepreneur is already a well-known figure in their designated field, the O-1 visa may be an option. O-1 visas are given to individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in their field. In the science or business fields, extraordinary ability means “a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of the small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Extraordinary ability or achievement can be proven with international recognition.
This visa is initially granted for three years and may be renewed indefinitely so long as the foreign national can prove his/her intent to return to their home country. However, it is intended for temporary workers. Like the L-1 visa, if the employer sponsoring terminates the visa holder’s employment, the visa is no longer valid.
H-1B Visa: Specialty Occupations
H1-B visas require a U.S. employer to sponsor a foreign national to work for a U.S. company in a job that requires a bachelor’s degree to perform. The foreign national needs to have a bachelor’s degree that relates to the job. There is an annual limit of 85,000 H-1B visas which become available each year on April 1. Because there are so many people that apply for this visa, a lottery is typically used to select those applications for processing. The visa is tied to your employment with the U.S. employer.
First Preference EB-1 Visa: Employment-Based Immigration
If an individual is seeking to become a U.S. lawful permanent resident and can meet the extraordinary ability criteria, he/she may be eligible to apply for permanent residency under the EB-1 category. The EB-1 criteria is somewhat similar to the O-1 visa criteria, except the EB-1 pathway provides for permanent residency (i.e. “Green Card”).
EB-1 visas may also be available for multinational managers or executives who want to stay in the U.S.
|Visa Type||For Whom?||Length of Stay (Extension)||Sponsor|
|ESTA||Visitors||90 Days||Not Needed|
|B-1||Visitors||6 months||Not Needed|
|L-1A||Multinational Executives||1 Year (+6 Years)||Employer|
|L-1B||Multinational Skilled Employees||1 Year (+4 Years)||Employer|
|E-2||Investors||2 Years (Infinitely Renewable)||Not Needed|
|O-1||Extraordinary Ability Experts||3 Years (Infinitely Renewable)||Employer|
|EB-1||Extraordinary Ability Experts||Permanent/Path to Citizenship||Self/Employer|
|H-1B||Specialty Occupation Workers||3 Years (+3 Years)||Employer|
Still Unclear on Which Visa to Pursue?
Securing a U.S. visa is not an easy process. Working with a qualified Immigration Attorney can be essential to achieving a successful outcome and an approved visa. Please be aware that lawyers will charge you for their services.
As noted in the table above, many of these visas require sponsorship or written recommendation from a U.S. employer or organization. This is one of many things to consider when applying for a visa. For more information about other requirements and the visa application process check out other visa articles.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended as legal advice and cannot replace legal consulting on a case-by-case basis. It is merely a brief and simplified summary of a very complex matter. The information contained in this article is for general information purposes only and will not be checked for currency regularly. German Accelerator will not be liable for any false, inaccurate or incomplete information presented on this website and for any loss or damage of any kind incurred as a result of the use of this information.
About Jason Finkelman
Jason Finkelman is an Immigration Attorney assisting international individuals with obtaining work visas, lawful permanent residence (“green cards”), and U.S. citizenship. He handles a variety of employment-based and family-based immigration matters for both U.S. and foreign companies, investors, startups, entrepreneurs, skilled workers, executives, families and students. Jason provides immigration legal services to clients across a wide range of industries including high-tech, semiconductor, healthcare, higher education, energy, oil and gas, import/export, research, video game, as well as professional athletics, music, and entertainment to help them meet their immigration goals. Please visit www.finkelmanlaw.com for more information on his services.