Check out our latest feature on GreekTech's blog which outlines different visa options for Greek entrepreneurs looking to enter the U.S. market.
The U.S. immigration law is a complex set of laws aimed to determine who is allowed to enter the United States, for what period of time, and their eligibility to seek employment or study in an academic institution.
If you are interested in entering the U.S., you may have heard how difficult it could be for you to obtain a visa amid and about the increased scrutiny that immigration authorities apply when it comes to approving work visa applications.
The first step for you and your immigration attorney would be to determine which visa corresponds to your needs and your expectations. There are indeed several visa options for Greek entrepreneurs depending on the purpose and the duration of their intended travel.
We have provided a breakdown of the basic and most important information of each classification, in order to introduce you to the complex world of U.S. visas.
The Easy Path: The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
Greece is one of the 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows Greek citizens to enter the U.S. without needing a U.S. visa. This option enables Greek nationals to stay within the U.S. territory for a limited time period of up to 90 days, approximately three months, exclusively for business (non-employment) or pleasure purposes.
The only thing you must do is submit an ESTA application and get an electronic travel authorization, well before your scheduled flight. Approved ESTA applications are valid for up to two years or until the expiration of your passport.
This is the easiest, safest, fastest way to get into the U.S., but it is limited to 90 days per visit and you cannot obtain employment.
To apply for ESTA, visit: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
Back to School: F Visa
You might want to enhance your business management, finance, marketing, tech studies etc. or get advanced knowledge on a particular field that could help you improve or realize your business.
In order to study in the U.S., you need to first obtain an F student visa, which allows you to enter the country 30 days prior to the start date of your program until the completion of studies (you will have a short-term grace period). The most important requirements for a successful application are:your enrollment to one of the SEVP-approved schools and proofs (bank statements or scholarship), that you can afford to pay your school, to maintain a decent living in the U.S. and mandatory medical insurance. Note that you will not be allowed to have employment during your F visa. You will only be eligible to work in exchange of academic credits and/or on campus, for academic projects and summer internships. However, you could conduct business, speak with investors, negotiate contracts and do transactions to further your business plans.
You have the option to extend your F student visa and obtain work permission for at least one year or more depending on the field of your studies, following the completion of your program through the Optional Practical Training (OPT).
This visa has many requirements, however if you have an acceptance and/or enrollment letter from an academic institution and sufficient funds in your account, you will probably get approved without any problem. Its length is limited, so you will need to change type of visa after its expiration to secure your presence in the U.S.
For more information in relation to Student Visas, please visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/study/student-visa.html#overview
Temporary Business Visitor Visa: B-1 Visa
If the purpose of your travel is business related and you wish to stay for more than 90 days (and up to six months), then you should disregard the ESTA option and apply for a B-1.
Under this visa you cannot be employed, but you can conduct business, consult with business associates, attend scientific, educational, professional or business conferences, settle an estate, negotiate contracts, look for office space, attend various networking events, build connections, meet with investors, and promote your ideas, services and products.
This visa applies to entrepreneurs and businessmen who want to stay in the U.S for up to six months, though you will not be authorized to work. This is the best option if you want to explore your options and business opportunities in the U.S., but it is not recommended if you plan to stay permanently or establish your business in America. You may need to submit a reference letter from your affiliates together with your application.
For more information regarding the B-1 visa, please visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/tourism-visit/visitor.html#overview
Intracompany Transferees: L Visas
If you own a business and you are considering expansion into the U.S. market, then the L-1A would be the best option for you. In a nutshell, if a business does not have any U.S. affiliates, then the L-1A enables the entrepreneur executives to obtain a visa for the purpose of establishing an office in the U.S.This visa is initially granted for at least one year and can be extended for up to seven years in total.
You must have an established office in Greece or elsewhere outside the U.S. borders for at least one year prior to your transfer and you must have secured a physical location within the U.S. for the operation of your offices.
The L-1B visa is granted to employees with a specialized knowledge relating to a multinational organization’s interests that are transferred from one of its affiliated foreign offices to one of its U.S. offices.
The employee must be employed with this organization for at least one out of the last three years.Visas granted for this purpose initially guarantee one year to a maximum of three years of stay and can be extended to reach a total of five years.
This visa has many requirements: you must be employed with a company for at least one year and the company needs to have presence in the U.S. L Visas are sponsored visas, thus they are attached to your sponsor-employer.If the employee or the manager/executive leaves for any reason their sponsoring company, the L-1 visa may no longer be valid. L visas cannot be transferred to other employers and if you want to change jobs, the normal path would be to secure an H-1B visa.
Treaty Investors:E-2 Visa
If an entrepreneur has a substantial amount of capital to invest or has already invested in their U.S. business, they may qualify for an E-2 visa.
Greek nationals are eligible to obtain an E-2 visa if:
- Their investment is a real operating enterprise, an active commercial or entrepreneurial undertaking that is engaged in substantial trading such as international banking, insurance, transportation, tourism and communication. Note that a mere paper organization, speculative or idle investment does not qualify. Uncommitted funds in a bank account or similar security are not considered an investment.
- The investment must generate significant income, or it must have a significant economic impact in the United States.
- You must be able to demonstrate highly specialized skills indispensable for the efficient and successful operation of your enterprise and you must hold a supervisory or executive position.
- 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.
The most important requirement is to have a substantial amount of money to invest, thus this visa may not be the best option for a start-up or a young entrepreneur.
For more information in relation to E-2 visa, please visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/employment/treaty-trader-investor-visa-e.html
Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement:O-1 Visa
The O-1 visa is sponsored visa by a U.S. employer, and is granted to individuals who possess extraordinary abilities or can demonstrate extraordinary achievement in their field. International recognition can prove extraordinary abilities and achievements. In order to be eligible, the applicant must be one of the small percentage who has risen to the very top of the scientific, educational and business field of endeavor.
This visa is initially valid 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.
This visa requires you to belong to the top 1% of your field, you must prove that you are distinguished among your peers and demonstrate expertise on a particular field and unique abilities. O-1 is a sponsored visa, therefore if the holder of the O-1 visa is terminated, then the visa is no longer valid.
For more information with regard to O-1 visa, please visit: https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/o-1-visa-individuals-extraordinary-ability-or-achievement
The Infamous H-1B Visa
If the previous visa classifications do not describe your case but you seek employment in the U.S., then you should consider the H-1B Visa option. The H-1B visa is a sponsored visa, thus you must have secured a job offer.
The application for the H-1B may be one of the most stressful processes you will go through in your career.
A U.S. employer must initially sponsor the H-1B. The applicants must have a bachelor’s or a higher degree associated with the industry or the particular job for which they are sponsored and can demonstrate specialized knowledge and skills. However, under the current administration, priority is given to those applicants who possess one or more post-graduate degrees received in the U.S.
There is an annual limit of approximately 85,000 H-1B visas per year which is announced late March each year. Your employer must submit your application on the first day of April. The immigration authorities normally receive an enormous number of applications, which is why they use a lottery to select those applications for processing.
If you manage to have your application selected in the lottery, do not rush to celebrate. There is an extra hurdle.
Your application will now be scrutinized and thoroughly examined by the immigration authorities who may ask for additional documentation or reject your application.
If you get your approval, then congratulations,you are now eligible to stay and work in the U.S. for three years. You will have also the option to apply for a three-year extension or a Green Card.
The H-1B can be transferred to another employer, however if you are terminated without having your H-1B transferred, then it may not still valid.
Your visa depends on a lottery and then your immigration lawyer must prove why your employer should employ a foreign national, instead of an American professional.
For more information related to H-1B visa, please see: https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/h-1b-specialty-occupations-dod-cooperative-research-and-development-project-workers-and-fashion-models
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, for example he/she is the recipient of an Oscar, Pulitzer, Nobel Price, Olympic Medal, or he/she is an outstanding professor and researcher, then he/she may be eligible to apply for permanent residency under the EB-1 category.
EB-1 visas may also be available for multinational managers or executives who want to stay in the U.S. They must be employed for at least one year with the sponsoring organization and their employment in the U.S. will continue to be with the same employer or a subsidiary or affiliate of the employer, and in the same managerial or executive capacity.
This visa is the best option of you if you are the recipient of an award or prize.
For information, please visit: https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/permanent-workers/employment-based-immigration-first-preference-eb-1
If you still cannot figure out which is the most appropriate visa type for you or you fall into two or more categories, then you should definitely consult with a specialized U.S. immigration attorney, who can guide you through this process and determine the best option for your needs.
Here you can find a useful table summarizing the requirements and length for each classification.
Visa Type: Applicant, Length of Stay (Extension), Sponsorship
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
By: Pardalis & Nohavicka | Attorneys: Eleni Melekou, Esq.