Ask Sophie: Which visas are best for US startup accelerators?

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

“Your questions are essential to spreading knowledge that empowers people around the world to push beyond boundaries and chase their dreams,” said Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people management, a founder, or looking for a job in Silicon Valley, I’ll be happy to answer your questions in my next column.”

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Dear Sophie,

I co-founded a startup last year and my co-founder and I just got accepted into an accelerator program in the United States!

What kind of visa can we get to come to the US that will allow us to stay there so we can grow our startup after the accelerator ends?

– Jazzed up in Johannesburg

Dear Jazzed,

Congratulations on your admission to a US accelerator! That’s great news – and a great achievement that will not only strengthen your startup, but also help your immigration journey.

I recommend that 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 US Consulate in Johannesburg.

If an interview is required, the wait time to schedule an interview for a nonimmigrant visa at the US Consulate in Johannesburg is usually about 30 days, according to the US State Department’s Visa Appointment Waiting Times page.

Vote for immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn to speak at MinRegion Disrupt in September 2023.

People who wish to enter the United States on a visa requiring non-immigrant intent must demonstrate to the visa officers that their stay in the US is only temporary and that they intend to eventually return to their home country. If a consular officer believes that a person wants to stay in the United States permanently, that officer is likely to reject the visa application.

Now let me touch on 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 allows you to stay for six months initially. To apply for a B-1 visa, you must complete Form DS-160, the State Department’s online nonimmigrant visa application. Once you have completed that form, you will need to print the confirmation page and bring it with you to your interview at the US Consulate. If your application is approved during the interview, it may take several weeks for the visa to be processed and delivered.

While the B-1 visa for business visitors and the B-2 visa for tourist visitors are usually issued together as one visa, make sure you specifically apply for the status of the B-1 visa for business visitors and check with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer when you arrive in the US, that you are participating in an accelerator program and doing business while here. That’s really important!

Always keep in mind that all your future visits or stays in the US may be affected by your reasons for coming to the US, the visa you use, what you say to immigration officials during your visa interview, and when you arrive in the US, what do you do while you are in the US and when you leave.

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