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Top 6 Mistakes When Starting a Business on a Visa

Shilpa Malik

Immigration Lawyer & Managing Attorney at SGM Law Group, PLLC
Shilpa is the lead attorney at the Law offices of Shilpa Malik. She has extensive experience and a great reputation for offering top-notch representation in business and employment-based immigration. She has successfully handled complex H1B Visa, L-1 Visa, and Employment Green Card cases in South Florida, NYC and nationwide.

The U.S. sees thousands of new business owners pop up every year, with many of them being from overseas. Those new immigrant small business owners could find themselves in a number of pitfalls if special care isn’t taken.

Below are some of the most common and devastating mistakes that foreign nationals make when starting a business on a U.S. visa.

Mistake #1: Choosing the Wrong Visa

You have several choices when deciding which visa to apply for. Do you want an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa? Are you starting a new branch of an existing business or opening an entirely new enterprise? Do you have a significant amount of funds to invest up front?

All these questions need to be answered before you begin the process of petitioning and applying for a visa. Going with the least expensive option isn’t always the best method. You need to make sure that your qualifications and needs align with what the visa provides. For example, if you wanted to open a restaurant that was owned and operated by you, the H-1B visa would not be the right choice for you.

Choosing the wrong visa could not only waste your valuable time and money, but it could also impede your plans to become an entrepreneur in the U.S. Doing careful research and hiring a professional to help you are key to avoiding this mistake.

Mistake #2: Not Planning Ahead

Many immigrant business owners have grand plans for their business once they enter the U.S. However, all too often we see entrepreneurs who don’t account for the time it takes for their visa to process. If business operations require your presence in the U.S. within a certain timeframe, make sure that you leave enough buffer time for any unforeseen obstacles in your immigration process.

Time and time again, my office has seen many business owners pull their hair out because a surprise Request for Evidence caused them to miss an important meeting or some other crucial event. Anyone experienced in the world of immigration law will tell you that things often take longer than expected.

Mistake #3: Not Reading the Rules

Like anything else in the legal world, there are strict regulations surrounding immigration law that need to be understood and adhered to if you plan to get a visa to start your business. Each visa has its own requirements and steps that must be followed carefully.

Whether it’s filling out the correct form, including the right supporting documents, filing the appropriate fees to the right places, or communicating with the designated service center, it’s very easy to overlook the fine print and jeopardize your plans for starting your business.

If you make a mistake on your petition or file the wrong fee, you risk having your petition rejected by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (or USCIS). A rejection means that the officer in charge of your case didn’t even evaluate your case. Instead, they saw that an error had been made and sent the petition back to you. If this happens, you need to fix the mistake and send it back. Unfortunately, this means that you will have to wait again and your original fee will not be refunded, meaning that you need to pay the fees again.

As you can see, while a typo or oversight may seem innocuous, it could cost you valuable time and money that could otherwise be used to grow your business.

Mistake #4: Not Hiring U.S. Workers

This one does not apply to every visa that allows holders to start a business. However it deserves to be mentioned because it becomes a common problem for many immigrant business owners.

Certain visas—like the L-1A, EB-5, and EB-2 NIW—are generally issued so that you, the visa holder, can start a business that will benefit employment in the U.S. This means that you will likely be expected to create jobs for American workers if you want to apply for a visa renewal or have your conditions removed.

The mistake that many business owners make when they operate under one of these visas is to hire other immigrant workers from their home country (such as friends or family) or fail to hire anyone else at all. Not hiring any local U.S. workers could result in your renewal getting denied or your application to remove your green card’s conditions rejected, possibly forcing you to return to your home country.

If your plan is to create a long-lasting and successful business in the U.S., then it’s best to create jobs for local workers.

Mistake #5: Not Having a Premises

Some visas, such as the L-1A, require you to have already secured a location for your business. This might seem like an outdated requirement since many businesses are run entirely online, but it doesn’t change the fact that you need a real, brick-and-mortar space to do business in order to qualify.

Fortunately, you don’t need to buy a location. Showing proof of a lease on an office or bay will do just fine.

Mistake #6: Going It Alone

By now, it’s obvious that immigration law is a treacherous area to navigate alone. The smallest mistake can put your plans on hold for months and cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. In life, you are usually better off doing many things yourself, but getting a visa to start your own business isn’t one of them.

Just like you would hire a real estate expert to avoid the pitfalls of buying or selling a house, an immigration lawyer can help you make sure that you have the best chances for starting your small business in the U.S. One of the biggest mistakes that immigrant business owners make is thinking they can do it alone.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Shilpa Malik

Immigration Lawyer & Managing Attorney at SGM Law Group, PLLC
Shilpa is the lead attorney at the Law offices of Shilpa Malik. She has extensive experience and a great reputation for offering top-notch representation in business and employment-based immigration. She has successfully handled complex H1B Visa, L-1 Visa, and Employment Green Card cases in South Florida, NYC and nationwide.

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