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How Starting a Small Business Can Get You a Green Card

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.
Editorial Note: Fundera exists to help you make better business decisions. That’s why we make sure our editorial integrity isn’t influenced by our own business. The opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations in this article are those of our editorial team alone.

This country was built through the efforts of a wide variety of people. However, two main groups stand out among the rest: entrepreneurs and immigrants.

Often, these two are not mutually exclusive. Great minds and dedicated hands from all over the world have played a large part in shaping our economy by taking a chance and starting a small business.

While there are plenty of ways to start a business in the U.S. on a temporary visa, what about those exceptional 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.

How the U.S. Benefits from Small Businesses

It’s not a long shot to say that the heart of U.S. economics is small business.

Huge conglomerates and chains may seem to dominate the landscape, but the way that job opportunities and ingenuity really spreads is through the spark that entrepreneurs across the country provide. That much has been true since J.D. Rockefeller himself started his own business in 1867.

A recent report from the Small Business Association puts the number of small businesses in the U.S. at almost 28 million. That’s more than half of the 45 million total businesses reported by the census. Seeing as they make up over 62% of all U.S. businesses, there’s no denying that our economy is still held up by the risk takers who strike out on their own.

If you thought those numbers were high, these may stagger you. The SBA reports that one out of every ten immigrants owns a business in the U.S. and 620 out of every 100,000 immigrants starts a new business each month. That’s a lot of immigrant entrepreneurs!

So if immigrants make up 10% of small businesses, and small businesses make up over 50% of all U.S. establishments, then it’s safe to say that we owe a lot to green card holders. Here’s how starting a small business can help you get permanent residence in the U.S.

3 Ways to Get a 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 as soon as your feet touch American soil. The question is: How to get there?

As we said before, there are a number of ways to come here temporarily through your business but only a few ways to get your green card. This is because most employment-based 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 achievement like a high salary, published work, exclusive membership, or exhibited material.

Here’s an 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 would be ideal for Heidi to start her firm in the U.S.

Keep in mind that the EB-1 is a very difficult 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 the 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 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.

The reason why this green card is less popular is because of 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.

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 Way Is the 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.

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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