Visas for Entrepreneurs

Visas for Entrepreneurs

Outline of the main options for startup entrepreneurs.

Visa Waiver Program - for temporary visitors

Belgium participates in the USA’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

Participants in the Visa Waiver Program may enter the United States for up to 90 days for business, tourism, or pleasure.

Application Steps:

B Visa - for temporary visitors

If you want to stay for more than 90 days, or if you are from a country that is not a member of the Visa Waiver Program, then you can apply for a B visa.

A B visa is granted to foreign citizens seeking entry for a temporary period. B-1 visas are granted for business purposes and B-2 visas are granted for tourism or other non-business purposes. In practice, the visas are typically combined to a B1/B2 visa.

B visas are typically granted for a 3-6 month stay and allows for either one or multiple entries into the United States. They can be extended for another 6 months.

The B visa can be used to:

  • negotiate or sign contracts
  • purchase supplies or materials
  • hold business meetings
  • settle an estate
  • sit for an exam held in the United States
  • perform certain professional services
  • travel within the United States
  • visit family or friends

H1B - work visa


The H-1B visa allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in speciality occupations. H-1B work authorization is strictly limited to employment by the sponsoring employer. The visa allows the visa holder to stay for 3 years, which can be extended to 6 years. However, the H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa and does not put the visa holder on a path for permanent residency in the United States. H-1B holders who want to continue working in the United States after 6 years but have not obtained permanent residency must leave the U.S. for a full year before re-applying for another H-1B visa.

“Specialty occupation” is defined as an occupation requiring theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in fields including, but not limited to biotechnology, chemistry, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine, education, law, accounting, business specialities, theology, and the arts.


Below are the requirements for applying for an H-1B visa. You must provide forms of evidence for each requirement.

  1. You must have an employer-employee relationship with the petitioning U.S. employer.
  2. Your job must qualify as a specialty occupation by meeting one of the following criteria:
    • A bachelor’s degree or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for the particular position;
    • The degree requirement is common for this position in the industry, or the job is so complex or unique that it can only be performed by someone with at least a bachelor's degree in a field related to the position;
    • The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; or
    • The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor's or higher degree.
  3. Your job must be in a specialty occupation related to your field of study.
  4. You must be paid at least the actual or prevailing wage for your occupation, whichever is higher.
  5. An H-1B visa number must be available at the time of filing the petition, unless the petition is exempt from numerical limits.
    • The H-1B visa has an annual numerical limit of 65,000 visas each fiscal year. The first 20,000 petitions filed on behalf of beneficiaries with a U.S. master’s degree or higher are exempt from the cap.

J-1 Visa

The J-1 is a non-immigrant visa issued to persons participating in programs that promote cultural exchange, especially programs that help participants obtain medical or business training within the U.S. All applications must be sponsored by a private sector program or a government program.

J-1 visitors may remain in the United States for the duration of their program and for an additional 30 days afterwards.

Individuals interested in pursuing a J-1 visa are encouraged to visit the U.S. Department of State J-1 Visa Website.

L1 Visa - work visa


The L-1 is a temporary work visa that allows the holder to work in the United States for a relatively short amount of time, depending on a country reciprocity schedule (Iran nationals can stay for 3 months while German nationals can stay for 5 years). L-1 holders may extend their stay, however the maximum stay is 7 years.

L-1 visas are available to employees of international companies that have offices in the United States and abroad. This visa allows employees to relocate to the corporation’s U.S. office after having worked for the corporation for at least one continuous year.

Spouses and dependents of L-1 visa holders may work in the U.S. without restriction (under the L-2 visa) and the L-1 visa can legally be used as a stepping stone to a green card.


Below are the key requirements for a L-1 visa application:

  • The petitioning U.S. entity must have a qualifying relationship with your entity abroad.
  • Sufficient physical space must be secured for a new office.
  • A new office must be active and operating within one year after the L-1’s admission to the United States if requesting an extension of stay.
  • After 1 year the new office must support a managerial or executive position if you are requesting an extension of stay in the L-1A classification.

E2 Visa - work visa


The E-2 visa is referred to as an “investor visa.” This is because it allows an individual to enter and work in the United States based on a substantial investment they are controlling. Substantial means that the investment is large enough to finance the venture. For new startups, the investment must be large enough to launch and operate the business. This visa must be renewed every 5 years, however there is no limit to how many times the visa can be renewed.

E-2 holders must return to their country of origin upon the conclusion of business, or change their status. They may leave the United States at any time.

Spouses and unwed children under the age of 21 may receive derivative E-2 visas in order to accompany the primarily E-2 visa holder.

E-2 visas are only available to treaty countries, including:

Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China (Taiwan), Colombia, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic,, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Grenada, Honduras, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Korea (South), Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Senegal, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Yugoslavia.


To qualify for E-2 classification, the treaty investor must:

  • Be a national of a country with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation
  • Have invested, or be actively in the process of investing, a substantial amount of capital in a bona fide enterprise in the United States
  • Be seeking to enter the United States solely to develop and direct the investment enterprise. This is established by showing at least 50% ownership of the enterprise or possession of operational control through a managerial position or other corporate device.

A substantial amount of capital is defined as:

  • Substantial in relationship to the total cost of either purchasing an established enterprise or establishing a new one
  • Sufficient to ensure the treaty investor’s financial commitment to the successful operation of the enterprise
  • Of a magnitude to support the likelihood that the treaty investor will successfully develop and direct the enterprise. The lower the cost of the enterprise, the higher, proportionately, the investment must be to be considered substantial.


There is a different process for filing for a E-2 visa depending on whether or not the investor is located inside or outside the United States.

Inside the United States: If the treaty investor is currently in the United States in a lawful nonimmigrant status, they may file Form I-129 to request a change of status to E-2 classification. An employer may also file this form on the employee's behalf.

Outside the United States: A request for E-2 classification may not be made on Form I-129 if the person being filed for is physically outside of the United States. Instead, the investor should follow the following steps:

  • Complete the Online Visa Application, Form DS-160.
  • Print the application form confirmation page and bring it to your interview.
  • Photo - you will upload a photo while completing the Form DS-160. Your photo must be in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.

O1 Visa - work visa


The O visa is a temporary worker visa granted to an individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics (O-1A visa) or extraordinary ability in the arts and/or extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry (O-1B visa).

The O-1 visa is granted for 3 years and can be extended for 1 year at a time. There is no limit to the number of times it can be extended.

O-2 visas can be granted to individuals that accompany the O-1 artist or athletes to assist in a specific event or performance. For example, a personal trainer.

O-3 visas can be granted to the spouse or children of O-1 or O-2 visa holders.


The petitioner should file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, with the USCIS office listed on the form instructions. The petition may not be filed more than one year before the actual need for the alien's services. To avoid delays, the Form I-129 should be filed at least 45 days before the date of employment.

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