Here’s another edition of “Ask Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”
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I was recently laid off. I’m co-founding a cleantech startup with two of my former colleagues, who were also laid off. Both of my co-founders are on H-1Bs and had green cards in the works with our former company. I’m a U.S. citizen.
What do we need to do to transfer their H-1Bs and green cards to our startup? Based on your experience, do investors care about the amount of money a startup spends on visas and green cards for their founders?
— First-time Founder
Congrats to you and your co-founders on dreaming big and taking the leap to create your own startup! I appreciate your dedication to the environment, your tenacity, and your spirit of innovation.
Let me take your second question first. Based on my experience, the majority of U.S. investors who invest in my international founder clients tend to be interested in whether the startups have an innovative idea with some initial traction, a strong founding team and are structured as a Delaware C-corporation. Many investors I’ve worked with have been very supportive of immigration efforts that keep founding teams and key talent together in the United States to build and scale their startups, even if that means paying higher wages than typical for founders in the startup market to ensure compliance with various immigration requirements.
That said, you can broaden your funding sources by considering grants, particularly since your focus is cleantech. The big benefit of grants is that they are non-dilutive capital. And they don’t require repayment like a loan. You have a contract with deliverables that you as startup founders define.
What’s more, grants and other funding can help your co-founders qualify for an EB-1A extraordinary ability green card, which I’ll discuss in more detail in a bit. These funds can also be used to pay your co-founders’ legal and filing fees for their H-1Bs as well as their H-1B salaries.
Now let me dive into your initial question, starting with H-1B transfers.
As you and your co-founders know, they have a 60-day grace period from their last day of employment in their former H-1B role until they have to leave the U.S. or apply for another status. Transferring your co-founders’ H-1Bs to your startup is definitely possible, but you’ll want to start immediately. It’s important to take the steps necessary to qualify your startup for sponsoring the H-1Bs before proceeding with the transfer. And it’s important to take those steps quickly since the 60-day grace period for your co-founders is already counting down.