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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My co-founder and I launched a B2B SaaS startup in Poland a few years ago and are now looking to expand in the United States for market access since we have product market fit in a few countries in Europe.
We really need to be on the ground to interview our ideal users in the U.S. What visas will allow us to do that?
— Aiming for America
Congrats on taking this next big step forward to grow your startup! I appreciate you reaching out for immigration guidance. Setting up your company in the United States is a valuable foundation to successfully sponsor you, your co-founder, and other prospective employees for visas or green cards, and it also makes investors feel more comfortable investing in your company. I recommend you consult both a startup corporate attorney in the state where you intend to locate your company and an immigration attorney to assist you in your efforts.
Matteo Daste, a corporate attorney, partner, and head of the Northern California Emerging Companies and Venture Capital practice at global law firm Mayer Brown, recommends that international founders spend some time on the ground in the U.S. to get a sense of the environment and opportunities before moving here. I recently chatted with Daste about the challenges international founders face in the U.S. He says he has seen an uptick in the number of international founders visiting the U.S. post-COVID-19 to kick the tires and launch their long-awaited expansion and immigration plans.
Come for a visit!
If you want to take Daste’s advice, you and your co-founder can get either a B-1 business visitor visa, which will enable you to stay for at least six months, or an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) visa waiver, which enables citizens from 40 countries (including Poland) to stay for 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa. You must tell the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer when you arrive in the U.S. that you will be conducting business during your stay here. You should specifically request either a B-1 business visitor visa status or if on ESTA, WB (waiver-business) status. That can be really important!