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This story originally appeared on The Vertical

For many international entrepreneurs planning to move their businesses to the U.S. or simply file for a visa extension, these are uncertain times. Consular posts are closed around the world and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have temporarily suspended in-person green card and naturalization interviews. As some domestic offices begin to reopen, USCIS will reduce the number of appointments to ensure social distancing.

Are opportunities still available?

Foreign entrepreneurs come to the U.S. on many different visas, including the EB-5 immigrant investor program, the L-1 for intracompany executive transferees, the E-2 treaty investor visa,  the O-1 visa for people with extraordinary abilities and many others.

All of these visa categories have different requirements, like hiring employees or renting an office space. Because of COVID-19, many foreign entrepreneurs planning “a big move” haven’t been able to make further investments.

Others, however, feel the window of opportunity has widened. According to Jason Finkelman, an immigration attorney, startups in robotics or those providing solutions in real estate move fast to meet U.S. demand.

In June, USCIS re-introduced premium processing, which is widely used by foreign entrepreneurs. The service, suspended in March, expedites the  process to a mere 15 business days instead of the usual months-long process.  

Related: How Company Builders Create Long-Term Value in Latin America

Immigration not suspended

“Trump’s executive order temporarily ‘suspending immigration’ has contributed to the perception that ‘immigration is closed,’” said Joshua Goldstein, founder at Goldstein Immigration Lawyers. But USCIS is still processing new applications.

“We submitted an O-1 visa application in early March just after USCIS discontinued premium processing,” Goldstein said. “I told my client to expect a decision in about six-to-eight months. To my astonishment, his visa application was approved in 23 days.”

Applying for a visa is harder for applicants outside of the U.S. because consulates are shut down and in-person interviews have been delayed. New applicants are getting pushed down the line, leading to longer wait times.

“We are monitoring the situation every day,” said Jordana Hart, the managing attorney with the law firm Hart & Associates. “The consulates will open depending on the situation in their countries: Mexico City, for example, could stay closed longer then Paris.”

Scrutinized questioning  

Processing times had already increased in the past three years. “Whether you have a cure for cancer or are working on a coronavirus vaccine, it’s just harder to get a visa because the President wants to limit immigration,” said Jason Finkelman.

Although entrepreneurs are the least affected because they are job creators, they also have to deal with extra scrutiny. People on E-2 investor visas who have to travel back and forth for their business report more “questioning” about the time they spend outside of the U.S. “We pay extra attention when justifying our clients’ trips,” said Jordana Hart.

The calls to restrict immigration might get louder because of the looming economic recession, believes Henry Mascia, partner at Rivkin Radler law firm. “Officers are now treating extensions like first time applications, so the renewal process, for example, for an O-1 visa, is increasingly difficult.”

Related: Local Partnerships Will Be Crucial Amidst International Travel Restrictions

What’s next for international entrepreneurs?

The election in November adds additional uncertainty to immigration prospects. But there is some good news: An EB-1 extraordinary ability green card is now “current,” meaning it has no backlog and no wait time. “We are preparing green card cases for clients on O-1 who would have otherwise expected to wait several years,” said Joshua Goldstein.

Margo Charnysheva, chair of the immigration practice group at Fennemore Craig, recommends that entrepreneurs not leave if they are currently in the U.S. on a B-1/B2 tourist visa. “Instead, try to change your status to avoid a prolonged wait for an interview at the embassies, because they won’t schedule interviews until mid-June.”

The key in the strict immigration environment is to show that your business has an ability to grow and create jobs. “We push our clients to hire American workers,” said Jordana Hart. Also, preparing your application in advance is crucial. “In the face of so much chaos, you should be proactive,” Joshua Goldstein said. “Don’t wait for the pandemic to end.”



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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The startup economy was valued at nearly $3 trillion worldwide in 2019. While it is still too early to determine where the valuation will land in 2020, the numbers are likely to look very different. The global economy is suffering, and experts predict a recession that will have lasting impacts across all industries. In past recessions, the total decrease in venture-capital investment was about 25 percent on average in 12 months, which would mean a loss of $86.4 billion in the current economic context. In the first two months of this year, venture capital deals in China alone decreased by more than 50 percent, indicating that the effects of this recession could be even greater globally. 

The contagion timeline varies by region, and life in many countries is resuming some degree of normalcy. However, in Latin America, the rate of infection continues to rise. For entrepreneurs in emerging markets like Latin America, the continued rise of cases and subsequent economic impact is creating a challenging environment, and they are searching for strategies and support as they adapt to the “new normal.” Here’s a look at how company builders can help. 

Related: Local Partnerships Will Be Crucial Amidst International Travel Restrictions

A Brief Overview of Latin America’s Startup Ecosystem 

Heading into this year, the startup scene in Latin America was exploding. In just three years, investment in Latin American startups increased nearly tenfold, from $500 million in 2016 to $4.6 billion last year. Part of the record growth was due to a new $5 billion Softbank Innovation Fund, which focuses exclusively on the Latin American market. However, even without Softbank’s contribution, the region experienced a record increase in funding in 2019. 

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for startups to be impacted economic shutdowns. Between Q4 2019 and Q1 2020, the number of venture deals completed in Latin America decreased by 60 percent. As the contagion’s spread continues throughout the region, short-term opportunities like cash injections from investors and startup accelerators will be harder to come by. Entrepreneurs should instead consider alternatives, like working with company builders for long-term support and funding. 

How Company Builders Create Long-Term Value

Company builders, also known as “venture studios,” bring together talent, investors and experienced entrepreneurs to build out many ideas simultaneously. Their approach combines the stability of an established company with the creativity and innovation of individual startups, developing ideas through a rigorous process, and then establishing the most successful as independent companies. 

Making It Easier to Register New Businesses

In many Latin American countries, setting up a new business is complicated, often requiring extensive paperwork and many appointments to meet all the legal requirements. And although some countries are beginning to ease their restrictions, the majority still have shelter-at-home mandates in place. These restrictions further complicate the process of legally registering a new company, especially for first-time entrepreneurs. Company builders, which work with many startup ideas simultaneously, are familiar with the necessary bureaucratic processes and can help navigate them with repeatable processes and their business branding. Additionally, they can draw upon industry experience and existing infrastructures to help stabilize and launch new businesses. 

Building Investor Confidence 

Most company builders also have established relationships with people who can help navigate local legal requirements. However, legally establishing a new company is not worth much if the business has no way to fund its operations. Investors in Latin America are known for being risk-averse, making it difficult for startups with innovative ideas to raise money. In times of crisis, this tendency to stick with the tried-and-tested only increases, leaving companies with less access to funding when they need it most. 

Company builders help increase funding opportunities for startups because they lower the perceived risk for investors. The company-builder model is designed to create successful companies using a structured process to generate and test ideas that build upon past attempts. As part of a company builder, entrepreneurs work on multiple startup ideas and validate them before looking for outside funding. Furthermore, many startups incubated in company builders are led by experienced entrepreneurs who have built successful businesses in the past, which can be a reassuring indicator of success for cautious investors. 

Increasing Startup/Corporation Partnerships 

In addition to bringing together seasoned entrepreneurs, company builders often partner with industry experts and large corporations. These partnerships are mutually beneficial. Corporations can keep up with the latest tech developments by working with startups, and startup founders gain access to industry insights, new market opportunities and sometimes even funding. 

By incorporating more established corporations into the process of building out startup ideas, company builders create lower-risk opportunities for regional corporate investors. Currently, only 16 percent of the large companies in Latin America partner with startups, and more than 80 percent of those collaborations are short-term opportunities like hackathons. 

In the current climate, larger, more established companies have realized the importance of moving their operations online in order to survive in the new remote-work environment. Forming stable, lasting partnerships with startups can help bring large businesses firmly into the digital sphere for both the short- and long-term. In addition to modernizing traditional business approaches through tech, company builders can share their expertise and teach corporations how to be agile, innovative and flexible in response to new challenges. 

Related: Company Builders Are the New Accelerator Programs

Worldwide lockdown measures have revealed serious flaws in important systems in emerging markets, highlighting healthcare deficits, global supply chain weaknesses and limited financial safety nets. These deeply rooted problems will only be resolved by innovative approaches designed to create disruptive, sustainable change. With their long-term approach to generating value, company builders create the ideal environment for pursuing that change. 

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