4 min read
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.
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
“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.”
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
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.”
President Donald Trump’s plan to restrict employment-based visas could affect an estimated 240,000 people seeking to work in the U.S. across industries from technology to finance and hospitality.
Trump said in a Fox News interview Saturday that he will announce new restrictions on various work visas Sunday or Monday. The plan won’t affect certain workers who are already in the U.S., he added.
There will be very few exclusions, Trump said, when asked about upcoming rules on several different visa categories, including the H-1B program for high-skilled workers, the L-1 program for managers transferring within their companies, and H-2B visas for non-agricultural temporary workers.
“In some cases you have to have exclusions. You need them for big businesses where they have certain people that have been coming in for a long time,” he said.
One possibility under consideration would restrict people from entering the U.S. on visa categories including the H-1B program for as long as 180 days, Bloomberg News reported June 12, citing two people familiar with the proposal. Workers who were granted those visas but remain outside the country may not be able to enter until the order expires.
The move would affect hundreds of companies and thousands of people: In fiscal year 2019, the H-1B visa was awarded to about 133,000 workers starting initial employment with a company. More than 12,000 people were granted L-1 visas in initial applications, and more than 98,000 people were issued H-2B visas. Barring exclusions, Trump’s plan could affect more than 240,000 applicants just based on these three work visa categories.
Trump tweeted at the height of the coronavirus pandemic that he planned to “temporarily suspend immigration into the U.S.” Industry groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Information Technology Industry Council, wrote to Trump to express concerns that restrictions would disrupt business and hamper growth.
In the past few years, the administration has been moving to tighten the H-1B program, and the approval rate for applications has fallen. The technology industry has relied on H-1B visas to hire foreign talent, particularly in the fields of science and engineering. Critics say some companies have abused the program to displace American workers.