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U.S. Visas & Self Employment for Foreign Nationals

Foreign Nationals must be aware of U.S. immigration laws concerning self-employment. There are many highly skilled entrepreneurs from other countries that want to establish a business in the U.S. and essentially become self-employed. Often the business is service oriented and does not require a support staff.

However, this proves problematic for most U.S. visa categories including the H-1B, L-1, E-2 and TN under NAFTA. In fact, self-employment is expressly precluded by statue in some visa categories.
In addition, foreign nationals traveling under the B-1 business visa should be very careful not to engage in productive labor.

A visa for self-employment does not exist. Visa categories such as the E-2 treaty investor must establish a business that is not “marginal” which means that it was not established to provide a living for the investor.

The L-1 work visa has similar requirements and when a new office is established, the office must be of sufficient size to establish the need for an Executive or Manager. Even if the Manager is
overseeing a foreign corporation, he/she cannot transfer to the U.S. unless the office can hire workers.

The TN under NAFTA category expressly precludes self-employment. Sole proprietors in the sciences, arts and business, without a business plan to employ U.S. workers, do not have a path for working in the U.S.

Although there is a real need for a U.S. entrepreneur visa, at this time visa categories do not support self- employment and foreign nationals should be very careful to provide a business plan that includes employment for others. website statistics Applicants should be very careful of small scale business plans and professional services that are formed for “self-employment.”

Johanna M. Keamy

Attorney at Law

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