Green Card and Permanent Residency Options for Business Owners

I am a Business Owner: Can I get a Green Card in the U.S.? 

Getting a Green Card can be a long-term solution for foreign nationals seeking stability and business growth in the United States. It makes doing business easier and quicker especially in obtaining specific licenses to operate. Gaining permanent residency through a Green Card can also be an excellent choice if you have family members you want to bring and live with you in the US. Applying for a Green Card can be a long process, so it is important to assess which visa category best applies to you. 

What are the benefits of a Green Card? 

Obtaining a Green Card or a permanent residence permit entitles the cardholder to live and work in the US. Unlike other visas with expiration dates, Green Cards are renewed every 10 years. For conditional permanent residence, the Green Card has a validity of two years. Other benefits include: 

• Freedom to travel around and outside of the United States. Green Card holders have no residency restrictions within the US and they can leave and reenter the country with a valid Green Card. 

• Receiving federal benefits. Green Card holders that lived long enough in the US are eligible for Social Security benefits. They can access government-sponsored education aid and receive discounted tuition at certain universities and colleges. 

• Sponsoring other family members for a green card. Eligible family members (i.e., spouses, children, parents, and siblings) of Green Card holders are given priority in their application for permanent residency. 

• Greater access to work opportunities. Green Card holders can pursue a wide range of jobs, including government roles and positions that require security clearances, providing them greater opportunities in the American job market than those with work visas. 

Immigrant Visa Options for Business Owners that Qualify for a Green Card 

1. EB-5 Visa: Investor Green Card Program The EB-5 visa is an immigrant visa for investors and their spouses, as well as unmarried children under 21 years old, to get a Green Card and gain permanent residency through a substantial investment in a commercial enterprise in the US. The minimum investment for an EB-5 visa is $1.8 million unless the investment is in a targeted employment area (TEA), in which case it must be at least $900,000 (USCIS, 2023). TEA refers to rural 2 areas or areas that have higher rates of unemployment. Additionally, the investment must result to the creation of at least 10 full-time jobs within two years. Processing times for an EB-5 visa vary, but it generally takes about four to eight months. This visa leads to permanent residence after a probationary period. 

2. EB-1C Visa: Multinational Manager and Executives The EB-1C is a great option for companies to transfer key employees particularly multinational managers and executives from a foreign company to a related company in the US. To get an EB-1C visa, the beneficiary must have been employed abroad in a managerial or executive capacity for at least one of the three previous years. Most importantly, the US company must have a qualifying relationship with the foreign company (e.g., parent, subsidiary, affiliate, or branch) and be operational for at least one year prior to lodging the EB-1C immigrant petition. The EB-1C visa beneficiary qualifies for a Green Card along with his/her spouse and unmarried children below 21 years old. 

3. EB-2 NIW Visa: National Interest Waiver (NIW) The EB-2 visa is for beneficiaries that have advanced degrees or exceptional abilities in the sciences, arts, or business. It is a good option for start-up founders seeking US permanent residency. To qualify for an EB-2 visa, beneficiaries must be sponsored by an employer who will apply for a Permanent Labor Certification (PERM). However, those with National Interest Waiver (NIW) can self-petition. EB-2 NIW applicants must prove the national importance of their work and their capability to succeed, as well as justify waiving the PERM process due to lack of qualified individuals for the role. 

Non-immigrant Visa Options for Business Owners 

There are also other ways to start ir expand a business in the US on a temporary visa. Some business owners initially consider applying for non-immigrant visas before committing to the Green Card process. 

1. L1 Visa: Intracompany Transferees The L-1 visa is often considered as an initial option for business owners whose companies do not yet have a branch or affiliate overseas and would need to send key personnel to the US to set one up. The key personnel can be an executive, manager, or employee with specialized knowledge, provided that s/he has been employed by the same employer for one continuous year within the three previous years. The business owner must also demonstrate that the company has secured a physical office in the US and that the new offices would support the executive or managerial position within a year of the L-1 visa issuance. This visa is valid up to one year, with up to three extensions. 

2. E2 Visa: Treaty Investor Under the E2 visa, business owners and investors can have the option to (i) start their own business or (ii) invest in an existing US business. Foreign nationals under this visa can live in the US and operate their business. However, it is important to note that this 3 visa is only available to citizens of certain countries particularly those that have an E2 treaty with the US. Another consideration is that the investor must own at least 50% or a substantial investment of the US business. This visa is renewable as long as the business is in operation. 

Which Green Card option should I choose? 

Choosing the right Green Card path depends on your circumstances. Each immigration journey is unique and could lead to different application outcomes. However, business owners and investors should be aware of potential challenges of each Green Card path, such as establishing the legitimacy of their investment or providing comprehensive documentation. Failure to comply with these requirements and timelines set forth by immigration authorities can lead to delays or even denials. 

Starting your Green Card and Permanent Residency Journey 

Obtaining a Green Card or permanent residency as a business owner or investor involves navigating complex legal processes. These include assessing eligibility criteria, investment thresholds, and choosing the right visa category that leads to a Green Card. Understanding the nuances of each option is the first step.

For business owners seeking a Green Card through marriage to a U.S. citizen, the process involves having the citizen spouse file a petition, proving the legitimacy of the marriage. Once approved, the foreign-born spouse can apply for an immigrant visa, either adjusting their status in the U.S. or attending a visa interview abroad.

Investing in professional legal counsel can help applicants navigate through the everchanging US immigration laws. It is advisable for business owners to engage with an experienced legal professional who can provide tailored advice, address their unique circumstances, and guide them through the application process.

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