Ask Sophie: What visas could work to come to Silicon Valley for customer discovery?

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Sophie Alcorn, attorney, author and founder of Alcorn Immigration Law in Silicon Valley, California, is an award-winning Certified Specialist Attorney in Immigration and Nationality Law by the State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. Sophie is passionate about transcending borders, expanding opportunity, and connecting the world by practicing compassionate, visionary, and expert immigration law. Connect with Sophie on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Dear Sophie,

I’m a founder of a startup in Estonia. I listened to your podcast about the importance of international founders coming to the U.S. to meet collaborators and do customer discovery before expanding in the market. Should I come on a visitor visa? Any other visa options I should consider?

— Eager in Estonia

Dear Eager,

I’m happy to hear that you’re listening to my podcast from Estonia! Thanks for reaching out to me with your questions!

For those who haven’t heard it, the podcast episode you’re referring to features Jeff Wallace, co-founder of startup community and accelerator platform Silicon Valley in Your Pocket, and Ann Lee, who is exploring the challenges and benefits for international founders expanding in the United States, particularly in Silicon Valley. As you know, their advice is to thoroughly research, analyze, and understand the market before diving in. Kudos to you for deciding to take the plunge!

But before you do, I recommend you consult a U.S. immigration attorney to devise a strategy for you based on your short-term and long-term goals. Also, discuss with your attorney when to file for a work visa, such as the H-1B, L-1A, O-1A or E-2, which I discuss below in more detail. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is expected to finalize significant increases for most petition and application fees in the next few months.

For example, the current filing fee for E, H, L, and O visa petitions is $460. The USCIS proposal called for increasing the filing fee for E visa petitions to $1,015, H visa petitions to $780, L-1 visa petitions to $1,385, and O visa petitions to $1,055.

The USCIS may have changed these proposed fee increases, which were released about a year ago, based on the nearly 8,000 public comments it received. Regardless, the final rule on fee increases will likely take effect at least 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register, which could be soon.

Now, let’s dive into your immigration options for coming to the United States.


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