Can someone from Ireland come to the U.S. and start a business, and get a green card at the same time?

“Can someone from Ireland come to the U.S. and start a business, and get a green card at the same time? I have heard that this is possible, and I’m wondering what the circumstances are since I have a business plan which I’m quite sure would work, and I would love to give it a shot. But I know I wouldn’t be able to unless I could legally go over there to do it. I know that the U.S. encourages business start-ups, unlike in Ireland these days. How would I go about doing this?”

Sure, people can come from Ireland, or anyplace else in the world, to start a business in the U.S., and doing so while legally in the country is the desirable course to take.

You mention creating a business that would lead to a green card, so you must be speaking about the so-called “entrepreneur” visa. There are stringent, not to mention costly, requirements in order for a visa to be issued.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), entrepreneurs creating a new business must meet the following criteria:

*Invest or be in the process of investing at least $1 million. If the investment is in a designated targeted employment area, defined as “a rural area or an area that has experienced high unemployment of at least 150% percent of the national average,” then the minimum investment requirement is $500,000.

*The business must benefit the U.S. economy by providing goods or services to U.S. markets.

*The business must create full-time employment for at least 10 U.S. workers. This includes U.S. citizens, green card holders and other individuals lawfully authorized to work in the U.S.

*The visa applicant must be involved in the day-to-day management of the new business or directly manage it through formulating business policy – for example as a corporate officer or board member.

Those seeking an entrepreneur visa – otherwise known as a fifth preference green card under the employment-based categories – can also take over a troubled U.S. business that has existed for at least two years and has incurred a net loss, based on generally accepted accounting principles, for the 12 to 24 month period before the visa applicant came on board.

The investment requirements would be the same -- $1 million or $500,000 – and the visa applicant would have to maintain the number of jobs at no less than the pre-investment level for a period of at least two years.

If the fifth preference entrepreneur visa is what you were referring to, you will need legal advice in order to proceed. This will be necessary for not only securing your green card, but to establish the business as well.

If you have a spouse and/or unmarried children under 21, they will also be eligible to apply for legal status with you. However, you should know that, similar to marriage-based green cards, the employment fifth preference green card is issued conditionally for two years.

At that time, you will have to apply for the condition to be removed and the legal status issued on a permanent basis. This will occur provided that the business is still operational and continues to employ 10 qualified workers.

There are a couple of recent bills introduced in the U.S. House and Senate which seek to encourage foreign entrepreneurship. One, introduced last month by Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, called the StartUp Visa Act of 2010, will allow an immigrant entrepreneur to receive a two year visa if the person can show that a qualified U.S. investor is willing to invest a minimum of $250,000 to the immigrant’s startup venture. The House measure is similar, but given that gridlock is the order of the day in Congress these days, both bills will likely languish.

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