White Background With Gold Text Logo of U.S. Immigration Law Counsel | Consular Processing Expert

Can Startup Founders Qualify for the O-1 Visa?

If you are a startup founder, you may be interested in getting an O-1 visa. There are different visa options for startup founders that allow you to immigrate to the U.S. where you can continue to do business. Depending on your knowledge and accomplishments, you may qualify for special types of visas. In this article, we will be discussing startup founder visa options and what an O-1 visa is.

What is an O-1 Visa?

An O-1 visa is one of the work visas that bases its criteria on what the individual has accomplished. It is A highly sought-after option since it comes with many benefits, such as:

  • No degree requirement
  • No minimum salary requirement
  • Unlimited status extensions
  • Eligibility for premium processing time
  • No annual cap

There are two categories of O-1 visa: the O-1 visa and an O-1B visa. An O-1A visa is for entrepreneurs, athletes, engineers, and scientists. These individuals are usually top performers in various fields and have gotten at least one major award. The O-1B visa is for artists, performers, and actors who usually have at least one major award as well.

Depending on your background, it is very likely that you would meet the O-1 visa criteria as a startup founder. However, it is critical that you hire an immigration attorney to help you with this process and find the best path to take when getting a U.S. visa.

O-1 Visa Requirements

The O-1 visa eligibility requirements are quite strict due to its many benefits, so you must qualify for a certain amount of these requirements. To get an O-1 visa for startup founders, you will usually apply for an O-1A visa, which requires you to meet at least three of the criteria for this visa. Some individuals are able to get around qualifying for the specific criteria if they can produce the one-time achievement of a major internationally recognized award of some kind.


You could qualify for an O-1 visa for startup founders if you have received a nationally or internationally recognized prize or award in your field. For this to qualify, you have to be awarded an award for excellence in your field of work.

Critical Employment Status

The USCIS will also need you to prove that you had a critical or essential role at an organization. For most startup founders, this part is quite easy as your role is obviously critical for your company. Other examples of roles that could qualify include being an executive or a CEO.

To prove that you had a critical role in a company you worked at, you can provide proof of the impact you had on the company. For example, how many customers or clients did you have during your time at the company? Is there any press mentioning your role or your achievements?


The USCIS will also look for published material that was featured in professional or major trade publications. The articles must be about you and are more significant if they come from larger media publications, such as the New York Times, CNN, or Forbes. Lesser known news outlets can also satisfy this requirement if you don’t have any major publications.


Another requirement you should try to fill is having judged the work of peers in your field. This can apply whether you did this individually or on a panel, such as:

  • Judging a professional event
  • Peer reviewing articles
  • Being a part of a panel at a business competition


Part of the O-1 visa criteria is having a membership in an association that requires outstanding achievement from its members. For this association to qualify and needs to be in your field, require an outstanding achievement from the members, and judge the outstanding achievements by national or international experts in your field.

High Remuneration

To better prove your experience and achievements, the USCIS will also look into remuneration or high salaries. You should have at least one example of where you have been paid well above other professionals who held the same role within your city. Other ways that you can prove higher remuneration is with significant bonuses and equity.

Scholarly Articles

Part of establishing your qualifications for an O-1 visa is leaving a paper trail of your contributions and experience in your field. A great way to do this is with scholarly articles that are in professional publications, major trade publications, or other major media publications. These articles may be opinion pieces in your field, research papers, etc.

Original Contributions

Meeting the original contributions requirement for an O-1 visa is very important as it shows that you created something of major significance in your field. If you are a startup founder, your startup already helps you meet this criteria. However, you will need to go into detail about why your startup is of major significance for it to qualify.

Navigating the O-1 Visa Application Successfully

To ensure that you qualify for an O-1 visa, you need to go above and beyond when collecting proof of your eligibility. Some steps you can take to create a stronger application are to:

  • Apply for awards in your field
  • Pitch to major publications
  • Ask those in your network for opportunities
  • Ask to be a judge in local competitions in your field
  • Apply to become a member within local associations in your field
  • Pitch professional articles or opinion pieces to media publications

You should also take the additional step of hiring an immigration attorney to help you when you are applying for a startup founder visa. They will help you every step of the way, ensuring your application is thorough and you have included all of the required documentation, which will improve your chances of acceptance.

Hire an Immigration Attorney Today

Are you ready to apply for a U.S. visa for startup founders? Contact us today at U.S. Immigration Law Counsel by filling out our online form or contacting us directly at 800-666-4996 to speak with one of our immigration attorneys. Our immigration lawyers will deal with the government, so you don’t have to!

Recent News