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I’m Peter Roberts, immigration attorney who does work for YC and startups. AMA, Hacker News




Hi Peter, thanks for doing this!

Using a throwaway here. I am an Indian citizen about to file for a marriage-based green card with my US citizen wife. I currently live in the US and we are a very vanilla case, in my opinion.

Have you encountered any new challenges over the past two years, owing to the current immigration climate? I see that the overall process is significantly longer than even just a couple of years ago.



No. The process is really the same and still pretty easy (when there are no issues like in your case), just slow.



Do I need to visit the US border day -of to get a TN-1 visa as a Canadian citizen? My immigration attorney in SF said I did but I’ve had other people tell me they got it ahead of time.

This sounded a bit crazy to me, I’d have to pack all of my stuff in my apartment and hope I get a T1 when I arrive at Pearson airport in Toronto? And if not I’ll have to find some place to stay.



Your attorney is mostly right. But we’ve had a number of clients apply at land-crossings, such as Peace Bridge, and explain that they’re just applying now to make sure that they can get a TN before actually moving to the U.S. and the CBP officers consistently have been fine with this. You still would need to enter the U.S., however. I would recommend calling Peace Bridge and asking. You should be able to get an answer.



Just wanted to vouch: Peter has helped me successfully obtain 3 complex visas over the years and has been equally successful getting visas for numerous friends.

Cannot recommend highly enough.

His advice has always proven solid as well.



Mr. Roberts, I appreciate your time.

My wife is a US citizen and I only have a US tourist visa. We want to move stateside. As her earnings for the last 3 years do not qualify her as a single sponsor, we wanted to use cash assets. How do we show proof of cash, and what are the stipulations? Is it a bank statement from my bank in my home country, do we have to deposit it in a bank in the US? Is there a time stipulation of how long the account has to be opened prior? I understand that my salary doesn’t count, although it would meet the requirements.



Your salary can be used to meet the financial support requirement (but definitely consult with an attorney before applying because there are other issues that you need to be aware of as well since you are here in visitor status).


What happens to a GC application that’s waiting for priority date if I leave the country for a few years?

Similarly, what happens to the H1B that’s based on the GC petition. Would that still be valid / renewable?



The facts matter here but it’s possible for a green card application to continue under these circumstances and for an H-1B to remain valid under these circumstances.



That’s tough because of ITAR. Essentially, the company / investors would need to be okay with limiting his access while he applies for a green card but the green card process is very slow now even for EB1s so it could be a couple of years before he has a green card.



I’m currently on the H1B visa but would love to start my own company at some point and given that I’m an Indian national, I’m probably never getting a GC through the EB2 / EB3 category. What are some of the visa options for someone like me who wants to start a business?



The approach is going to be very fact- specific so it’s hard to say in general (and probably requires a phone call) but the options that many entrepreneurs / founders pursue are a concurrent part-time H-1B through their own company or an O-1 through their own company, although both of these come with their own issues and challenges.



Hi Peter, thanks for taking the time to do this.

1. How hard is it for a company to enroll as a J-1 sponsor? Are there specific deadlines or other requirements?

2. Can any private company sponsor a student J-1 (with a 51% scholarship), or are there additional requirements that must be met?




Really pretty easy. There are certain minimal requirements. I’d recommend reaching out to one. They’re usually pretty responsive. Email me and I can give you a good list.



Hi Peter – thanks for doing this!

I’m from the UK, working on a startup with a friend in the US (who is a UK citizen also, but immigrated to the US via

Based on my research I’m considering applying for a B1 visa as a low friction way to have easy access to the states for months at a time, to collaborate on the startup in person. I have a few questions:

– Based on this information, is that a path you would recommend? We haven’t incorporated yet, but will likely incorporate in the UK first, however any input is welcome.

– Thinking medium-long term, do you know if it’s looked down upon by border agents to continually re-enter on a B1 visa? (eg multiple 2-3 month trips a year)

– While doing this, I’d may continue to do some work for a UK company to keep my personal cashflow rolling. That would be as a UK based employee, with UK based payroll etc. Would you imagine that to impact a successful B1 application?

Finally, is this a type of application you’d consider taking on? Thanks again!



While the B-1 would allow you to engage in certain business activities, such as setting up the business, meeting with potential investors and clients, etc., it wouldn’t allow you to do “productive” work in the US And yes, frequent travel to the U.S. as a B-1 visitor can raise questions with CBP about what you are doing (whether you are you working without authorization in the U.S.) and where you are living (whether you are residing in the U.S.) and cause significant problems. And yes, we handle these types of matters all the time. At a minimum, we could give you a lay of the land.



Thank you very much for doing this. Throw away account for obvious reason. In the US now; Originally from Taiwan / ROC. 40 years old. Basically Dreamer category but not young enough to qualify for DACA. Missed 245 i as I was young and didn ‘t paid attention. Didn’t finished college. Other than my status (can’t leave the country, can’t fly easily in late 2020) doing pretty well in tech. Talked to many lawyers and doesn’t sounded there is anything I can do right now. EB-5 / E2 could be possible but not guarantee (risk vs reward). Anything else I should be looking into?



Hi Peter – Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions! I’ve got some UK related questions … I hope they are factual discussion-related enough: -)

In order to sponsor people in the UK, a company must designate an Authorizing Officer (AO) ( .. .). I’m under the impression that this person is mostly a figurehead that signs off on things because the UK needs someone at the company to hold responsible, but that an immigration law firm handles pretty much everything immigration related as Key Contact and Level 1 User. What are your thoughts on how much it matters who the AO is? Eg must they be a manager?

Secondly , there’s ambiguity about whether the AO has to be a UK citizen. After reading a good bit online and speaking with an immigration law firm, I don’t think this is the case. Do you know?

Next, there are transparency concerns about designating someone as an AO. From what I understand, they would be able to see salaries of other people in the UK and some company financials (but nothing major that’s not already shared with the UK and available on websites). Do you know what concerning info is shared with an AO?

Lastly, I know Brexit in theory complicates getting things setup to sponsor people in the UK, but should that prevent a company from working through the process over the past 12 months and for the upcoming 12 months? I doubt things are at a screeching hault at the UK “Home Office”.

Any thoughts are appreciated, thanks!



Unfortunately, I don’t know UK immigration law. If you need a referral, email me separately.



What are the best GC options for current H -1B holders without a PhD or founder status? It seems like the EB-1 is very much equivalent to the O-1 in terms of evidence.



Most end up having to go the employment- based PERM labor certification application route but sometimes a national interest waiver (NIW) -based green card application is a very good – and better – option and this does not have to be tied to a company.



I’m at a very early stage startup and am preparing to make my first hire in the next couple months. To me, it would be ideal if I could consider people who aren’t US citizens or permanent residents. But, given how often I see small-mid sized startups saying, “sorry but we can only hire US citizens / green card holders”, it seems there are a variety of reasons (that I don’t fully understand) that this may not be feasible.

Could you share some thoughts on what particular challenges there are in hiring people who do need visas, and if it’s possible or reasonable for a very early startup with limited time and resources to overcome those challenges?



It’s absolutely possible from an immigration standpoint (really no different from a large company) so I would definitely not shy away from hiring foreign nationals at all. However, depending on the visa type, there could be wage requirements and sometimes those can be a challenge for new companies.



Hi, Peter – thank you for doing this !

I’m one of the lucky ones – my I – 485 was approved for LPR on the last week of July (EB2, RoW). I’ve got the I – 797 to prove it! : -)

The funny thing is that I’m STILL waiting for the actual green card – USCIS has been adamant that “60 – 120 days between approval and card issuance “.

I’ve been told twice, on the phone, that under no circumstances will they even allow me to schedule an InfoPass appointment for an I – 551 stamp until the 60 days have passed.

My question is simple: is this normal? Both the delay between approval and card issuance, and the refusal to issue I – 551 stamps …?




That’s not normal. I would reach out to your local Congressional office and ask it to make an inquiry. This is done all the time.



This is a perfect example of unseen / unknown / inaccessible backdoors for most (non-) immigrants in the US The (apparent) complete opacity of USCIS when it comes to delays like this can be devastating. I know several people who had job offers rescinded in late 2018 because their H-1B RFEs or approvals arrived way past October and they had been waiting nearly a year or more for adjudication after making it through the lottery.

Thank you for sharing this tip , still it’s so infuriating.



I am currently on STEM OPT and work for local County government. AFAIK my employer is not affiliated with any institutions of higher education. Will I qualify for cap exempt H-1B visa?



Hi Peter,

I’m a Canadian permanent resident (Australian citizen / passport) I have a valid B1 / B2 visa which allows me into the US for 6 months at a time, but obviously no work permitted. I have questions about what constitutes “work” and I don’t want to break the rules.

1. I have published some books, and have hard copies of them I bought. Am I allowed to physically sell those (for profit) while I’m in the US?

2. If I give talks in public venues (community halls, etc.), can I charge admission for porfit? What about “admission by donation?”

Thanks very much!



Surprised to see someone exactly like me. I am Australian citizen with a Canadian PR and US B1.

Pretty sure, I am not allowed to make any kind of money or get any government benefits on B1.

You could sell those books from Canada into US (either cross border shipping or amazon or 3pl)



1.) Really no but someone else on your behalf could. 2.) You can’t charge admission but people could make donations to a third-party non-profit.



Hi Peter, thank you so much for doing

I’m a Mexican currently going through the Green Card process, In the part where Form I – 140 has been approved and form I – 485 will be filled in October according to the company I work for lawyers.

Over the past 3 years, there have been layoffs in my department around October (start of Fiscal Year), last year the company let go key people that otherwise nobody ever suspected they would be laid off. I’m concerned this year I may get laid off, if that were to happen, how would my green card process be affected, considering I’m still holding a valid H-1B visa?



Is this a company-sponsored green card application ? If it is, then protections won’t kick in until you have filed your I – 485 application.




My wife is here on DACA after being brought here illegally when she was eight years old. Due to her illegal entry, we aren’t allowed to apply for a green card until she has a legal entry, which is prohibited for 10 Years.

We are currently working with an attorney that is trying to get her through on a hardship petition (claiming (probably rightly so) that her being deported would be damaging to me (a citizen)). Is this this best path forward?



Ok; we have some friends who claimed that since they were brought in by a citizen, and they were just “waved through” as kids in the backseat of the car, that constituted as a “legal entry”.

I’m not an attorney but that didn’t really seem like it would hold up since it seems like anyone could claim that.



This might be an off topic question. Do you think startups shouldn’t be bearing the burden of sponsoring an H1B? The reason I ask is, there’s great talent going to big tech because Startups are not in a position to sponsor H1B. Otherwise I myself would love working for a YC startup.

Do you think YC and potentially VCs should handle this part for startups just so they can attract good talent?

Or are there any other alternatives you’d suggest to help this case?



There might be a misunderstanding. Startups can and do sponsor foreign nationals for H-1Bs successfully all the time. There’s a prevailing wage requirement but really other than that there’s no difference between H-1B sponsorship by large and new / small companies.


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What do you think of the “country of origin “segregation vs. citizenship.

I was born in India and raised in Canada. I’m never going to get permanent residency in the US based on employment.

Is the best bet just to get married to an American?



Yes, that is the fastest way since there are no quotas but I’d also recommend looking at the EB1 category because even though it is significantly backed up for Indian nationals, it’s still a lot faster than the EB2 and EB3 categories and oftentimes within reach of talented professionals.



If I want to move to the Bay Area under my own money and not work while in the US, but instead build software while trying to fund raise money, am I allowed to do this under a B visa? If so which one?



There is an exception of sorts within the B -1 that allows those who will be applying for an E-2 investor visa to establish a business and seek investments for that business. There are limits however and gray where permissible preliminary steps become unauthorized employment.



Peter, I’m currently on H1B and my I – 140 was just approved this week. When can I technically change jobs and keep my priority date?

Is it true that my current company can withdraw the I – 140 petition within 6 months of approval and have you seen cases where it has happened?



Hi Peter,

I aim to apply for YC. I’m German. I have some questions regarding visas:

1 ) What kind of visa would I need for the three month program time? And how early in advance do I have to apply for it (ie do I have to apply before I know if I get accepted at all)?

2) What kind of visa would I need if I wanted to stay after the program (or if I don’t get accepted, to start the company in the US)? From what I read an O-1 visa might be the best option, is that correct (I submitted my PhD thesis and have relevant publications, but won’t get the official degree until mid next year)? How long in advance do I have to apply? Do I have to found the company first?

3) How much (approximately) will that cost?




Regarding 1), there is no one visa that applies to all but information will be provided about this during the process. Regarding 2), an O-1 is often the visa of choice for founders and most of those with PhDs (or near completion of their PhD) can make a good case for O-1. An E-2 also can be a good option. Regarding 3), please email me and I can give you the range that attorneys charge for O-1s.



Let’s say I’m living in Canada and am employed by the Canadian subsidiary of an american startup, and I fly down for a week to have some meetings meet up with co-workers for some face time.

Saying I’m heading down “for meetings, no productive work” seems to be a fast route for a B-1 visa from the customs agent I meet at the airport.

If I actually want to do “productive work” while i’m down there, what’s the best way to do that, ideally without needing to pay US taxes on earnings?



I can’t comment on the tax aspect but even if just for a day, you would need work authorization and the TN still is pretty easy for Canadians to get.



Friend who is a Singapore national is trying to figure out if he can do an online bachelors at Capella University in the US, specifically the Bachelor of Science in Information Technology have it be used to get an H1B or H1B1.

The sticking point is that he plans to complete it in a year- (he knows how to program and its a self paced program) will it satisfy USCIS requirements which say a foreign national must complete 4 years of post secondary study – is it specifically the years that matter or is it fine that its a 4 year degree done more quickly?



It’s the course credits that matter. He should make sure that the school is an accredited institution of higher education of course but I’d also have him run this degree program by an education evaluation service.



Thanks so much for the reply!

Just a brief followup- whats the reason for the education eval service? For context the school is US based, accredited, online and for-profit.



I’m not sure the issues people have with this school but there is also a fully accredited online / self paced school at Western Governors University, just so you know.



Capella University has a very low reputation / is for profit. My understanding is it is no better than ITT or University of Phoenix, which have a very bad and infamous reputation in the United States.



I asked you this once before (and thank you kindly for the reply) – has there been any recent tightening around TN that you’ve noticed? Has anything changed in the process in the past few months as the new frameworks still isn’t adopted?



Actually, in my experience, the TN process seems to have settled down again and we really haven’t had many issues in a while.



Is it possible to do business from a corporation registered in the USA when I am living in another country (in my case the UK)?



Hi Peter, thanks for doing this AMA!

Do you have any insights on whether getting an L1-A got more difficult with the current administration, and if / how the kind of documents / evidence needed for it changed recently?

I ‘ m asking because I just got my L1-A renewal rejected (after having it successfully renewed 2 years ago), on the grounds of insufficient proof of my position being managerial. My I – 94 expired and I don’t have another visa, so I had to leave the US – and it’s awful for my startup! Timing couldn’t be worse.

I ‘m applying for a new L1-A, so any insights on my question above, or any advice on how to maximize my chance of getting it as quickly as possible, would be super welcome!



I had an L1-B extension request inside the US and they came back with a request for more information. Honestly it looked like they were about to refuse my visa extension. I told the immigration lawyers that I’d be back in London over Christmas and they changed their tune. Applying through London, albeit with an L1 company blanket doc, took all of 30 minutes starting with review of the application and finishing with an interview where the person interviewing me obviously knew very little about my industry.

There appear to be wide discrepancies within the system that can be arbitraged.



Non-blanket L-1s are just really tough and probably the “best” example of irrational and unfair decision-making by USCIS. In short, extensive documentation of the structure / organization of the U.S. and foreign companies and of the employees managed and to be managed needs to be provided along with DETAILED descriptions of current and future managerial job duties. But L-1s are just tough and were tough even under the prior administration.



Thanks a lot for advice! How does L1-As compare with L1-Bs or O-1s on terms of being tough? Those two are my other options I’m considering.



An L-1A – if you can show management of people now and in the US – is much easier than an L-1B – unless the L-1B involves advanced scientific research and development.



Can you point us to official U.S. policy that leads to differentiated outcomes of immigration processing speed between nationalities?



Hi Peter, is it possible for someone on OPT STEM extension to be self employed either by forming a company or operating as an independent contractor?



Sort of. You should check with your school because in the end, it’s really the school and not the government that makes this determination. But there’s really no self-employment under STEM OPT. If the employment is through your own company, then there needs to be a structure in place where you are supervised by someone and don’t control your own employment.



Canadian citizen, working and living full time in USA on TN visa – is it permitted to concurrently do remote freelance for companies in my country of citizenship (Canada) while living in US?



US immigration law has still not come to terms with remote / digital employment so there is some gray here but the short answer is no.



Curious what you think (though given your profession I expect a somewhat biased response) – is there really a skills shortage in the US or do you think companies are trying to get cheaper workers?



The skills we’re missing could be easily trained for. People would happily do the training for free even if it lasted months (say through online portals that were self paced) just for achanceat getting a job / a guaranteed in-person interview at least.

There is a skills shortage again yes, but it is remarkably easy to remediate a significant portion of it, particularly in an industry with such profits.

I think though also Peter Thiel is right in his criticisms of colleges. They have dropped the ball significantly, especially compared to India’a colleges, which almost overnight rapidly shifted to an IT / Healthcare focus in the 1980 ‘s.



In my experience, I really do see a shortage of skilled workers and incredible competition for these workers.



Those are all good points and I’m not an expert in hiring. I just know that our clients – which is a narrow view of course – are simply looking to hire the best person for the job, regardless of immigration issues, and sometimes the best or just available person is a foreign national.



We are planning to hire someone on h1b with priority date for green card as 12 / 22 / 2009. Do you think this person should be able to get green card with next 2-3 years? Thanks for taking the question.



I’ve heard that being successful in an O-1 visa application can be very location dependent. So you can be better off applying somewhere far away, rather than a convenient office.

Is this something your office sees much of?



I really don’t see that. All the service centers have their issues and quirks but we’re still able to get approvals with all of them and taking largely the same approach with all of them.



Not sure if you can answer this. My priority date is Feb 2011 for EB3 India. The current date of filing for (is April) . How long might it take to become Feb 2011.



I wish I could answer. When the new numbers come out for the new fiscal year, we should have a better idea since there’s usually a big jump.



Is there any country you think is doing a better job than the US in terms of skilled migration policy?

edit: typo



That’s a great question. I really don’t know but I’d be interested to hear back from others. I know that early on in the current administration, Canada seemed to go out of its way to attract talent and investments.



Just curious –

With respect to your work and the types of cases you handle.

What are your biggest challenges? Where do you struggle the most?



Just the irrationality and pre-determined nature of some of the decision-making. The process can feel like a shell game at times. That being said, I think that we understand now what USCIS wants now and are able to provide this and still get approvals even if we have to battle frequent and rough requests for evidence along the way.



I am a PHD in Microbiology and currenlty working in biotech startup on H4 EAD. Can my company apply for my GC in EB1-B category while I am on H4 EAD?



Very low given how difficult it is to make major changes in US immigration law at any time and particularly during a presidential season.



Hi Peter, I’m a UK citizen who has held a E 26 Green Card for 1yr 9 months. My partner (US citizen, we are not married) and I both have remote jobs and we are switching between working 2 or 3 months remotely in Europe then 2 or 3 back working remotely from locations in the USA. Do I need to worry about this pattern of movements?

So approximately 50: 50 split between US and Europe, but not more than 3 months at a time outside US, usually more like 2. We do not own property anywhere, nor do we currently have permanent rented property. She has family in the US, I have family in the UK.



You should be able to do this and keep your green card but you definitely should consult with an attorney.



Do you see a lot of companies starting up operations in other countries to house their international employees, given the uncertainty in US?

Would you recommend funded startups to have such backup offsite locations?



Yes, I see some of that but surprisingly I really haven’t seen any let up in our practice with companies seeking to establish operations in the US Some companies bifurcate their operations, with development work being done in their home country and marketing and sales and client support work being done in the US


What do you think?

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