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Ask PG: Does YC have experience with founders who were employed on H1b visas?
18 points by josefswann on Sept 17, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 10 comments
The H1b work visa can be transferred to another employer, however, my read is that it does not allow one to start/found a business. Given that there is a very substantial hacker population in this category, I was wondering if YC/others have already solved this problem. It can't be that all the folks on skilled work visas are locked out of playing, can it?

Unfortunately I'm not the one to ask. Harj is the visa expert, and he's on vacation.

Thanks, can you help get this question to him when he gets back? At a first glance, it seems that a substantial population of potential entrepreneurs are unable to participate, as the permanent resident/green card process is backlogged by many years. The new JOBS act (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumpstart_Our_Business_Startups...) might help, but it might require somebody with the clout and resources of YC to push the envelope and unlock a world of possibilities.

It's not that we haven't tried (http://paulgraham.com/foundervisa.html), but you're overestimating our clout if you think we can get laws passed.

The problem with the H1b is two fold:

* You have to pay yourself market rate, and thusly have to demonstrate capital in your business bank account. This is near impossible to do with YC and StartFund capital. Think: $100k per H1B employee. (and you need to demonstrate other parts of your business, such as an office lease - but these are hackable compared to raw bank statements.)

* You cannot be "the boss" what this means, specifically, is that you must be able to be fired. Have 3 co-founders? probably okay. Have 3 board members? probably okay. Having 2 co-founders is awkward. Good immigration attorneys can guide you through this, it's a reasonably hack-able problem to solve if you're smart.

Most people ignore the visa problem during Y Combinator. After demo day, they throw capital at the problem and fix it. Hire a good lawyer, push for an O-1 or H1B. Explicitly: once you've raised seed funding getting immigration sorted is fairly straightforward -- getting immigration sorted before raising seed funding is very very challenging.

What I mean by "ignore the visa problem" is they simply enter the USA under the visa waiver program once or twice. 99.99% of people have no problems being (but not working nor living, wink wink) in the USA for 6 to 9 months under this.

(speak to a lawyer. in fact, speak to a few. and have money. lots of money. and patience.)

The first * isn't necessarily true. For a small startup I know several people with H1Bs that are paid just slightly above $50k, but yes, I think you do need an office address, since the H1B is usually tied with a specific branch/office/address, even within the same organization/company (it's not like it can't change, but modifications have to be submitted).

This is a serious problem and unfortunately there is no straight forward solution.

For transfer, You have to raise at-least 75k+ per founder so your start-up can demonstrate funds for your salary.

I don't believe someone on an H1B is allowed to have significant equity in a company he works for.. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2619088

It is possible to get an H1b and start a company. There is a good number of YC founders who are internationals and have gone through this process (& know some of the hacks). In short, you need a board of directors (could be other founders/advisors etc.) to show the USCIS that the board can hire/fire you. Also, you need to pay yourself an estimated market rate.

I am also very interested to hear the answer. One of the big reasons I have refrained from applying to yc or any incubator is the fact that I am on h1. I am in that unfortunate situation where I have been hacking since 8 years but cant start my own startup because of my visa.

May be moving your startup to Canada after YC graduation would work. Need to check details on this.

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