Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.
“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”
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A friend and I founded a tech startup last year. Like a lot of other startups, we’re looking for funding. Should we come to Silicon Valley to meet with venture capitalists?
How should we begin that process? What type of visa should we get and how easy is it to get?
—Logical in Lagos
Thanks for reaching out to me from the entrepreneurial hotspot of Lagos!
In a recent episode of my podcast, I spoke with Esther Tricoche, director of investments at Kapor Capital, who offered up many words of wisdom to founders. She also mentioned that in many emerging entrepreneurial markets, including Lagos, accelerator funding and Series A funding are relatively easy to find, but pre-seed and seed funding are not.
Getting yourselves and your startup in front of Silicon Valley investors that focus on pre-seed and seed funding will be important to rapidly scale. Esther mentioned that even in U.S. cities, such as Atlanta, that are entrepreneurial hotspots, investment dollars are not as plentiful as they are in Silicon Valley. Moreover, investors outside of Silicon Valley tend to be more risk-averse.
So, yes, you should meet with Silicon Valley investors, but be aware that most U.S. embassies and consulates remain closed to routine visa and green card processing due to the ongoing pandemic. Given that, you can start requesting virtual meetings now; and you will have to wait until the U.S. consulate in Lagos comes back to full capacity to apply for a visa to come to the U.S. I like checking for visa availability through the Waypoint Embassy and Consulate Directory (full disclosure: I am an advisor to Waypoint).
As always, I recommend that you consult an experienced immigration attorney when you’re ready to take the step of actually applying for a visa.
Once U.S. consular offices reopen, if you aren’t eligible for ESTA, you can apply for a B-1 visitor visa for business. With a B-1 visa, you can request an initial stay of up to six months. This is a great status for business meetings such as to talk to prospective investors, negotiate contracts and incorporate a new business. However, you can’t work in the U.S. You must be aware that no hands-on work for pay (or even the chance of future remuneration) by a U.S. entity is allowed.