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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I co-founded a startup a few years ago and currently have an O-1A visa.
My wife wants to return to work, but as you know, she cannot get work authorization on an O-3. I read that if I switch to International Entrepreneur Parole, she can get work authorization.
What is the process for getting Entrepreneur Parole and for my wife to get a work permit?
— Supportive Spouse in San Jose
I’m so excited by all the opportunities opening up thanks to the revived International Entrepreneur Parole (IEP) program. It would be awesome if your wife could resume her career!
Take a listen to my podcast on the parole entry process, what you have to do to get it and what to expect when you do, including when your wife can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Tomorrow, I’ll be participating in a free educational panel hosted by the National Venture Capital Association with representatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that you’re welcome to join as well.
Although this IEP has been around for more than four years, the Department of Homeland Security only recently revived it after the Trump administration tried and failed to get rid of it. Given that the IEP program is so new, I recommend working with an experienced immigration attorney when applying for IEP. An immigration attorney can also discuss other options that would allow your wife to work.
How do I apply for Entrepreneur Parole?
You must fill out the application for Entrepreneur Parole and submit it to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) along with evidence that demonstrates your rapidly growing startup will create jobs and significantly contribute to the U.S. economy. If you want more details on the qualification requirements for IEP, take a look at a previous Dear Sophie column on that topic or listen to my podcast, International Entrepreneur Parole is back! To get parole for your spouse and children (under the age of 21 and unmarried), you can concurrently file their applications for Advance Parole.
If USCIS approves your application for IEP, you will receive a parole document that is valid for 30 months, supports multiple entries and can be extended once for another 30 months if you and your startup continue to meet the extension criteria. However, USCIS approval alone does not grant you or your family parole.
Who grants parole?
A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer at an airport or other U.S. port of entry will have the final say on whether you and your family are granted parole — a temporary stay in the U.S. — and for how long. There is no equivalent of a “change of status” here.
That means if you and your family are in the U.S., you must first leave the U.S. and then show your parole documents to the CBP officer upon reentering the U.S. The CBP officer has the discretion to approve or deny your entry, so your immigration attorney should prepare you by letting you know the type of questions you may be asked and how to succinctly and honestly answer them.
If you and your wife are returning to the U.S. via airplane or boat, you will need to go to a U.S. embassy or consulate to obtain a boarding foil. That foil — also known as a travel foil — will enable you to board an airplane or boat since you won’t have a visa stamp in your passport under IEP.
Canadian nationals traveling from Canada to a U.S. port of entry can present an approved parole document without obtaining travel documentation. I believe individuals are allowed to enter the land border from Mexico, which some of our clients will be testing. (More updates to come!)
Although IEP allows for an initial stay in the U.S. of up to 30 months, CBP officers could approve your parole into the U.S. for only one year, requiring you to exit and reenter the U.S. again in 12 months. The CBP officer will stamp your passport with your parole expiration date.
To renew parole beyond the initial 30 months for another 30 months, you will have to meet the IEP extension requirements and file a new Entrepreneur Parole application.
How does my spouse get an EAD?
Once you and your wife are paroled into the U.S., she can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), otherwise known as a work permit. Your wife cannot begin working until she receives the EAD, and it will only be valid for the length of the parole stay. Given the current USCIS processing delays, the EAD may only be valid for a few months before your wife has to apply for a new EAD.
Depending on your wife’s field of expertise, it may make more sense for her to find a job with an employer willing to sponsor her for a visa or green card. Given the tight labor market in some industry sectors in the U.S., many employers are increasingly willing to invest in international talent.
Or, if you both want to remain in the U.S. permanently, you can also consider self-petitioning for an EB-1A green card for individuals with extraordinary ability or an EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card for individuals with exceptional ability. Your immigration attorney should be able to help you determine which immigration option is right for you and your wife.
Best wishes to you and your wife as you navigate this process to live your dreams!
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The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.
Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!