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    How I sponsored my own genius visa

    It's the greatest hack in immigration history: I have an O-1, and I'm CEO of the company that sponsors it.

    That means I can live and work in the US πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ as long as I don't fire myself and the company doesn't run out of money. And I can work for anyone who hires ~~me~~ my company.

    All the freedom of a green card, none of the hassle. 🀘

    One caveat: entry into the USA is still at the discretion of the border agent. Every time. A visa does not guarantee entry like a green card does.

    And right now, I only have an official piece of mail printed on heavy duty paper that says O-1 approved until May 2021; extension of stay, granted.

    When I leave the country, I have to visit the US Embassy in Slovenia before coming back. A nice consular lady will have a short chat with me, review some paperwork, then make the final decision to stamp a real visa into my passport. Then I'm free… for two and a half years. πŸ—½

    Unless she says no. Which she still can. But I hope she doesn't. USCIS already said yes, visiting the consulate office is technically a formality.

    Here's how a schmuck like me got a golden ticket πŸ‘‡

    You start with a genius visa, build a business, spend some $7,000 on lawyers, about $1,600 on filing fees, and age ten years in 7 months of overbearing existential stress. Easy.

    First, have an O-1 visa

    The story of sponsoring my own visa begins in December 2015 when I first became an alien of extraordinary ability. That's my official visitor status.

    I've been in the US almost 4 years, but I'm not an immigrant. I'm a non-immigrant alien of extraordinary ability in the arts or sciences. The O-1 is a visitor work visa: Doesn't green card, doesn't guarantee entry, doesn't count towards citizenship.

    You pay taxes, get local ID, and your home-country passport has a US address. But you're a visitor.

    My initial O-1 was sponsored by the wonderful folks at Yup. Great place, they're hiring my replacement and growing fast. So if you're interested…

    Getting my O-1 is a long story spanning almost 10 years from building websites for $7/hour in high school to speaking at international conferences and consulting big companies after college. It's a fun read πŸ‘‰ How I got a visa normally reserved for nobel laureates.

    Here's a recap πŸ‘‡ 1. Be me, 19 years old (2006) 2. Decide coding websites for $7/hour is not enough 3. Become ninja rockstar engineer 4. Blog, give talks, do stuff 5. Found startup 6. Fail, but keep going 7. Publish Packt bestseller Data Visualization with D3.js 8. Write Why Programmers Work At Night 9. Become freelance consultant, focus on USA startups 10. Keep blogging and writing and talking 11. Publish React + D3.js 12. Apply for O-1 13. Move to USA πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

    You need a job job to get a visa. It's more correct that way. Easier for sure. They also pay for everything, which is nice.

    Then, build a business

    Visa in hand, financial security secured, rent paid, you're in the US and you have a normie life. Time to relax. πŸ€™

    Or you can work on your next chess move to freedom: Start a business.

    A US work visa makes it illegal to work for anyone other than the company sponsoring your visa. Them's the rules. But you can own a business.

    At least you can on an O-1, not sure about the others.

    So you can own a business other than your sponsor, but you can't work for a business other than your sponsor. There is no explicit rule I'm aware of that says you can't operate a business.

    I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice, but owning and operating an online business worked for me. I paid my taxes, and USCIS gave their thumbs up when they saw the evidence.

    You need a business because that business will sponsor your visa. You can't sponsor yourself.

    Also lawyers are expensive.

    Make a company

    Ok, so it's been a few years, your business is growing, your visa runs out soon. Time to hire some expensive lawyers. The ninjutsu begins.

    You should talk to a business lawyer and an immigration lawyer for specifics. Don't forget a good accountant. This is what you need in a nutshell: 1. An incorporated company, an LLC is fine 2. Somebody who can fire you 3. Enough money in the bank, or booked revenue, to pay your salary 4. A business plan

    Yes, I had to submit a real business plan. With sales projections and everything.

    Having employees helps, but freelancers will do. Anything you can do to prove this business is bigger than yourself. That it's a real thing, not just a guy writing blogs in his underwear.

    Your business is hiring you and sponsoring your visa. It has to be a bona fide US employer.

    You can't sponsor yourself. That's illegal. But you can own and operate the business that sponsors you. That's okay πŸ‘Œ

    A lot of founders do that, by the way. My boss did it. But he also has millions in external funding and 20 employees, so that feels less like a hack.

    Proving you're bona fide

    When I submitted my application in April, USCIS sent me a request for evidence (RFE). It boiled down to "Okay fine you're a genius and an accomplished individual in your field, that's fine. But this shitty LLC, are you suuuure that's a real company? Can you prove that you are a bona fide US employer?

    That's where the business plan, hiring freelancers, having runway, good sales projections, booked revenue, and the ability to justify every claim with a document came into play. Took me 5 months to collect all the evidence and get my business into impressive looking shape.

    A lot of lucky breaks went into that. Clients who believe in me. Couldn't do it just on book sales alone. But that's a story for another day.

    Pretty sure I aged 10 years in those 5 months.

    Aggressively growing a business so it can impress USCIS while also having a full time job is hard. Would be a lot easier to grow if you went full time, but you can't go full time until it's legal to go full time.

    Immigration is fun like that.

    Part of the bona fide employer thing is that you need to prove there is a legitimate employer - employee relationship. That means somebody in your company has to sign a letter of intent to hire you and retain the ability to fire you.

    Often, that's an investor sitting on your board. Or you can give Vice President (or similar) powers to an advisor. Or to anyone with US citizenship, actually.

    It's your company, do what you want. But remember doing what you want has legally binding consequences. That person can fire you for realz and fuck your life right up.

    Get fired from your own company and you have 10 days to move out of the country. Fun.

    Run out of money and you're broke, but at least you're not deported. Just don't become unemployed. Bankruptcy is not an option.

    Good for fire under butt. πŸ”₯


    After months of setting it all up, your lawyer submits a "letter" some 100 pages long. A weight rolls off your shoulders. This thing that's been hanging over you for months is now out of your hands.

    That might sound stressful, but it's not. You've done what you could, you did your best, now you wait.

    Two weeks later: πŸŽ‰

    USCIS even approved my new visa for longer than the first one. 🀘

    Now I just gotta keep revenue up. 3 years from now, I get to prove that I maintained my O-1 status and received the salary I promised I would. πŸ˜…

    Published on September 21st, 2018 in Business, Freelancing, Learning, Personal, Immigration

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