February 23, 2024

this is another version Advice column from “Ask Sophie” to answer immigration-related questions about working at tech companies.

“Your questions are critical to the dissemination of knowledge that empowers people around the world to transcend borders and pursue their dreams,” said Sophie Alcorn, Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re looking for a job in HR, a founder, or in Silicon Valley, I’d love to answer your question In my next column.

TechCrunch+ members get access to the weekly “Ask Sophie” column; use promo code ALCORN for 50% off a one- or two-year subscription.

Dear Sophie,

I’m in the US on an H-1B visa, but I want to leave my current job and pursue some entrepreneurial ideas: one with a few friends, and another by myself.

Do I need to get two separate visas to work for two companies at the same time? Can I transfer my H-1B to one or two companies?

— Dynamic Entrepreneur

Dear Energetic,

Wow! Launching two startups and bringing them both to fruition is sure to keep you busy! I admire your drive and applaud your passion and determination!

Let’s start by providing some background information on work visas vs work permits, then offer some advice and alternatives.

Work Visa and Work Permit

Work visas, such as the H-1B Specialty Occupation visa and the O-1A Extraordinary Ability visa, enable their holders to reside temporarily in the United States and only work in the jobs included in the original visa application, Form I-129.

Certain categories of people, such as F-1 students, certain dependent spouses of work visa holders, and those pursuing green cards, may be eligible to apply for work authorization that is not tied to any particular employer. (Examples include F-1 OPT, F-1 STEM OPT, E-2 and L-1 spouses, and individuals with green cards approved and pending Form I-485, apply to register for permanent residence or adjust status. ) Also known as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), a work permit provides proof of authorization to work in the United States and enables its holder to obtain one or more jobs.

The EAD offers entrepreneurs and founders a wide range of flexibility compared to a work visa. This is one of the reasons we often ask our married entrepreneur clients if their spouse is eligible for a work visa with an EAD for dependent spouses.

H-1B Transfer and Concurrent H-1B

You can transfer your H-1B from your current employer to another employer for part-time or full-time employment.You can also hold two or more Concurrent H-1B from different employers at the same time.

Although H-1B visa petitions are tied to specific jobs with specific employers, there is no limit to the number of H-1B jobs an individual can work, nor is there a standard minimum or maximum number of hours worked for any given H-1B position.

Since you currently hold an H-1B – and have already completed the annual H-1B lottery process – you can transfer your H-1B to another company without having to go through the lottery process again. However, you should keep in mind that unless you are applying for a green card, the maximum stay allowed on an H-1B visa is usually six years.

So, if you accumulated four years in the U.S. in H-1B status, transferring your H-1B to your startup will mean you can live and work in the U.S. in that status for an additional two years.

H-1B transfers and concurrent H-1Bs can be tricky, especially for early-stage startups, so creating a compliant foundation for immigration sponsorship is important. You will need to structure your start-up so that they qualify to offer you a position and draw a line between the two start-up entities. I recommend that you work with a corporate attorney and an immigration attorney.