Dear Sophie: I came on a B-1 visa, then COVID-19 happened. How can I stay?

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.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie:

I’m currently in the U.S. on a business visitor visa. I arrived here in early March just before the COVID-19 pandemic began here to scope out the U.S. market for expanding the startup I co-founded in Bolivia a few years ago.

I had only planned to stay a couple months, but got stuck. Now my company has some real opportunities to expand. How can I stay and start working?

— Satisfied in San Jose

Hey, Satisfied!

Appreciative for the jobs you’ll be creating in the U.S. since you desire to remain in the U.S. and expand your startup. The U.S. economy greatly benefits from entrepreneurs like you who come here to innovate. Since you’re already in the U.S., you may have options to change your status without departing.

If you were granted a stay of six months when you were admitted most recently with your B-1 visitor visa, you can seek an extension of status for another six months. There are additional alternatives we can explore that would allow you work authorization. For more details on some of the options I’ll discuss here and for additional visa and green card options for startup founders, check out my podcast on “What is U.S. Startup Founder Immigration? A Step-By-Step Guide for Beginners.”

Because most green cards (immigrant visas) take longer than nonimmigrant (temporary) visas, a conservative strategy to pursue would be to find another temporary nonimmigrant status (what is often nicknamed a “visa”) — rather than a green card, which takes longer — that will allow you to create and grow your startup in the U.S. without having to return to Bolivia.

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