The startup scene in Greece is enjoying some surprising successes, fueled by a talented and ambitious young workforce who have found themselves unable to rely on traditional employment routes.
New York City attorney Tasos Pardalis is part of an initiative called GreekTech which was literally created to be an incubator to get such Greek companies to the US through the means of donations and private funding.
“The goal is to empower high-potential Greek start-ups to successfully enter the US market, to receive hands-on mentoring and receive immediate access to a really high-level network as soon as they get here,” Pardalis told the Greek Reporter.
It’s a privately-run program which was established as a not-for-profit organization, and there are absolutely no fees or equity taken by GreekTech for the introductions and for the work they complete.
Pardalis explains “The founder of GreekTech is Marios Nicolaou. It’s his brainchild initially. He decided to create this organization to provide a startup ecosystem pipeline for Greek tech and entrepreneurs to get to New York City and get funding in order to get their companies off the ground in the US.”
And who exactly are the individuals who are part of the Greek Tech community?
“We have a lot of founders, technologists, engineers, code writers and then we have a lot of people who aren’t necessarily those things but who are very, very enthusiastic about start-ups in New York City in general,” Pardalis notes.
He also said that “The mentors are hand selected, many of them are already successful founders and people who are very active in the Greek start-up community. Most of them are founders that were based in Greece and that successfully made it to the US market on their own. So they made it here the hard way.
“Greek Tech, with their help, having gone through the process, is aiming to make that funnel, and that pipeline, much faster with a greater level of education with less mistakes being made, where they can get the most beneficial terms,” Pardalis added.
He related to the Greek Reporter that “There’s a very, very small but burgeoning tech community in Athens, Thessaloniki and Cyprus and in all of Greece. You see a lot of people building some really amazing products out of these countries – you know, necessity really is the mother of invention, I guess.”
GreekTech is now raising money, mostly through grassroots donations, so that they can bring the first ten companies to New York for a few weeks. They will pay for all necessary expenses.
After the mentorship program, GreekTech will bring in potential venture capitalists and funders to look at the companies and see if they can get traction and get investment going in order to begin operation in the United States. It seems clear that this new organization has the potential to give an enormous leg-up in entering the most competitive economic market in the world.
Different visa options for Greek entrepreneurs looking to enter the U.S. market
US immigration laws are complex, aimed at determining who is allowed to enter the United States, for what period of time, and their eligibility to seek employment or study in an academic institution.
If you are interested in living or working in the US, you may have heard how difficult it can be to obtain a visa amid and about the increased scrutiny that immigration authorities apply when it comes to approving work visa applications.
The first step for you and your immigration attorney would be to determine which visa corresponds to your needs and your expectations. There are actually several visa options for Greek entrepreneurs, depending on the purpose and the duration of their intended travel.
We have provided a breakdown of the basic, most important information for each classification, in order to introduce you to the complex world of US visas.
The Easy Path: The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
Greece is one of the 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows Greek citizens to enter the US without needing a US visa. This option enables Greek nationals to stay within US territory for a limited time period of up to 90 days, approximately three months, exclusively for business (non-employment) or pleasure purposes.
The only thing you must do is submit an ESTA application and get an electronic travel authorization, well before your scheduled flight. Approved ESTA applications are valid for up to two years or until the expiration of your passport.
This is the easiest, safest, fastest way to get into the US, but it is limited to 90 days per visit and you cannot obtain employment.
To apply for the ESTA, visit this website: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
Back to School: F Visa
You might want to enhance your business management, finance, marketing, or technical prowess, or receive advanced instruction in a particular field which could help you improve or create your own business.
In order to study in the U.S., you need to first obtain an “F” student visa, which allows you to enter the country 30 days prior to the start date of your program, until the completion of studies (you will also have a short-term grace period). The most important requirements for a successful application are: your enrollment to one of the SEVP-approved schools and proofs (consisting of bank statements or scholarship) that you can afford to pay for your school, to maintain a decent living in the US, and mandatory medical insurance.
Note that you will not be allowed to obtain employment while using an “F” visa. You will only be eligible to work in exchange for academic credits and/or on campus, for academic projects and summer internships. However, you could conduct business, speak with investors, negotiate contracts and complete transactions to further your business plans.
You have the option to extend your F student visa and obtain work permission for at least one year or more depending on the field of your studies, following the completion of your program through “Optional Practical Training” or OPT.
This type of visa has many requirements. However, if you have an acceptance and/or enrollment letter from an academic institution and sufficient funds in your bank account, you will probably be approved without any problem. Its length is limited, so you will need to change the type of visa after its expiration to secure your presence in the US.
For more information in relation to student visas, please visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/study/student-visa.html#overview
Temporary Business Visitor Visa, or B-1 Visa
If the purpose of your travel is business-related and you wish to stay for more than 90 days (and up to six months), then you should disregard the ESTA option and apply for a B-1.
Under this visa, you cannot be employed by others, but you can conduct business, consult with business associates, attend scientific, educational, professional or business conferences, settle an estate, negotiate contracts, look for office space, attend various networking events, build connections, meet with investors, and promote your ideas, services and products.
This visa applies to entrepreneurs and businessmen who want to stay in the US for up to six months, though you will not be authorized to work. This is the best option if you want to explore your options and business opportunities in the US, but it is not recommended if you plan to stay permanently or establish your business in America. You may need to submit a reference letter from your affiliates together with your application.
For more information regarding the B-1 visa, please visit: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/tourism-visit/visitor.html#overview
Intracompany Transferees: L Visas
If you own a business and you are considering expansion into the US market, then the L-1A would be the best option for you. In a nutshell, if a business does not have any US affiliates, then the L-1A enables the entrepreneur executives to obtain a visa for the purpose of establishing an office in the US. This visa is initially granted for at least one year, but it can be extended for up to seven years in total.
You must have an established office in Greece or elsewhere outside the US for at least one year prior to your transfer, and you must have already secured a physical location within the US for the operation of your offices.
The L-1B visa is granted to employees with a specialized knowledge relating to a multinational organization’s interests which are transferred from one of its affiliated foreign offices to one of its US offices.
The employee must have been employed by this organization for at least one out of the last three years. Visas granted for this purpose initially guarantee a stay of one year to a maximum of three years and can be extended to reach a total of five years.
This visa has many requirements. You must be employed with a company for at least one year and the company needs to have presence in the US. L Visas are sponsored visas; thus they are attached to your sponsor-employer. If the employee or the manager/executive leaves their sponsoring company for any reason, the L-1 visa may no longer be valid. L visas cannot be transferred to other employers, and if you want to change jobs, the normal path would be to secure an H-1B visa.
Treaty Investors: the E-2 Visa
If an entrepreneur has a substantial amount of capital to invest or has already invested in their US business, they may qualify for an E-2 visa.
Greek nationals are eligible to obtain an E-2 visa if:
- Their investment is a real operating enterprise, an active commercial or entrepreneurial undertaking that is engaged in substantial trading such as international banking, insurance, transportation, tourism and communication. Note that a mere paper organization, speculative or idle investment does not qualify. Uncommitted funds in a bank account or similar security are not considered an investment.
- The investment must generate significant income, or it must have a significant economic impact in the United States.
- You must be able to demonstrate highly specialized skills indispensable for the efficient and successful operation of your enterprise and you must hold a supervisory or executive position.
- While the initial stay granted for an E-2 visa is two years, the visa may be renewed indefinitely so long as the foreign national can prove his/her intent to return to their home country.
The most important requirement is to have a substantial amount of money to invest; thus this visa may not be the best option for a start-up or a young entrepreneur.
For more information in relation to E-2 visas, please visit the following website: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/employment/treaty-trader-investor-visa-e.html
Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement: the O-1 Visa
The O-1 visa is sponsored visa by a US employer, and is granted to individuals who possess extraordinary abilities or can demonstrate extraordinary achievement in their field. International recognition can be used as proof of these extraordinary abilities and achievements. In order to be eligible, the applicant must be one of the small percentage of people who have risen to the very top of their scientific, educational and business field of endeavor.
This visa is initially valid for three years, but may be renewed indefinitely as long as the foreign national can prove his/her intent to return to their home country.
This visa requires you to belong to the top 1% of your field. You must prove that you are distinguished among your peers and demonstrate expertise in a particular field and unique abilities. The O-1 is a sponsored visa; therefore if the holder of the O-1 visa is terminated, then the visa is no longer valid.
For more information with regard to the O-1 visa, please visit: https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/o-1-visa-individuals-extraordinary-ability-or-achievement
The Infamous H-1B Visa
If the previous visa classifications do not describe your case, but you seek employment in the US, then you should consider the H-1B Visa option. The H-1B visa is a sponsored visa — thus you must have secured a job offer.
The application for the H-1B may be one of the most stressful processes you will go through in your career.
A US employer must initially sponsor the H-1B. The applicants must have a bachelor’s or a higher degree associated with the industry or the particular job for which they are sponsored and can demonstrate specialized knowledge and skills. However, under the current administration, priority is given to those applicants who possess one or more post-graduate degrees, received in the US.
There is an annual limit of approximately 85,000 H-1B visas per year, which is announced in late March each year. Your employer must submit your application on the first day of April. The immigration authorities normally receive an enormous number of applications, which is why they use a lottery to select those applications for processing.
If you manage to have your application selected in the lottery, do not rush to celebrate, because there is an extra hurdle.
Your application will now be scrutinized and thoroughly examined by the immigration authorities, who may ask for additional documentation — or even reject your application.
If you get your approval, then congratulations, you are now eligible to stay and work in the US for three years. You will have also the option to apply for a three-year extension or a Green Card.
The H-1B can be transferred to another employer; however, if you are terminated without having your H-1B transferred, then it may not be considered valid anymore.
Your visa depends on a lottery, and then your immigration lawyer must prove why your employer should employ a foreign national, instead of an American professional.
For more information related to H-1B visa, please see: https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/h-1b-specialty-occupations-dod-cooperative-research-and-development-project-workers-and-fashion-models
First Preference EB-1 Visa: Employment-Based Immigration
If an individual is seeking to become a US lawful permanent resident and can meet the extraordinary ability criteria (for example, he/she is the recipient of an Oscar, Pulitzer, Nobel Prize, Olympic Medal, or he/she is an outstanding professor and researcher), then he/she may be eligible to apply for permanent residency under the EB-1 category.
EB-1 visas may also be available for multinational managers or executives who want to stay in the US. They must be employed for at least one year with the sponsoring organization and their employment in the US must continue to be with the same employer or a subsidiary or affiliate of the employer, and in the same managerial or executive capacity.
This visa is the best option of you if you are the recipient of an award or prize.
For information, please visit: https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/permanent-workers/employment-based-immigration-first-preference-eb-1
If you still cannot figure out which is the most appropriate visa type for you, or if you fall into two or more categories, then you should definitely consult with a specialized US immigration attorney, who can guide you through this process and determine the best option for your needs.
Here you can find a useful table summarizing the requirements and length for each classification.
Visa Type: Applicant, Length of Stay (Extension), Sponsorship
ESTA: Visitors, 90 Days, Not Needed
B-1: Visitors, 6 months, Not Needed
L-1A: Multinational Executives, 1 Year (+6 Years), Employer
L-1B: Multinational Skilled Employees, 1 Year (+4 Years), Employer
E-2: Investors, 2 Years (Infinitely Renewable), Not Needed
O-1: Extraordinary Ability Experts, 3 Years (Infinitely Renewable), Employer
EB-1: Extraordinary Ability Experts, Permanent/Path to Citizenship, Self/Employer
H-1B: Specialty Occupation Workers, 3 Years (+3 Years), Employer