Immigrants are more likely to start a business than native-born Americans, but they have more hoops to jump through. You don’t need a green card to start a business – just your home country ID. Keep reading to find out how.
Establishing your business
So you want to start a business in the United States, but you aren’t a citizen or don’t have a green card? There are a few different visas available to entrepreneurs, investors, and business owners: E-2 visa, EB-5 visa, H1-B visa, and L-visa. For example, with the E-2 Treaty Investor visa or the EB-5 foreign investor visa, you can “invest” a substantial amount into a new U.S.-based business as long as you meet certain criteria. This allows you to create your business if you already have a business plan and funds readily available.
What is tricky about opening a business as a nonresident is that you need to legally be able to work in the U.S. in order to pay yourself. For this, you might need the H1-B visa, which can be difficult when you are sponsoring yourself as both the business owner and the visa applicant. Contact your lawyer or an immigration support center to decide what is the best route for you.
Businesses are required to obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) for tax purposes. You may also need an EIN to do any of the following:
- Pay federal and state taxes
- Pay your employees
- Open a business bank account
- Apply for business licenses, permits, and loans
- Build your business’ credit
There is a misconception that non-residents who aren’t able to get a Social Security Number (SSN) aren’t able to get an EIN. However, there is an alternative for certain non-residents and resident aliens who don’t have an SSN: Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). For more information about eligibility and application, visit the IRS’s website. There is another way to make the process of obtaining an EIN easier: the IRS allows for a Third Party Designee (such as your attorney or a business partner who is a citizen) to work with the IRS to obtain an EIN on your behalf.
Leasing property, getting a driver’s license, and opening a bank account
Leasing property as a non-citizen can be painstakingly difficult or just a little bit of extra work – it all depends on the landlord or property manager. If they aren’t able to perform a standard credit check, there are alternative ways for a landlord or property manager to vet prospective renters, especially if you are in a city where international business is common. Collecting bank statements from your home country can help establish your ability to pay if you don’t have established U.S. credit. Past landlord references, proof of employment/business eligibility, and background checks using your home country ID remain largely unchanged. Voice your concerns and keep open communication with your potential landlord or property manager to best collect the documentation they need.
Getting a driver’s license is possible with your home country ID. If your business requires you to drive a vehicle (or if you drive at all in the U.S.), you’ll need to make sure you are compliant with your state’s driving license rules. Some states require that you get an International Driving Permit (IDP) in addition to your home country driver’s license. For example, California’s AB 60 program enables any qualified applicant to obtain a California driver’s license even if they are unable to provide legal proof of presence in the United States. You just need to otherwise meet all driving qualifications, proof of California residency, and proof of identity – meaning your home country ID!
Opening a bank account is possible, but you’ll need to provide a lot more documentation than an American citizen. In addition to the standard documents proving name, date of birth, and physical address (such as a utility bill), as a foreign national you will need to provide an original home country ID. You can also use your ITIN instead of an SSN in most cases. Each bank’s application process is different. It may be less stressful to open an account in your home country at a U.S.-based bank with international branches. This may help by building financial history and rapport before you want to open a business account in the U.S.
Opportunity Fund does not presume to give legal advice. Always consult your attorney and tax professional.
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Opportunity Fund, the nation’s leading nonprofit small business lender, believes small dollar loans help hard-working entrepreneurs make lasting change in their own lives and build stronger communities by growing businesses and creating jobs. Opportunity Fund’s community of donors and investors is creating an inclusive financial system that empowers women, immigrant, and minority small business owners. Our strategy combines microloans for small business owners and New Markets Tax Credit investments in high-impact community infrastructure projects. Since 1994, Opportunity Fund has deployed more than $750 million and helped thousands of entrepreneurs invest in their families’ futures. The organization has committed to lending an additional $1.2 billion to small business owners across the country and investing $174 million in community real estate projects by 2023.
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