Dos and don’ts for companies heading to America.

When an Indian company sets up operations in the US, it is impractical to appoint an Indian as a receptionist. On the other hand, when an Indian IT company establishes its presence in the US, it makes business sense to have an Indian sales representative. These were among the many precious insights on offer at ‘Doing Business in the US’, a multicity campaign that attempted to whet the appetite of the Indian market and attract investment to that country.

Information technology may be our best-known export to the US, but the Big American Dream has room for much more… right from artistes to entrepreneurs, says the campaign’s organiser, Business in America, which advises companies, entrepreneurs and investors.

“Trade between India and the US is estimated to cross the $100-billion mark this year. Statistics show that India ranked as the 19th largest exporter to the US in 2012,” says Walter D’Souza, Regional Chairman, Southern Region, Federation of Indian Export Organisations, one of the co-hosts of the campaign.

At the workshop in Bangalore, participants learnt about the existing laws, and the kind of business, immigration and tax strategies needed to run a business in the US.

A favourable economic policy backed by political stability and strong intellectual property (IP) protection laws are attracting a cross-section of Indian companies to the US. The campaign aims to generate an additional $1 billion in two-way trade with Indian companies seeking US entry. “If we can take 100 companies across the country, we believe we can bring a billion-dollar trade between the two countries. We educate them about doing business in the US, identify the right companies and close the process,” says Venkat Ramineni, promoter of VisaPro and Start Business in America. The company, which provides immigration services in the US, brought down its attorneys to present immigration strategies.

A first-timer can be intimidated by the documents required to apply for a visa or even baffled by the different kinds of US visas. The B1 is issued to those who are visiting on business or employees attending meetings or building alliances in the US. The H1B visa permits US companies to temporarily employ foreign workers. The H2B visa, issued to temporary workers recruited according to seasonal requirement, is lapped up by individuals keen on offbeat employment options in ski resorts and amusement parks.

Among the less known is the P3 meant for artistes and the entertainment industry. When ABC India organised shows in the US, VisaPro interacted closely with the Indian artistes to draw up an application that highlighted their skills and talent.

Different companies, different needs. When Logistics India wanted to venture into the US, the VisaPro legal team assisted the CEO in getting a Green Card.

The interactive workshop put the audience through a mock US Consulate interview. The mood lightened as some of the common mistakes applicants make showed up during the session. Of course, the many who got it right also got to take home prizes.

Entry points

Common mistakes to be avoided

H1B visa allows you to work in the US for a temporary period, so don’t overstay.

B1 business visitor visa allows you to only do business in the US. Ensure your stay is short and do not stay back to work.

Employer Identification Number, also called federal tax identification number, is required for corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships and sole proprietorships with employees.

If you’ve set up an office in the US, don’t forget to display posters that inform employees of their rights and employer responsibilities under labour laws.

P1 visa for entertainment groups requires that every three out of four members have been associated with the group for at least one year.

American pie

Setting up a business in the US

Participate in US trade shows to whet the market’s appetite. The US is a gateway to free trade markets such as Canada and Mexico.

Decide whether you want to have an independent operation or a distribution network or hire a sales representative.

Engage with legal and tax experts to understand US hiring laws.

If you decide to buy an existing business, the process is simple but expensive.

If you decide to establish a new business, it is inexpensive but a challenge to build a customer base.

(This article was published on March 7, 2013)
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