Things you need to know about opening up the U.S. to Singapore businesses

By Graeme Somerville-Ryan

Recent economic trends have highlighted that the diagnosed death of the US economy may have been grossly exaggerated. Indeed, perhaps the doctors should be sued. While there are, no doubt, structural issues around national debt, housing, healthcare, and unemployment - there have been some positive signs that things are on the right track, and Singapore businesses looking to develop or expand export markets should take note.

Unemployment is tracking downwards, GDP has been growing, and the shale gas boom now offers cheap energy sources for manufacturers. These developments have been attracting the attention of Singaporean business looking at the US as a growth market.

SME Business Development

At the same time as the US economy is waking up, getting out of bed, and making a cup of coffee, Singapore is looking at how to boost its SME sector through international exports. The US, famous as being a consumer of high-end products and services, should be on the radar of Singaporean entrepreneurs looking to make the next step.

But seeing the opportunity in the US is one thing - getting there is another. Mike Dye, owner of Mike Dye Law, sees great mutual benefit in increasing the connections between the two countries.

Dye commented, “Business visas and commercially driven immigration are good indicators of where companies see high growth-potential. It has surprised me the number of requests we get from Singaporean SMEs looking for assistance to enter the US market.

The green-shoots developing in the US economy seem to have put the country back on the map for innovative Singaporean businesses that are targeting high-value and mature markets.

But international business is very much a two-way street, and as an executive immigration and “business set-up” specialist, Dye has seen such an increase in demand for his services locally that his firm is now looking to open their first international office in Singapore.

The ‘visa’ issue...reputation vs. implementation

As countless Hollywood movies depict, the US does not hand out visas easily. This reputation impedes businesses looking to set up in the US. But as with many things, the US is nothing if not pragmatic when it comes to ventures of mutual benefit. The US and Singapore signed a Free Trade Agreement in 2003, which means access and visas may not be as difficult to obtain as people might think.

Mr Dye noted, “US immigration laws provide a multitude of options for Singaporean companies and individuals to engage in trade and commerce. These options may also allow for individuals and employees of corporate entities to seek permanent residency in the United States. Corporate clients may wish to pursue various non-immigrant visas suited for business, attending or participating in a school or exchange program, investing in a new or existing business, or engaging in temporary work. Individuals seeking permanent residency in the United States can also do so through a relationship with a qualifying family member, a job offer, or a US investment.”

Additionally, bilateral trade agreements are becoming increasingly important in cross border labor flows, investment, and market access for SMEs.

“Treaties between the United States and many countries allow foreign nationals to come to the US to conduct trade or to manage substantial investments. A treaty between the United States and Singapore allows for Singaporean individuals and companies to seek E-1 Treaty Trader and E-2 Treaty Investor visas. The E-1/E-2 visas are non-immigrant visas, but have many similarities to lawful permanent resident status.”

So while E-1/E-2 may sound like a new variation of SARS, the opportunities are much more promising…unless you make Tamiflu. But SARS aside, as the US slowly emerges from an economic slumber, and as a number of emerging markets demonstrate the risk-side of their profile, Singaporean businesses would be well advised to keep part of their business development budget free to take advantage of North American opportunities.

Thanks to Mike Dye Law for providing information relating to this article.

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