Visas for entrepreneurs that don’t require the sponsorship of a family member nor an employer
Who is eligible for E-1 and E-2 Visas?
Only citizens of countries that are signatories of certain trade agreements with the United States can apply for E-1 and E-2 Visas. Therefore, these visas are also known as "treaty-investment" and "treaty-trader" visas. There are countries, such as India, that did not sign this type of treaty with the United States and, therefore, these visas are not available to Indian nationals. Furthermore, even when some countries have signed trade agreements with the US, they might have not signed it for both types of E visas. Some countries have signed a treaty with the US only for purposes of one or the other E visa. Thus, nationals of these countries can only apply for either the E-2 or E-1 visa, as the case may be. The following countries have signed the relevant treaty with the United States:
In Latin America: Argentina (E1 and E2 since 1854), Chile (E1 and E2 since 2004), Colombia (E1 and E2 since 1948), Costa Rica (E1 and E2 since 1852), Honduras (E1 and E2 since 1928), Mexico (E1 and E2 since 1994) Panama (only E2 since 1991) and Paraguay (E1 and E2 since 1860). In the case of Bolivia, only for E2 between June 6, 2001 and June 10, 2022.
In Europe: Albania (only E2 since 1998), Armenia (only E2 of 1996), Austria (E1 and E2 since 1931), Belgium (E1 and E2 since 1963), Bulgaria (only E2 since 1954), Croatia (E1 and E2 since 1982), Czech Republic only E2 since 1993), Denmark ( E1 since 1961 and E2 since December 10, 2008), Estonia (E1 since 1926 and E2 since 1997), Finland (E1 since 1934 and E2 since 1992), France (E1 and E2 since 1960), Georgia (only E2 since 1997) , Germany (E1 and E2 since 1956), Greece (only E1 since 1954), Ireland (E1 since 1950 and E2 since 1992), Italy (E1 and E2 since 1949), Luxembourg (E1 and E2 since 1963), Lithuania (only E2 since November 22, 2001), the Netherlands (E1 and E2 since 1957), Norway (E1 and E2 since 1928), Poland (E1 and E2 since 1994), Romania (only E2 since 1994), Kosovo (E1 and E2 since 1882), Latvia (E1 since 1928 and E2 since 1996), Slovenia (E1 and E2 since 1982), Slovak Republic (only E2 since 1993), Serbia (E1 and E2 since 1882), Spain (E1 and E2 since 1903), Sweden (E1 and E2 since 1992), Switzerland (E1 and E2 since 1855), Ukraine (only E2 since 1996), Turkey (E1 since 1933 and E2 since 1990), United Kingdom (E1 and E2 since 1815), Yugoslavia (E1 and E2 since 1882), Bosnia and Herzegovina (E1 and E2 since 1982), Moldova (only E2 since 1994), Montenegro (E1 and E2 since 1882).
Other: Australia (E1 and E2 since 1991), Canada (E1 and E2 since 1994), Egypt (only E2 since 1992), Israel (E1 since 1954 and E2 since 2019), South Korea ( E1 and E2 since 1957), Morocco (E2 1991), Pakistan (E1 and E2 since 1961), Japan (E1 and E2 since 1953), New Zealand (E1 and E2 since 2019), Philippines, Oman, Azerbaijan, Brunei, Cameroon , Taiwan (since 1948), Ethiopian Congo. Jordan, Liberia. Mongolia, Senegal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia.
Are spouses of treaty investors allowed to legally reside and work in the United States?
Spouses of treaty investors can apply for an E1 or E2 dependent visa and legally reside in the United States. Traditionally, the spouses of E visa holders could apply for a work permit (for which they had to apply separately since it was not automatically granted). Furthermore, spouses had to renew their work permit every two years, irrespective of the length of the visa validity (i.e. even when the E visa was granted for three or more years). During the previous administration of President Trump, spouses of E 1 or E2 visas (as opposed to the main visa holder) had to go through the biometric data collection (i.e. fingerprinting) process each time they applied for a visa renewal, therefore, their visa renewal was processed separately from the main visa holder (who was not required to go through the biometric process again). The requirement imposed on spouses that they should repeat the fingerprinting processes, generated many delays in the granting of their visa renewals. Furthermore, the E dependent visa holders were unable to benefit from the expedited process called “Premium Processing”. Premium Processing is an optional fast-track process by which the payment of an additional government fee of $ 2,500 allows to obtain a resolution of the application in 15 days. Consequently, the visa and work permit renewal process for the spouses of E visas used to take several months and it was very common for them to have gaps where they had no work authorization. With the current presidency, several changes were introduced. First, the need to collect biometric data at the time of visa renewal was eliminated. Additionally, after the government lost a class action regarding the spouses of other visas with similar characteristics (L2 and H4 visas), another important change was implemented. The authorities published a new directive by which the work permit of an E visa holder spouse is considered inherent to their legal status. Thus, their work permit will be automatically considered extended for a period of 180 days as long as their E visa is still valid and they have requested a renewal of their work permit before its expiration date. In this way, the spouses' work permit will remain in force while the authorities process their EAD (Employment Authorization Document) renewal. Additionally, the authorities stated that they will implement a change in the I-94 form of the E visa holder’s dependents by which spouses (who are allowed to work) will be differentiated from children (who are not authorized to work) . As soon as this I-94 form modification is implemented, the work permit will be automatically granted, and it will no longer be necessary to apply for it.
What is the minimum investment amount required?
Unlike the EB5 Investment visa, the E-1 and E-2 visas don’t have a minimum investment amount or number of employees determined by legislation. Practically any business venture, as long as it is genuine, will be viable to apply for this visa. The investment must be proportional for the undertaking in question in order to be considered sufficiently funded. For example, a hotel complex would require a much higher investment than what would be needed for a restaurant. In the case of a company selling manufactured goods, more investment will be required to cover the inventory than in the case of a service provider company. E Visas have been approved with investments as low as $ 50 thousand dollars and as high as several million. The lower the investment, the more difficult it is to get the visa approved. Generally, an investment amount between 100 and 200 thousand dollars would be considered appropriate to obtain the E visa for a small commercial project. The key factor considered is whether the amount invested allows to establish a business in which the projected income is not merely marginal (i.e. the income is not only barely enough to cover the living expenses of the investor and his family, but it should also allow for sufficient income to cover the living expenses of other families).
Will the investor be able to bring employees from abroad?
The investor may bring foreign employees to work for his business. These employees must be nationals of the investor's country of origin and they have to provide evidence that they are necessary for the start-up of the business due to their particular skills and knowledge. These employees will also receive E2 visas and will be able to legally enter the US with their dependents (i.e., wife and children under 21 years of age). In general, when it comes to a new business, it is estimated that within five years it should be fully up and running. However, these employees’ term of employment (and therefore, their visa duration) will be limited to the period needed for launching the business (which generally cannot exceed the first three years). Consequently, these E2 visas for company employees are generally not renewable under E2 status, but the company may choose to sponsor them for a legal permanent residence (i.e. a green card).
Should the business venture be an already existing business, or can it be a new project?
The venture may be a new project (for which a business plan must be submitted), or it may be an already existing business or ongoing concern acquired by the investor in the US. The funds could originate partially in a loan if the investor's personal credit is also compromised. Loans guaranteed with future returns of the business, would not qualify for an E visa. The investor must put his own capital at risk in the commercial undertaking that he plans to carry out. The investor can also count on the capital contribution of other partners and may still request a visa in his name as long as he is the main investor (i.e. he invests more than 50 percent of the amount in question or owns a percentage that grants him the deciding power in the company). Furthermore, the investor must be personally involved in the operation of the business. The investor can't fully outsource the management of the business. The investor should have an active participation in the management of the company and should be generally involved in the financial and operational decisions of the company. The investor must have a decision on the hiring and dismissal of the company's personnel.
How often do you have to renew the visa? Do you have to leave the country to renew it?
The visa will be granted for an initial period that is currently generally of two years. Although this visa may be renewed indefinitely, the renewal process is not automatic. At the end of each period, the marginality of the company's operations will be evaluated in order to renew the visa. The investment in question must produce enough income to be able to provide not only for the investor’s own family but should also produce enough income to support the company’s employees and their families. To maintain your legal status, you can have your I 94 extended locally without need to leave the United States. This will give you an extension of your legal stay for a period of two years without the need to return to the consulate of your country of origin to carry out this extension. In this case there will be no personal interview, but USCIS officers will want to verify from the documents that are filed, that the visa holder has a genuine investment (e.g. the business is duly filing its tax returns and paying the relevant salaries). The paperwork and evidence that you will need to file for this process will be similar to that filed for a renewal in a Consular process. Beware that if the visa holder only extends his/her legal presence through the I-94, this will not allow them to leave the country and return to the United States without first going through the Consulate in their country of origin to renew the visa in the traditional way.
Can I get the Green Card or legal permanent residence through the E2 visa?
Although these visas can be renewed indefinitely by the investor, the E-1 or E-2 visa is a “non-immigrant” visa. Consequently, this visa - unlike other visas - does not grant the right to apply for permanent residence or citizenship in the United States regardless of how many years the investor and their family have spent legally living in the United States under this visa. However, the fact that you are physically present in the United States might place you in certain circumstances in which other paths to a legal permanent residency may be available to you. It is not unusual for a person who has spent many years in the United States to fall in love with an American citizen and to get married. In that case, your legal spouse can petition you through an I-130 petition (Petition for Alien Relative). It could also be the case of a young married couple who are established in the United States under an E2 visa and have children who are born in the United States. Children born in American territory will be considered citizens since birth and they can also petition their parents. However, for them to be able to do so, they must be considered of legal age for the purposes of immigration law, which will happen once their children turn 21 years of age (despite the fact that for other legal purposes in most of the States in the United States the age of majority is reached at 18 years of age). The E-1 and E-2 visas are dual intent visas and, therefore, the E visa holders can adjust their status in the US from non-immigrant resident to immigrant resident (Green Card holder). Unlike other non-immigrant visas such as the J (which requires the visa holder to return to his/her country of origin for a period of two years), E visas allow for adjustment of immigration status without the need to leave the United States. For example, if you are sponsored by an employer, you can complete your PERM process to obtain a Green Card without having to leave the country to adjust your immigration status.
Can I bring my family to the United States? Will they be authorized to work legally?
Investor spouses will be able to apply for an E1 or E2 dependent visa and reside in the United States. The spouses will be able to study and will also have a work permit. This permit, which currently must be requested, will be automatically granted within a few months when the announced changes to Form I-94 are implemented. It is noteworthy that traditionally, the spouse's work permit regardless of the validity period of the principal's visa, was only granted for renewable periods of two years, but now with the recent modifications introduced to the regime, said right will be considered incident to their status and spouses will be entitled to work legally as long as the principal's visa is in force. On the other hand, the principal holder of the E visa can only work in his own business, but he cannot be employed by third parties nor study on a full-time basis. The application for this visa as well as the application for its renewal, can be filed with a "Premium Processing" application for an expedited decision in 15 days. The current fee to request "Premium Processing" is $ 2,500. During the previous administration, the spouses of the E visas (unlike the main holder of the E visa) had to go through the biometric data collection process each time they renewed their visa, so their processing was done separately from the main visa holder and they could not enjoy the benefits of Premium Processing. Therefore, their work permit renewal process used to take several months, and it was very common for spouses to have gaps between renewals where the dependent was without a valid work permit. With the current presidency, that requirement was eliminated. Moreover, last week, after the government lost a class action in connection to spouses of other visas with similar characteristics (i.e. L2 and H4), USCIS published a new directive by which the E visa spouses' work permit is considered incident to status. Furthermore, E visa holder’s spouses work permit will automatically be considered valid for a period of 180 days since its expiration, as long as the E visa is valid and the spouse has requested a renewal of their Employment Authorization Document. On the other hand, children under 21 years of age may also apply for an E1 or E2 dependent visa which will entitle them to legally reside in the United States. Minors may study, but in no case will be legally allowed to work in the United States. As from the age 21, children are considered adults for immigration purposes and may not remain in the United States as dependents of an E1 or E2 visa holder. Other aspects of the minor's legal status (such as the ability to accumulate permanence outside of legal status) will be governed by their 18 birthday-because that is the age of majority in most of the States in the US.
Can I bring my housekeeper?
Oftentimes the E1 and E2 visa holders move to the US with their families and minor children. When the spouse also works outside the home, sometimes these families need help with house chores or childcare. For these purposes, there is a particular visa that can be requested for their domestic employees so that they can accompany these families during their stay in the United States. The B-1 visa is available for domestic employees who accompany people with certain non-immigrant visas such as the E visas. B-1 visas cannot be requested by employers that are US citizens nor by permanent legal residents (Green Card holders). B-1 is a visa very well suited for cases where the non-immigrant resident has a particular trusted potential employee in mind whom he would like to bring along with his family to the United States. Other options to get help with childcare at home when the employer doesn’t have a particular person in mind, are the "Au Pairs". Au Pairs enter with a J visa and must be sponsored by an entity registered with the Secretary of State. Au Pairs must be fluent in English and must have a high school degree and be between 18 and 26 years of age. The Au Pair will reside with the family providing up to a maximum of 10 hours a day (no more than 45 hours a week) of childcare for a term of one year, which may be extended for 6, 9 or 12 more months. The Au Pair must complete at least 6 hours of academic credit at an institution of post-secondary education. The Au Pair will receive from the host family up to a maximum of $ 500 dollars to cover the costs of the required academic course, room and board, plus a compensation for childcare.