What is an E-1/E-2 visa?
E-1 or E-2 visa is for nationals of a country with which the U.S. maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation (“treaty country”) who are coming to the U.S. either to engage in international trade, invest in a U.S. business and manage it, or as an employee of such qualifying business. E-1 visa is for treaty traders and employees, and E-2 visa is for treaty investors and employees. A complete list of the current treaty countries can be found here at U.S. Department of State website. Countries can be added or removed from the list, so it is important to verify your eligibility before applying for an E-1/E-2 visa.
How can I qualify for an E-1/E-2 visa?
For an E-1 visa, you must demonstrate that your business carries a principal trade between the U.S. and your country, meaning that it is over 50% of the total volume of your international trade. The trade must also have a continuous flow of sizable items, involving numerous transactions over time. You can also get an E-1 visa as an employee of an organization that engages in such trades or can bring your employees, as long as the owners maintain treaty trader status. The employees must be either in executive or supervisory position or have specialized skills essential to the operation of the business. For an E-2 visa, you must have, or be in the process of, investing a substantial amount of capital in any real and active U.S. business, which is at least 50% owned by nationals of the treaty country. To qualify, you must invest your own funds in the U.S. business, at least over $100,000 minimum but usually more, and place them “at risk” – if there is no risk of loss tied to your business, it is not considered as a valid investment. Your funds must come from legitimate sources, including gifts and inheritance, but you cannot use loans if they are secured by assets of your E-2 business. Just like E-1 visas, you can also apply for an E-2 visa as an employee of a qualified E-2 enterprise if you have the same nationality of the E-2 investor and will be employed either in executive/supervisory capacity or as an essential employee with specialized skills.
How do I apply for an E-1/E-2 visa?
If you are currently in the U.S., you can apply for an E-1 or E-2 visa by filing a Form I-129 petition to the USCIS and requesting to change your visa status at the same time. If you are outside of the U.S., you can apply for E-1/E-2 directly at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Even if you received an approval from the USCIS for your E-1/E-2 visa and successfully changed your status in the U.S., you will still need to apply again at a U.S. embassy or consulate if you travel outside of the U.S., as you would need a visa stamp on your passport before you can re-enter the U.S. as an E visa holder. If you plan to travel at least once during your E visa status, it might save you time and money to apply directly at the U.S. embassy/consulate of your home country even if you are already in the U.S. However, some consular posts are known to be very strict in determining your eligibility for an E visa. The nature and viability of your business, the amount of investment, the source of your funds, your qualifications and experience, and your intent to depart the U.S. after your E visa expires will be carefully examined, among other things.
How long can I stay in the U.S. with an E-1/E-2 visa?
You can receive up to two years of authorized stay in the U.S. with an E-1/E-2 visa. After your initial stay expires, you can thereafter file for an extension in 2-year increment indefinitely. There are no limits on how many times you can apply for an E-1/E-2 visa extension, but your qualifying business must remain viable and continue to meet all the requirements. Also, E-1/E-2 visas do not allow “dual intent,” meaning you must show that you maintain an intention to depart the U.S. when your status expires. If you filed an application for permanent residency, your E-1/E-2 visa application or extension may not be granted.
Am I limited to just one company for my E-1/E-2 visa?
There is nothing in the relevant immigration regulations preventing an E-1 treaty trader or E-2 treaty investor from owning and managing multiple businesses in the U.S., as long as the businesses meet the requirements. If you are an employee under E-1/E-2 status wishing to work for a different E visa company, you must first submit a Form I-129 to the USCIS indicating the terms and conditions of your new, or concurrent employment before you can start working for your new employer. You can also keep your E-1/E-2 status as the principal trader or investor, but at the same time apply for another E visa as an employee of a qualified enterprise as long as you can demonstrate that your new employment will not affect your ability to manage and direct your original business.
Can I bring my family members?
Your spouse or children under the age of 21 can apply for a visa as your dependents. They do not necessarily have to be from a treaty country and can have a different nationality than you as the principal E visa holder. There is no separate visa category for E-1/E-2 dependents and they will receive the same visa as you, you will be able to legally work in the U.S. as long as they first obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) from the USCIS. All E-1/E-2 visa dependents may also engage in full or part-time study in the U.S. without having to obtain a separate F-1 student visa.