Foreign individuals seeking U.S. visas so that they can sell products or invest in businesses in the U.S. should consider applying for visas under the “E” visa category. E visas are available to citizens of any of the 82 countries that have treaties with the U.S. for trading or investing. There are two categories of E visas: E-1 Treaty Trader visas may be eligible to people who plan to sell goods or services in the U.S., and E-2 Treaty Investor visas may be eligible to people who have made a significant investment in the U.S.
Often, an owner of a business or the principal investor will apply for an E visa, but businesses can also apply for E visas for essential employees. An essential employee is someone who serves a supervisory or executive function, or someone who possesses highly specialized skills that are essential to the international project. The essential employee must be of the same nationality as the business owner. The E visa holder may also bring a spouse and dependents to the U.S.
For a business owner or essential employee to qualify for an E-1 Trader visa, the business must conduct substantial trade between the U.S. and its home country. There is no specific minimum level of trade that the business must conduct to qualify for the visa, but at least 50 percent of the company’s international trade must be between the U.S. and the treaty country. To apply for an E-1 visa, businesses will have to submit an application that includes a business plan that outlines the company’s history, products, sales force, and how it will develop trade to the U.S. Including letters or purchase orders from U.S. customers improve the likelihood that the Consulate will approve the application.
Businesses or individuals from treaty countries that make a substantial investment in the U.S. may apply for an E-2 visa. To apply for an E-2 investor visa, the applicant must be in the process of investing in or establishing a U.S. business or office. The investor must submit a detailed business plan that shows how the business will make money, how the foreign national applicant is qualified to manage the business, and how the investment is in fact an investment with potential income in excess of a salary to the investor. Creating U.S. jobs is also a factor that the U.S. government reviews. The business plan must include financial projections for at least three years. The investor will also have to show that he or she has already transferred funds to the U.S. If the investor is purchasing an existing business, he or she may deposit the funds in an escrow account with the condition that the funds will be returned if the government does not issue the visa.
All E visa candidates must submit an application with a designated U.S. Consulate. A consular officer who specializes in processing E visas will carefully review the application, which can take weeks or months, depending on the Consulate’s workload. The Consulate will interview the applicant to verify the facts in the application and evaluate whether the applicant can likely manage the business. The Consulate will also consider the applicant’s financial history. If there is any question about where the funds for an investment came from and whether they are the result of illegal activity, the Consulate will deny the application.
For most countries, E-1 and E-2 visas are typically approved for up to five years. If the applicant is working on a start-up business, the Consulate may approve the visa for fewer than five years. E visa holders can renew their visas indefinitely for as long as they are managing their business or investment and it is profitable. To renew an application, the Consulate often requires the applicant to submit U.S. tax returns as evidence of the profit and health of the business.
Foreign companies and individuals based in companies from countries with which the U.S. has a treaty should carefully consider applying for E category visas if they want to build a business in the U.S.
For more information about E visas and other immigration matters, please contact Joel Pfeffer, Elaina Smiley, or Gary M. Sanderson.