When deciding to file a petition for an E-2 work visa, it’s important to be aware of the key E-2 visa requirements for investors and individual guidelines. USCIS defines an E-2 investment as “the investor’s placing of capital, including funds and other assets, at risk in the commercial sense with the objective of generating a profit. Your investment may be to establish a new business venture, or purchase a pre-existing business.”
An E-2 treaty investor visa is a non-immigrant visa reserved for foreign entrepreneurs of countries that have a Treaty of Trade and Commerce with the United States. E-2 investor visa allows foreign investors to enter and work inside of the United States based on a substantial investment in a bona fide enterprise. In this article, we’re going to explain the top E-2 Visa Requirements for Investors and the qualifications.
There are two types of investor visas so before looking into E-2 visa requirements for investors you want to make sure the E-2 visa is the right fit for you as a foreign investor. If the E-2 visa isn’t the correct fit for you, there is also the option of an EB-5 investor green card.
On an E-2 visa, you may:
- Work legally in the company that is the investment vehicle in the U.S.
- Travel freely in and out of the U.S.
- Stay on a prolonged basis with unlimited two-year extensions as long as you maintain E-2 qualifications
- Be accompanied by your dependents under 21, relatives and spouse. Your spouse may also work while in the U.S. while your dependents may attend U.S. schools, colleges, and universities, and do not have to apply for a separate student visa.
However, the disadvantages are as follows:
- E-2 visas are available only to nationals of countries (listed below) having investment treaties with the U.S.
- You are restricted to work only for the specific employer or self-owned business that acted as your E-2 visa sponsor
- E-2 visas are approved for two years at a time which makes the application/extension process slow.
Key E-2 Visa Requirements for Investors to Qualify
The E-2 visa minimum investment requirement is that you invest in a bona fide enterprise. By failing to do this, your petition will not qualify. A bona fide enterprise is defined by the immigration authorities as “a real, active commercial or entrepreneurial undertaking which produces services or goods for profit”.
Some of the evidence you may submit to demonstrate that your business is bona fide includes:
- Notice of assignment of an Employer Identification Number from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
- Tax returns
- Financial statements
- Quarterly wage reports or payroll summaries (i.e., W-2s and W-3)
- Business organizational chart
- Business licenses
- Bank statements, utility bills, and advertisements/telephone directory listings
- Contracts or customer/vendor agreements
- Escrow documents
- Lease agreement
There are a few key E-2 visa requirements for investors that will help you prepare your petition and ensure that you are a qualifying applicant. You can check the status after completing your petition.
The Investor Must Be a National of a Treaty Country
Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Grenada, Honduras, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Congo, Romania, Senegal, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Yugoslav.
It is important to note that you must be a legitimate citizen of one of the above countries in order to fulfill the E-2 visa requirements. It is not enough to maintain a legal permanent residency. Your current passport must be from one of these treaty countries. However, you do not have to be currently residing in a treaty country as long as your citizenship from a treaty country.
For example, if Mr. Cousteau is a citizen of France but has been living in China for the last eight years, he still fulfills the E-2 visa requirements and can apply.
Additional information regarding individual countries is available at the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
The Investment Must Be Substantial
It must be sufficient to ensure the successful operation of the enterprise. The percentage of investment for a low-cost business enterprise must be higher than the percentage of investment in a high-cost enterprise. While some investments of less than $100,000 are approved, it’s safe to say that the investment capital and reserves should total no less than $100,000.
Some evidence you can use to prove that the investment is substantial is corresponding personal and/or business bank statements, an itemized list of goods and materials purchased for the start-up, and corresponding financial accounting documentation. It’s also wise to put together a business plan that illustrates your projected success.
The Investor Must Place the Funds at Risk
“At risk” means that the investor is to be irrevocably committed. If you’re able to walk away from the investment without losing anything, you likely do not qualify. The applicant must have already spent the money towards the startup, purchase of a U.S. business, or enterprise. Loans secured with the assets of the investment enterprise are not allowed. The investment must be at risk of being lost due to the business or enterprise being unsuccessful.
To be safe, you may put the investment amount in an escrow account and have it transferred if your E-2 visa application is granted.
If you are purchasing an existing business, you should know all there is to know about the business and its counterparts. Learn all the components of the business and come to an educated conclusion of how well they are doing presently and how successful the business is projected to be. An escrow account is even more important for those buying an existing business. In this case, you and the seller of the business will agree on the terms and conditions of the business purchase and how to later transfer the money after reaching a conclusion.
The Investment Must Be a Real Operating Enterprise
A real operating enterprise means that the enterprise must be offering a tangible good or service. Examples of these enterprises are restaurants, retail stores, medical offices, etc. Speculative or idle investment such as real estate investments, undeveloped land, or stocks held by an investor who has no intent to direct the enterprise does not qualify. Similarly, uncommitted funds in a bank account or similar security are not considered an investment.
The Investment May Not Be Marginal
A marginal enterprise will not project enough return on investment to make a significant economic contribution. The enterprise must generate significantly more income than just to provide a living to the investor and family, or it must have a significant economic impact in the U.S.
The Investor Must Be Coming to the U.S. to Develop and Direct the Enterprise.
If the applicant is not the principal investor, he or she must be employed in a supervisory, executive, or highly specialized skill capacity. Ordinary skilled and unskilled workers do not qualify. The government will not grant you an E-2 visa if they don’t believe you play an important role in the enterprise.
You must show that you will develop and direct the investment enterprise by demonstrating ownership of at least 50 percent of the enterprise, or by possessing operational control through a managerial position or other corporate devices.
How Can An Employee Qualify?
In order for an employee of an investor to apply for this visa, there are a series of E-2 visa requirements that must be met:
- Your employee must be a citizen of the same treaty country that the principle E-2 investor (you) maintains citizenship.
- Your employee must qualify under the definition of an “employee” as stated in the U.S. legal code.
- You must be able to prove that your employee is necessary for the fulfillment of your endeavor. This is easily proven if he or she is a manager or executive, but can also be proven if he or she has specialized knowledge that makes them instrumental to the operation or development of your enterprise.
Is Business Plan Required?
It is not an official E-2 visa requirement to have a business plan. However, it is highly recommended that you submit a comprehensive business plan along with your E-2 evidence. This is because the USCIS wants to see that your enterprise will create jobs and stimulate the economy in the U.S.
To prove this, you need to make it clear that you have experience starting a business or that your enterprise has a high likelihood of success. Submitting a business plan is the best way to accomplish this.
What are the Requirements for the E-2 Investment Amount?
Unlike the EB-5 visa that has specified minimum investment amounts for its two categories, the E-2 visa does not have a minimum for business capital and instead looks for “substantial capital”. What determines an appropriate investment amount varies widely depending on the size and nature of each business.
Officials at the embassy or USCIS use their discretion to consider whether an amount of investment capital is appropriate or not. Though it is widely believed that having a minimum of $100,000 capital is a good rule of thumb, in some cases, you may need more or less. For instance, a small shop or firm may be approved with an investment amount in the tens of thousands of dollars. In general, however, having a large investment amount will be helpful and make your case stronger. This is another critical area that requires working with an experienced E-2 visa immigration attorney.
Requirements for E-2 Visa Extension
There are two ways to extend your E-2 status. The first one is to travel outside the United States and re-enter. This will give you an automatic two-year renewal. The other option is to seek renewal in the U.S. by filing an extension request with the USCIS. To do this, you will need to submit a new I-129 petition, I-539 form, and other E-2 visa extension documents.
E-2 Visa Processing Time
The processing time for an E-2 visa varies widely depending on the embassy from which you are applying. In some embassies, the process may take just a few weeks, while in others you may have to wait a number of months. If you are applying from within the United States, you may use the premium processing service to have your visa application processed within 15 calendar days. Another factor that could help expedite the process is if you are buying an existing business that is already registered as an E-2 treaty enterprise.
E-2 Visa Processing Fee
The E-2 visa processing fee will depend on whether you are changing status from inside the U.S. or applying through consular processing outside the U.S.
E-2 Change of Status Processing Fees
- I-129 petition: $460
- I-539 form: $370
- Premium processing fee (optional): $1,440
Consular Processing Fees
- DS-160 visa application fee: $205
- Visa issuance fee: This depends on your country
E-2 Visa Requirements May Vary Depending on Your Nationality
While E-2 visa is open to nationals of all treaty countries, there are certain country-specific requirements that depend on an applicant’s nationality.
Unusual Requirements for U.K. Nationals: The United Kingdom has an unusual requirement, which sets it apart from other countries. This is not surprising though as the U.K. was the first nation-state to have an E-2 visa treaty agreement with the U.S. dating back to 1815.
British nationals are required to show residence in the U.K. before they can qualify for an E-2 investor visa. While this may appear simple for British nationals, it may be complicated for those living outside of both countries. As a U.K. citizen living in another country, you may need to show one of the following to get your E-2 visa approved.
- Ownership or rental of a home in the United Kingdom
- U.K. tax returns
- U.K. payslips
- U.K.-based investments
- Other connections you have in the U.K.
Visa Validity May Vary: The difference in E-2 visa validity is based on whether you apply in the United States or outside the U.S. through consular processing. For every E-2 visa issued by the USCIS in the United States, the validity is two years and is subject to renewal.
However, it is not the same for those going the consular processing route. An E-2 visa issued through consular processing has an initial validity period of five years for many treaty countries. For some other countries with low reciprocity, the validity may be lower and can range from four years to as little as three months. For instance, the validity period is four years for Switzerland nationals and two years for Singaporeans. Nationals of Bangladesh, Moldova, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, and a few others are only eligible for a three-month validity period. The good news is that, regardless of your validity, once you get to the U.S., you can continue to extend your stay indefinitely.
Does the E-2 Validity Period Determine How Long an E-2 Investor Can Stay in the United States?
The validity doesn’t determine how long you can stay in the United States. As long as you maintain the rules guiding your status which include starting and running a qualified business, you can renew your visa and stay in the U.S. indefinitely.
The validity period is only based on only how long you have before the visa expires or how long you can use the same visa to travel abroad and re-enter the United States. If you are granted an E-2 visa with a five-year validity period, you can use the same visa to re-enter the United States as many times as needed within the five-year period.
The same cannot be said of those with a three-months validity period. Once such applicants get to the United States, they will first be given two years to run their business. However, if they travel out of the United States, they will have to apply for a new visa at the embassy before they can re-enter the U.S. The reciprocity status surrounding the E-2 visa can sometimes be complicated. It is important to work with an immigration attorney to help you determine what the rule says based on your nationality.
E-2 Visa Requirements for Investors Recap
Filing for a visa can be quite complex and labor-intensive, which is why it’s best to always consult a professional with this type of experience. If you believe you meet the E-2 visa requirements for Investors then the next step is to give us a call to start the filing process and gather the materials necessary to send to USCIS.
In the event that you do not meet the E-2 visa requirements for Investors then we’ll offer other visa options that may be more suitable for your case. Due to the time-sensitive nature of these filings, however, it’s ideal to get started immediately because other appropriate visas may have a fixed quota/annual allotment like the H-1B visa for instance.
Our Lawyers Are Waiting to Help You
Do you need assistance filing for an E-2 visa? Our lawyers can help you file an E-2 visa based on the USCIS and U.S. Department of State guidelines. With years of experience helping investors get their start in the U.S., we are uniquely equipped with the knowledge to help you with your specific E-2 case.
By filling out this contact form, you can schedule a consultation with one of our immigration attorneys and get started on the road to success through our firm.
During your consultation, we’ll explain which course of action will suit your case best. We may determine that you do not qualify for an E-2 visa and suggest more suiting non-immigrant status alternatives.