“To invest or not to invest,” that is the question. While I cannot tell you whether to invest or not, I can guide you through the labyrinth of U.S. investment visa options.
Investor Option #1: E-2 Treaty Investor Visa
To qualify for E-2 Treaty Investor Visa, you must be a national of a country with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation. The list of E-2 treaty countries can be found in U.S. Department of State’s website under “Treaty Countries.” For example, a citizen of Ukraine qualifies for E-2 visa but a citizen of Russia does not.
Next, you must invest a substantial amount of capital in an actual business in the U.S. This can be done by setting up a brand new business, purchasing an existing business, or investing into an existing company. Your ownership in the business must be 50% or more. The actual amount of investment will vary depending on the type of business and its location. For example, setting up a coffee shop in Los Angeles would require a different investment amount than setting up a restaurant in New York.
The source of your investment must be very clear. It must be verified that your investment money didn’t come from any criminal activities. Usually, documents showing gift, sale of property, savings, etc. will be sufficient to verify the source of funds. When you get the E-2 visa, you must remember that it is a nonimmigrant visa. This does not give you a path to permanent residency or citizenship in the U.S. The E-2 visa is a temporary, nonimmigrant visa for you to come to the U.S. to oversee your investment. You can stay here indefinitely to run your business and thereafter depart the U.S.
Investor Option #2: L1A Intra Company Executive or Manager Transfer Visa
For those investors from non-treaty countries or for those who already own a company abroad, L1A might be the investor visa of your choice. There are basically two ways to obtain a L1A visa. First, a U.S. employer can transfer an executive or manager from one of its affiliated foreign offices to one of its offices in the U.S. Second, a foreign company which does not yet have an affiliated U.S. office can send an executive or manager to the U.S. with the purpose of establishing an affiliated office.
Under the first scenario, there will already be an existing U.S. office that the executive/manager will be transferring to. Thus, there is no need to invest money into the U.S. company unless the company’s financial status is not strong enough to support the intra-company transferee executive/manager. If that’s the case, it will strengthen the case if the company abroad invests a certain amount of money to the U.S. company. This will show that the U.S. company will have sufficient funds to operate its business and support the executive/manager coming from abroad.
The second scenario of having to set up a brand new company in the U.S. definitely requires some investment. The investment must be sufficient to support the executive/manager being transferred as well as setting up a brand new company in the U.S. For both of these scenarios, the executive/manager to be transferred must have been employed for a minimum of one year on a full time basis during the past three year period. This is also a temporary nonimmigrant status like the E-2 treaty investor visa above. However, with right planning and foresight, L1A can lead to permanent residency and citizenship in the U.S.
Investor Option #3: Investment Based Immigration, EB-5
For those investors who are ready to make America their permanent homes and are ready to invest $500,000 or $1M in America, EB-5 is the way to go. There are three ways to make the investment. First, you can invest $1M in any business you choose or set up a new business anywhere in America. Second, you can invest $500,000 to set up a new business or invest in an existing business located at a targeted employment area (“TEA”). Basically, if you invest in an area where there is a higher unemployment rate than the national average, then you get a break: instead of $1M, you can invest $500,000. Third, you can invest $500,000 in an already-established business centers known as “regional centers.” In this scenario, you’re not investing into your own business but you’re becoming a part owner of a big project within a designated regional center. Again, the source of your investment must be clear. You must be able to document where the money came from and confirm that it was not through a criminal activity. After the investment, unless certain exception applies, you must create 10 new jobs.
EB-5 is not a visa or a status. It’s a name of a category upon which you can obtain permanent residency in the U.S. This is an immigrant, permanent status that can eventually lead to citizenship in the U.S.
Now that you know a little bit about the investor visa options, are you ready to answer the question, “to invest or not to invest?” Before you answer that, I suggest you to find an experienced immigration attorney to help you reach your destination through the labyrinth. With the right help and guidance, you can confidently invest in the U.S. and safely reach your destination.