You may be in the United States on a B-1 (business visitor) visa or are considering applying for admission as a B-1 (business) visitor because you would like to start a new business or to explore establishing one in the United States. You may be thinking of visiting the United States to find office space, raise capital, negotiate contracts, meet with potential business partners, interview key personnel, or attend trade shows in connection with launching your new business — or to find employment. Although the initial period of stay for B-1 (business) visitors is generally up to 6 months and extensions are possible, you are interested in visa options allowing you to work in the United States instead of engaging in limited B-1 business activities which expressly prohibit working (defined very broadly as performing services in exchange for compensation).
Or, you may be in the United States on an F-1 (student) visa and you are thinking of starting your own business after graduation. After graduation, you may be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT). If you are starting a business while on F-1 OPT, USCIS requires that the majority of the work that you perform must be directly related to your major area of study. Even though F-1 OPT is good for 12 months and extensions of 17 months are possible for some science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) graduates, you may be interested in exploring visa options that will allow you to work or run your business in the United States for years instead of only months.
Or, you may be a spouse admitted in a visa category that does not allow employment (e.g., F-2 spouse of an F-1 student, TD spouse of a Canadian or Mexican TN worker, or an O-3 spouse of an O-1 individual who is working in his/her area of extraordinary ability) and you are interested in employment or setting up your own business in your own right.
E-2 visa specifics
You may be eligible for an E-2 visa if you invest in a new or existing U.S. business and you will be in the in the United States to develop and direct this enterprise. Your investment in a bona fide enterprise must not be marginal and you must be able to provide the source of your funding. Finally, you must be from a country that has a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States or a country designated by Congress as eligible for participation in the E-2 nonimmigrant visa program. For a list of treaty countries, visit the Department of State website at https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/fees/treaty.html. The initial period of stay in the United States is up to 2 years. Extensions are possible.
Comparison of the E-2 to other visa categories
The advantages of the E-2 visa category include its less stringent requirements in some respects when compared to other visa categories. For example, there is no cap on the number of available E-2 visas each year as there is for the H-1B (professional or specialty occupation) visa category. There is no formal education requirement (as there is for the H-1B visa category). Some E-2 visa holders may go to the next step and obtain a green card without having to go through a lengthy labor certification process required for workers in other visa categories if they meet the separate eligibility requirements of the EB-5 immigrant investor program.
The disadvantages or restrictions of the E-2 visa category include your country of citizenship. For example, there are no treaties in place allowing citizens of India, People’s Republic of China (PRC), or Vietnam to apply for an E-2 visa. In contrast, citizens of Canada, Mexico, Mongolia, Pakistan, South Korea, and Taiwan are eligible to apply.
For more information
Please see our “The Essential Guide to the Investor Immigration Process” for more details on the E-2 visa category or contact our office.