The United States has always been a country where foreigners have invested their money. In exchange for bringing money into the U.S. economy, are there any rewards for the foreign investor, besides a return on their own investment? That’s the question I’m often asked: “Can I live and work in the U.S. if I invest in the U.S.?” Well, the answer is: It depends!

Some types of investment can qualify for a nonimmigrant visa, while others can lead to a green card. Some visas are temporary, lasting only for a limited number of years, while others can be renewed indefinitely. Some require the foreigner to be a citizen of a country which the U.S. has a special treaty agreement with, and some require a minimum dollar amount investment.

In this four-part series I will review all of the different investment and work opportunities that foreigners may wish to explore, starting with the “other, easier” E visa, as opposed to the more difficult EB-5 visa which we will explore in a later post.

E-1 Trader and E-2 Investor Treaty Visas

Perhaps the easiest investor visa to get is one of the E treaty agreement visas, but there is a catch: The foreigner’s country of citizenship must be one that is on the list of maintaining treatises of commerce between their country and the U.S.

The E-1 is a treaty trader visa, granted to the foreigner who wants to stay in the U.S. for prolonged periods of time to oversee or work for a business engaged in trade between the U.S. and the treaty country.

What does U.S. immigration services consider as trade? Trade can be any international exchange of goods or services and can even involve technology, as long as the trade is sizable and ongoing with more than 50% of the trade existing between the U.S. and the treaty country.

The E-2 is a treaty investor visa, granted to the foreigner who wants to enter the U.S. solely to develop and direct the business enterprise. This is a preferable visa to the L-1 intracompany transferee visa (to be discussed in a later post) because there is no requirement that the foreigner already own a business in their home country. There is also no specific minimum dollar investment required like there is for the EB-5 visa.

But there does have to be a substantial amount of capital put at risk to secure the success of the business. Here is an example of how this works. Let’s say the foreigner wants to open a hair salon. Think of everything needed to get such a business up and running. You need to lease or purchase a storefront location, buy all the necessary equipment, hire your staff, prepare your business plans, open a business bank account, deposit funds to sustain the business until you generate profits, retain professional services for accounting and legal advice, you get the idea.

In other words, the foreigner needs to make an investment large enough to ensure the investor’s financial commitment to the successful operation of the business. And this all has to be properly documented and put together in a package that immigration services will accept and review for approval.

Here are some of the countries that can participate in these E visas as of this publication date. If your country is not on the list, click here to find out in case I have missed it or the list has been updated.

E-1 and E-2 Countries: 

 

Australia, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia (All Former Yugoslavia), Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Honduras, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom.

Some countries have only the E-1 treaty trader agreement such as Greece and Israel, and several countries have only the E-2 treaty investor agreement: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Grenada, Jamaica, Panama, Romania, Trinidad, Ukraine. Check the complete list here.

What to do if your country has no treaty agreement with the U.S.? 

Perhaps your spouse is a citizen of one of these countries? If so, your spouse can be the main applicant for the E-1 or E-2 visa and you and your unmarried children under 21 can accompany your spouse to the U.S. (Spouses and children do not need to have the nationality of the E-1 or E-2 treaty country.)

Recently, some South Americans have taken to very creative and extreme measures in order to qualify for this popular E visa. They are actively seeking out citizenship in qualifying E treaty countries (mainly in the Caribbean) for the sole purpose of gaining eligibility for an E-2 visa! How’s that for a visa hack?

Pros and Cons of the E-1/E-2 treaty trader and investor visas:

 

As with most immigration benefits, the pros and cons may be more dependant upon your own circumstances and your own goals for living in the U.S. But here are some key points to consider:

Pros:

No dollar minimum investment required.

No specific number of U.S. employees need to be hired.

No limit to the number of extensions for renewal, as long as the business is still viable.

No cap on the number of  E-1 or E-2 visas granted each year.

No need to be the principal investor to qualify, you can qualify as an essential employee and manager of the enterprise.

Trade is not limited to goods, trade can be in services such as banking, tourism, communications, technology or transportation.

Monetary value of trade is not the only factor; more important is the volume of transactions.

Spouse of E-1 or E-2 visa-holder can obtain work authorization to work for any employer in the U.S.

Children unmarried and under 21 can accompany E-1 or E-2 visa holder and attend school in the U.S.

Can apply for E-1 or E-2 visa while in the U.S. as long as no ESTA visa waiver was used to enter as a visitor and as long as the intent upon entry was not to apply for this visa.

Premium processing services with USCIS give a 15 day turnaround for application adjudication at an extra cost of $1225, well worth it!

Cons:

Does not lead to a green card (but not all investors want a green card).

Requires the investor to put a “substantial amount of capital” at risk.

Investment in real estate alone will not qualify, must be an actual “enterprise.”

Investor must own at least 50% of the enterprise (can make business partnerships more challenging).

Investment must generate significantly more income than just to provide a living to you and your family, or must have significant economic impact to the U.S.

If buying a business, the lower the cost, the higher the total investment must be in order to be considered substantial.

If from a country that maintains the ESTA visa waiver for visitor visas, must apply for the E-1 or E-2 visa through the U.S. consulate in home country.

Whether or not the E-1 or E-2 visa is the best option will depend upon a number of factors unique to the applicant. First and foremost is the country of nationality – without the treaty agreement, there is no need to even consider this visa. In that case, we can look at an L-1 or L-2 visa (Intracompany transferee visa) if the foreigner owns a business in their home country, or possibly an EB-5 visa (also called the green card visa) if the amount of available funds exceeds $500,000.

Other options to examine could be the H-1B visa if the applicant has a U.S. job offer in a professional position, or for Canadians and Mexicans there is the TN visa (NAFTA free trade agreement) whereby professionals from these countries can work in the U.S. if they have a U.S. job offer.

I will examine each of these other visa opportunities in future segments of “How Foreign Investors can Live and Work in the U.S.” Or, contact Heitz Immigration Law to book a consultation for your U.S. Opportunity Road Map – a personalized guide for foreigners that wish to live temporarily or long term in the United States.