E2 Visa Program 2021 Ultimate Guide by Experts | GCS

The United States has a long history of creating favorable conditions for foreign nationals and entrepreneurs interested in investing in the nation. Specifically, the country hosts an E-2 visa program that permits you to enter and work inside the country, provided you make a substantial investment in a bona fide enterprise. 

In this E-2 program guide, you’ll learn about:

  • How to qualify for the program
  • Step-by-step guide to securing your E 2 visa status
  • Fees to consider
  • Plus more!

What is the E2 visa?

An E-2 investment visa is considered an entrepreneurial undertaking, one which welcomes qualifying investors to place capital, including funds and other assets, in the U.S, with the aim of generating a profit. The investor must establish a business venture, or buy an existing business.

An E-2 treaty investor visa is classified as a non immigrant visa, considered exclusively for foreign investors of countries that have a Treaty of Trade and Commerce with the U.S. 

E-2 versus the EB-5 visa

It’s easy to get confused with the US’s other investment visa program, the EB-5. The key difference is that the EB-5 is designed to give the principal applicant the opportunity to secure a permanent green card, with citizenship possible after a set number of years. Moreover, unlike the EB-5,  the E-2 visa doesn’t have a defined amount to invest in (as long as it’s substantial).

For more information, check out our EB5 Visa USA Permanent Resident Guide.

Key Benefits

Work legally in the United States

Work legally in the United States

Travel without restrictions in and out of the U.S.

Travel without restrictions in and out of the U.S.

Stay for unlimited two-year periods, extended indefinitely

Stay for unlimited two-year periods, extended indefinitely

Family included in application, like spouse and dependents under 21

Family included in application, like spouse and dependents under 21

Applicant’s unmarried children (under 21) can study in the U.S

Applicant’s unmarried children (under 21) can study in the U.S

Cost-effective investment compared to other programs

Cost-effective investment compared to other programs

Disadvantages include:

  • The program isn’t open to everyone. Rather, only nationals of countries with investment treaties with the U.S qualify (more on this below).
  • You can only work for the specific employer or self-owned business that acted as your E2 visa sponsor.
  • The e visa category is approved every two-years, with extension only possible if you maintain your investment activities in the country.

Program Requirements

There are several different requirements you must meet in order to take advantage of the scheme. These will be broken down into a digestible checklist below. Having said this, it’s always recommended to consult an immigrant service consultancy firm for further advice and clarification regarding the specific requirements.

1.You must be a national of a treaty country

At present, the treaty countries are as follows:

Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Grenada, Honduras, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Congo, Romania, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Yugoslavia.

Requirement: You must be a citizen of one of the above countries to fulfill the E-2 requirement. It’s not enough to just be a resident. Your passport must belong to one of these treaty nations (or treaty trader). However, you don’t have to be living there. For additional information, visit the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

2.Substantial amount must be made

  • While some investments below $100,000 are approved, generally speaking, investment capital and reserves should be $100,000 and up.
  • The investment must be sufficient enough to ensure the successful operation of the respective investment enterprise
  • Optional proof showing the investment is substantial, like bank statements, an itemized list of goods and materials purchased, etc. As a bonus, consider submitting a business plan that shows your forecasted growth.

3.Funds placed must be at risk

In this context, ‘at risk’ simply means that the investor must be wholly committed to their business venture. You must have spent some money toward the startup, and the investment must be at risk of being lost due to the business or enterprise being deemed unsuccessful.

Additional considerations include:

  1. Loans secured for the enterprise are not permitted
  2. Consider placing your investment sum in an escrow account, safe for when your E2 application is approved

4.The investment must be classified as a real operating enterprise

The enterprise must be profit-driven, and either offer a good or service. Examples include: restaurants, retail shops, medical offices, etc. Anything considered a ‘vague’ investment like undeveloped land, real estate, or stocks held by an individual investor do not qualify. To top it off, uncommitted funds in a bank account or similar security don’t constitute a valid investment. 

5.The investment cannot be marginal or an idle investment

When investing in an enterprise, it’s not enough for that enterprise to generate significant income for yourself and your family members. Rather, it must have a significant economic impact on the US economy. 

6.The investor’s sole aim must be to develop and direct the enterprise

The applicant must either be the main investor or employed in a supervisory, executive, or highly specialized skill capacity. Ordinary skilled or unskilled employers don’t qualify. The bottom line is, you must prove you have an important role to play in the invested business. A way to do this is to show you have ownership of at least 50% of the US business or have enough operational control (e.g. if you’re in a managerial role).

What is the appropriate investment amount?

The good news is, the E-2 visa doesn’t have a minimum investment amount. All you need to do is to show you’ve made substantial capital in a business. The tricky part is defining what is an appropriate amount to invest in.

The general rule of thumb is to invest at least $100,000, although some investors have gotten away with less. Generally, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ( USCIS ) leave it up to the principal investor to decide.

Requirements for E-2 Visa Extension

To extend your visa, you can either:

  1. Travel outside the United States and re-enter the country. You’ll be automatically granted a two-year renewal.
  2. Renew your visa in the US, by filing an extension request with the USCIS. You must submit a new I-129 petition, I-539 form, and other E-2 visa extension documents.

Step-by-step guide

1. Get advice from an immigration attorney
2. Set up your E2 business
3. Transfer investment funds
4. Spend E2 Investment Funds
5. Submit E2 Petition

1.Consult with immigration attorneys

The E2 visa US process can be tricky to navigate. It is recommended to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer who can help you with your application. A qualified lawyer can review your unique situation and ensure you meet the criteria to obtain the visa.

2.Set up your E2 business

Next, it’s time to set up your company. First, you must choose whether to be a LLC corporation or other business formation. Afterward, you must open a bank account for the E2 company. 

3.Transfer funds to E2 business bank account

Deposit your investment amount to the respective business bank account. While there’s no restrictions on the amount you can invest, aim for around $100,000. 

4.Use the funds to operate your business

Next, begin spending the funds on start up costs including equipment, supplies, marketing, and any other operational business expenses. Note, it’s not enough to just have the money sitting in your bank account, you must spend it.

5.Submit E2 application

Once your business is established and your funds are spent, you can now file your E2 petition.  

IMPORTANT NOTE: Most investors are hesitant to start spending their investment funds before filing the E2 application. This, however, is how the process works. There’s always a chance the E2 business visa gets denied, and this is part of your ‘at-risk’ investment component. Note that the E2 business application is likely to get approved if you’ve spent your funds. While not guaranteed, consulting with a lawyer will further increase the chance that your application gets approved.

Application Processing Time

Month 1: Document gathering

After a lawyer reviews your case, they’ll give you a list of documents you’ll need to prepare for your visa application. The document gathering process takes around one month. 

2 weeks: Legal preparation

Once your documents are in your attorney’s hands, it takes them approximately two weeks to prepare and complete everything. They will then file your petition. 

2-3 months: Consular processing/change of status

Depending on the route you take, the timeline will slightly differ. If you’re not in the US, your application will be processed at the US consulate in your home country. If you’re in the states, then you can change your visa status to E2 status, by sending your application directly to USCIS. A change of status through USCIS takes around 2-3 months. By paying an extra $2,500 you can go through premium processing. Meaning, the processing time is cut back by 15 business days. 

2 years: Renew status

Every two-year period, you can renew your status.

Taxes

Long story short, yes, you need to pay E2 visa taxes on all qualifying income. However, how much you pay depends on your tax status. Depending on whether you’re a resident alien or a non-resident alien (for tax purposes), the tax treatment will differ. It’s recommended to take the Substantial Presence Test to determine your status. 

If in doubt, speak to a tax specialist to help determine your tax situation in the country. 

Can I get United States citizenship?

The E2 does not directly lead to citizenship, nor a green card.

However, visa applicants can explore some options that lead to permanent residence and indirectly, citizenship, provided that the E2 status remains unchanged.

Document Checklist

The documentation needed is extensive, and by no means is the list below fixed. Requirements can change at any time, so it’s wise to check in with USCIS for updates.

General documentation

  • DOS Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application
  • DOS Form DS-156E, Nonimmigrant Treaty Trader / Investor Application
  • A copy of your passport, valid for at least six months beyond the period of stay in the US, with at least one blank page
  • Passport-sized color photo showing full face without head covering against a light background. 
  • Business plan outlining investment scheme
  • Resume
  • Evidence that you will be employed in a supervisory or executive capacity, or possess highly specialized knowledge  or specialized skills essential to the efficient operation of the firm
  • Evidence of possession and control of investment funds (bank records, financial statements, loans, savings, or promissory notes)
  • Evidence of remittance to the U.S. (bank drafts, transfers, exchange permits or receipts.)
  • Evidence of establishment of business in the U.S. (articles of incorporation, partnership agreement, organization and staffing charts, shares, titles, contracts, receipts, licenses or leases.)
  • Evidence of the nationality of the investors (passports, articles of incorporation of parent company or stock exchange listings.)
  • Evidence of investment in the U.S. (titles, receipts, contracts, loans or bank statements.)
  • Evidence of substantiality (financial statements, audits, U.S. corporate or business tax returns.)
  • Evidence it’s not a marginal enterprise (payroll records, IRS Form 941, personal tax returns, evidence of other personal assets and income)
  • Evidence that the business is a real, operating enterprise (annual reports, catalogs, sales literature, news articles, and other evidence as appropriate)

Proof that your business is bona fide

  • 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

Fees

The fees listed below are an estimate, dependent on numerous factors.

  • Investment ‘fee’: Ballpark figure, $85,000 to $100,000 (and up)
  • Filing a petition at consulate (DS-160): $370
  • Filing a petition for change of status via USCIS: $460
  • Dependents included in change of status petition: $370
  • E2 visa premium processing option: $1,440 
  • Immigrant service expenses: ballpark figure of $3,000-$4,500.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the E-2 investor visa?

They’re known as Investor Visas that allow an individual to enter and work in the United States lawfully, provided that a qualifying investment in a U.S. business is made.

What are the E2 requirements?

 Some of the key criteria that determine your eligibility include: whether you’re part of an existing treaty between the US and the country of your nationality, whether your investment is active, whether your investment is substantial, and whether you’re in a position to direct or develop the enterprise.

How much do I need to invest in for the E2?

While there’s no set investment amount, generally it’s recommended to aim for $100,000. Note, applicants have invested less and gotten their E-2 visa status approved, it depends on your situation.

Are my family members covered in the application?

Your spouse and children under the age of 21 are included in your application and can accompany you to the US. 

Do I need to be in the United States to apply?

No, you don’t need to be in the US to apply for the E2. Rather, the application can be lodged remotely.

Where do I apply for the E2?

You have two options when it comes to filing visa applications. You can either apply at a American consulate of the country of nationality or residence, or alternatively, you can apply for a change of status in the United States with the USCIS.

Are there any travel restrictions in place under the E2 visa scheme?

No, there are no travel restrictions in place. You can enter and leave the US as you wish, provided that your visa category is kept. 

Can I get legal permanent residency with the E-2 visa?

Under U.S. immigration laws, yes, it’s possible to apply for a green card and become a permanent resident, although indirectly, and without risking your E2 visa status in the process. To do this, a qualified person or organization must file an immigration petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on your behalf.