Each fiscal year, the US welcomes tens of thousands of foreign nationals to invest in the country’s economic growth and infrastructure, acquiring temporary residency and even lawful permanent resident status under the provisions of US immigration law.
In this guide to US investor visas, we’ll walk you through the different visas available in the category so that you can gain a clearer understanding of the options that are available to you.
Understanding US Investor Visas
An investor visa allows individuals who’d like to set up base in the United States to do so, provided that they make a qualifying investment in the nation first. With such a visa you can work, live, and even study in the US, and your family members are eligible to join in on the benefits.
EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa
The US Congress established the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program to increase investment and support job creation in the United States.
The EB-5 Visa leads to permanent residence for successful applicants, with American citizenship by naturalization also possible, giving you the opportunity to own a US passport, which is one of the most powerful passports in the world.
By participating in the EB-5 Visa program, you have the opportunity to obtain a Green Card by investing directly in a job-creating commercial enterprise or investing through Regional Centers approved by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The EB-5 program is open to immigrant entrepreneurs who are willing to make a substantial investment into a qualifying new commercial enterprise in the United States.
Typically, the business structure of the new commercial enterprise will be a limited liability company or limited partnership, but other business with other structures, such as a sole proprietorship, a corporation, a joint venture, a holding company and its wholly owned subsidiaries, or a business trust, could also qualify.
With your capital investment, you must create at least ten jobs for American workers, and you should demonstrate this in your business plan.
There are no specific education or language requirements, but you must be able to demonstrate the lawful source of your investment funds (the investment money can include loans or gifts; you can also include a promise to invest, known as a promissory note) with documents such as bank statements and meet the program’s investment thresholds.
There are two main paths you can choose: You can invest individually or through a Regional Center.
This option is most suitable if your main focus is to establish a new commercial enterprise or continue a commercial business activity in the US, and you want to maintain full control over investments as well as get a return on your invested capital.
If you choose this option, you must develop a commercial enterprise initially capable of creating ten full-time jobs for US citizens and permanent residents.
Investing through a Regional Center may be an excellent option if you plan not to be involved in the daily operation of the business, want to be mobile in geographical terms, and if the business venture you are interested in is not capable of creating ten direct jobs from the start.
The Department of State has estimated that more than 90 percent of EB-5 Visa applications have been made by immigrant investors working with Regional Centers. This is a popular option because working with Regional Centers means the job creation requirements are easier to meet: Your investment can create ten jobs either directly or indirectly.
Another advantage of working with a Regional Center is that they work with individual investors and their immigration lawyer(s), providing them with advice and helping them to compile the necessary documentation throughout the entire EB-5 Visa application process.
As of April 2023, the USCIS had approved 640 Regional Centers. As the Regional Center will be responsible for managing your investment, it is crucial that you do due diligence when you are selecting which of those Regional Centers to invest with.
To qualify for the EB-5 program, you must invest a minimum amount of capital, which is currently set at $1,050,000.
However, if your investment is made in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA), which are areas with high unemployment or rural areas, the minimum investment is reduced to $800,000. The fair market value of all capital invested is calculated in US dollars.
Job creation requirement
In addition, the investment must be in an active for-profit business and must result in the creation of ten full-time jobs per EB-5 investor.
For each investor, the project must create at least one direct job and up to nine “indirect” jobs. “Indirect” refers to jobs that are created as a result of the project through external labor to service the project by providing goods and services. These jobs must be calculated according to economic models approved by the immigration service.
What is a Targeted Employment Area?
Targeted Employment Areas (TEAs) are geographic areas designated by state authorities or through approval from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). TEAs are areas that have high unemployment rates or are rural areas.
Investing in a TEA allows you to benefit from the lower minimum capital investment threshold to $800,000.
The USCIS determines that a qualifying rural area is any area other than an area within a standard metropolitan statistical area or within the outer boundary of any town or city that has a population of 20,000 or more.
Meanwhile, for petitions filed before March 15, 2022, high unemployment areas are locations (a census tract or a combination of census tracts) within metropolitan statistical areas that have experienced an unemployment rate of at least 150 percent of the national average.
For petitions filed on or after March 15, 2022, a high unemployment area is an area designated as such by the Secretary of Homeland Security.
E-2 Treaty Investor Visa
The E-2 Visa allows foreign investors with significant funds to invest to enter the United States and set up a business, practice, or office, as treaty investors.
Benefits of the E-2 Visa include a quick visa processing timeframe, the ability for the investor to live in the US with the family, and a lower investment threshold (roughly $100,000).
The E-2 can only be obtained by citizens of countries that hold an E-2 treaty with the USA, and obtaining permanent residency isn’t likely.
While the E-2 does not provide residency, one of the biggest advantages of the E-2 Visa is that it can be extended indefinitely, for as long as the business investment is maintained. Meaning that, as the primary investor, you and your family members can live freely in the United States.
E-2 Investor Visa requirements
You must invest a significant amount of capital in a bona fide enterprise in the US. There’s no specific minimum investment required, but it must be sufficient to ensure the successful operation of the business.
The rule of thumb is to invest at least $100,000, although this isn’t an official guideline and some treaty investors have been able to invest less and be granted the visa.
A “bona fide enterprise” refers to a real and active business that makes goods or provides services for profit. You should prove in your business plan that it meets all if the legal requirements to operate in its area.
- The investment must be classified as a real operating enterprise, rather than a passive or speculative investment.
- The funds you invest must be at risk and committed to the enterprise, meaning that you must have a personal financial stake in the success of the business.
- The investment cannot be marginal or an idle investment. It means the enterprise should be established for more than just the purpose of supporting you and your family.
- The investment capital must be lawfully acquired. In other words, you cannot use money obtained through illegal means.
- The business should have profitability, being able to generate more than enough income to provide a living for you and your family, as well as to make a significant economic contribution.
- As the primary investor, you must be actively involved in the development and direction of the enterprise.
- You must own at least 50 percent of the enterprise or have operational control through a managerial position.
Intent to leave
You must prove to the embassy that your intent in entering the US is just to work and live temporarily. An E-2 visa is a non-immigrant visa; you are not eligible for permanent residency.
You must provide a written statement to the US Embassy that you will leave the country once your E-2 status expires. The written statement is sufficient, although sometimes the embassy might request additional proof of ties abroad. Ties are the proof that binds you to your country of residence, such as your house, job, or family.
Other Visa Options
Do you have an extraordinary ability that can bring value to the United States? If so, then the O-1 Visa may be for you.
The O-1 is granted to individuals with extraordinary abilities in the arts, sciences, business education, or athletics field. While it is considered a work visa, it can be applicable to investors in some of these areas, particularly business, in which one may hold extraordinary skills.
The O-1 Visa initially grants you a maximum of three years to stay in the United States and complete a specific event or activity. You can extend your stay by up to one year to complete the same event or activity.
Meanwhile, the E-1 Visa allows individuals or company employees to enter the United States and conduct international trade. Trade can be classified as the trade of goods, services, and banking. Holders of this visa are known as treaty traders.
US Investment Opportunities
Investment opportunities in the US for the EB-5 and E-2 visa programs offer diverse prospects in various sectors.
EB-5 Visa Opportunities
- Real estate development: Many EB-5 investors opt for real estate development projects, such as residential or commercial properties, hotels, or infrastructure. These investments may provide solid returns through property appreciation and rental income. However, market conditions and the success of the development can influence returns. Risks include economic downturns and project-specific issues.
- Franchise businesses: EB-5 investors may choose to invest in established franchise systems, such as restaurants, hotels, or retail chains. These opportunities offer a proven business model and support, increasing the likelihood of success and steady returns. However, franchise-specific challenges and market competition can pose risks.
- Technology startups: The technology sector, including biotechnology, IT, and renewable energy, presents opportunities for EB-5 investments. Startups may offer the potential for high returns through innovation and growth. These ventures come with significant market and innovation risks, and success is not guaranteed.
E-2 Visa Opportunities
- Franchise ownership: E-2 visa holders often invest in well-known franchise businesses due to their established systems and support. These opportunities can provide stable cash flow and moderate returns, but the success of the investment heavily depends on the chosen franchise and location.
- Retail and service businesses: E-2 investors may opt for businesses in the retail or service sector, such as restaurants, retail stores, or consulting services. These enterprises can offer a reliable income stream and moderate returns. However, market fluctuations, competition, and local demand may affect financial performance.
- Consulting and professional services: E-2 investors can establish or acquire consulting and professional service firms. These ventures may provide steady income and returns. However, competition and market demand for specific services can impact financial outcomes.
The potential return on investment varies by sector and individual circumstances. While both visa programs offer opportunities, they also come with immigration-related risks, including visa denial or policy changes. It’s essential for prospective investors to conduct thorough due diligence, seek professional legal (such as from an immigration attorney) and financial advice, and consider their risk tolerance before making any investments under these visa programs. It’s important to note that the E-2 visa does not have specific job creation requirements, unlike the EB-5 visa.
Which is the best investor visa for me?
If you’re after migrating to the United States temporarily or permanently, the EB-5 immigrant investor and E-2 Visas are your best options. Below, we outline seven key differences between the two visas, so you can understand which visa is right for you.
- The E-2 Visa is a nonimmigrant visa, while the EB-5 Visa is an immigrant visa and provides a pathway to a permanent resident permit.
- The E-2 is only available to people of some nationalities, depending on whether the respective country holds an E-2 treaty with the US. Meanwhile, the EB-5 Visa is open to everyone.
- The EB-5 Visa minimum investment is $800,000. The E-2 Visa has no minimum investment threshold. You just need to make a substantial investment in capital.
- The EB-5 Visa requires that you create ten full-time jobs for US workers. The E-2 Visa has no job creation requirement. Instead, the E-2 Visa requires that your business not be “marginal.”
- Both the E-2 and EB-5 Visas need your investment funds to be lawful. You must prove this with relevant documents.
- The visa application processing time is faster for the E-2, with some applications being processed in as little as 15 days. Meanwhile, the EB-5 Visa takes up to two years to be approved.
- With an E-2 Visa, you, as the principal investor, can only work for the E-2 company. With an EB-5 Visa, you can work for any company.
The EB-5 Visa is the best choice for those seeking lawful permanent resident status.
To secure permanent residency for yourself and your family members, you must invest, or actively be in the process of investing, $1,050,000 (or $800,000 in a Targeted Employment Area, which is a rural area or an area with a high unemployment rate) in a new commercial enterprise that will bolster the US economy and generate at least ten jobs for employees. You would initially be granted conditional permanent residence, and you could then apply for those conditions to be removed after two years.
Known as EB-5 immigrant investors, individuals who secure the EB-5 have a right to live in the United States and become permanent residents.
For more information on getting a Green Card with an investor visa, consult our investment green card guide here.
Tips for a Successful Investor Green Card Application
The most common reasons that US Citizenship and Immigration Services reject investor applications include:
- Providing inaccurate or conflicting information
- Failing to furnish crucial documents and evidence
- Lacking the necessary investment funds or failing to invest the required amount
- Using funds from illegal sources for investment
- Having a history of criminal offenses or prior violations of US visa regulations
Because the process of applying for an EB-5 Visa as an investor can be complex, it is critical that you perform due diligence on Regional Centers and the investment and that you adequately prepare for your visa interview. In order to ensure that you achieve these objectives, meet all of the requirements of your chosen program, and are able to provide the right documentation and supporting evidence, it’s highly advisable that you consult with an experienced immigration attorney who specializes in investment-based immigration.
Frequently Asked Questions About United States Investor Visas
What are investor visas?
These visas are issued to qualifying individuals who’d like to make a significant contribution to the United States economy, through investment in a business, enterprise, or practice.
In turn, investors are given the right to work and live in the United States temporarily, with the potential to become lawful permanent residents and even citizens by naturalization in certain cases.
How much do I need to invest in USA to get a visa?
There are different visas for different types of investors. The minimum amount for the E-2 is around $100,000, while for an EB-5 immigrant visa this amount rises to $800,000.
While these visas don’t have specific net worth requirements, you will need to have a substantial net worth to able to reach the minimum investment amount.
Other visas, such as the E-1 or the O-1, don’t have a set amount of capital that must be invested, as they allow individuals to trade or work in the US.
Does the US have an investor visa?
Yes, US immigration law provides a few options for foreign entrepreneurs planning to contribute to the country’s economy.
If that’s your case, you can choose between the temporary visas E-2 or E-1, apply for the EB-5 (and have the chance to secure a Green Card) through the Immigrant Investor Program, or apply for the O-1 Visa, for “individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement.”
Can I get US citizenship by investment?
The United States doesn’t have a citizenship by investment program. But if you are granted an EB-5 Visa through the Immigrant Investor Program, then you can, after a number of years of living in the country, request naturalization and gain citizenship.
What are the US investor visa requirements?
The main requirement is to make a substantial investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States. To become a E-2 treaty investor, you will have to be a citizen from one of the countries that have a treaty with the US and make an investment of roughly $100,000.
The EB-5 Visa requirements, on the other hand, are the creating jobs (at least ten that are full time) and a minimum capital investment of $800,000, whether as a direct investment or through a regional center.
What is US Citizenship and Immigration Services' role in processing visas?
USCIS, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, plays a vital role in processing visas. They assess eligibility, review documentation, and make determinations for immigrant visas and Green Cards. USCIS also manages the I-485 adjustment of status and I-829 petition processes for investors in the US.
Do I need background checks and national security screening?
USCIS mandates that all prospective immigrants undergo background checks and a national security screening process.
These checks involve examinations conducted by different agencies, including the Department of State and US Customs and Borders Protection.
The processes encompass searches in databases related to criminal and national security records, scrutiny of your fingerprints, and an examination of personal information, including your name, place of birth, and birth date, which is performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
USCIS may also verify that you are not associated with, or suspected of involvement in, money laundering or other financial crimes.
The foremost concern of the US government is to ensure that you do not pose any threats to national security.
Do I need a Social Security Number to apply for an EB-5 Visa?
No, you can request a Social Security Number after obtaining the EB-5 Visa. In fact, you have the option to make this request while completing the visa application.