For foreign investors who wish to move to the U.S., an E2 visa is a great option. The E2 Visa allows foreign investors to live in the US, as well as invest in and work in their own businesses there.
This is a complete guide to everything you need to know about the E2 visa.
1. What is an E2 Visa?
The E2 Visa is one of the oldest in the United States. It is a non-immigrant visa that allows treaty investors to live and work in the U.S. Treaty investors are investors who are nationals of a treaty country, such as Portugal.
In turn, a treaty country is one with which the United States maintains commerce and navigation or international agreement.
You can visit the U.S. Department of State for a list of all the current treaty countries.
2. Who is eligible for the E2 Visa?
The E-2 visa focuses specifically on foreign investors who are nationals of a treaty country. An investor may be a foreign individual or a foreign business investment in the U.S. Having said that employees of an E-2 company may also be eligible for an E-2 visa. Let’s look at each of these separately:
E2 Visa for Treaty Investors
These are the key criteria for foreign investors to qualify for an E2 Visa:
What is a Treaty Country?
A treaty country is one with which the United States maintains a commerce and navigation agreement or an international agreement. The U.S. government publishes the full list of treaty countries here.
What is a Substantial Amount of Capital?
A substantial amount of investment is not a predefined amount, but the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services describes it as follows:
What is Capital At-Risk?
For the investment to be eligible, it must be irrevocably committed and at-risk. Therefore the capital, funds, or other assets, must have the potential of being partially or completely lost if the business is not successful.
What is a Marginal Enterprise?
For the E2 Visa to go through, the investment must be made to a company that is not a marginal enterprise. A marginal enterprise is one that lacks the potential to generate enough income to provide for more than just the investor and their family.
In other words, it is a business that shows no potential for growth.
How Can You Prove a Business is Not Marginal?
The E2 visa investment may be made in both a financially healthy company, as well as one that is financially struggling. The important thing is to prove that it has the potential for positive growth and is not a marginal enterprise.
For financially healthy companies with profit, this is fairly easy. Financial documents such as payroll summaries, financial statements, tax returns, and other relevant documentation will be enough. These documents should show the number of paid staff the company employs and how much they are being paid.
If the investment is being made in a company currently experiencing financial loss, then additional information is needed. The most important document will be the business plan proving that the business can be turned around and how this will be achieved.
Finally, the E2 visa also supports investments made in start-ups.
The documentation required will be the same as above with more emphasis on the business plan.
The business plan must demonstrate the future earning capacity of the enterprise in five years, backed up with strong data and evidence. Strong evidence can include existing contracts with clients and/or letters of intent showing that there is demand for the business services.
It must also include a detailed hiring plan which allows for the hiring of at least one employee by the second year of operations (if not sooner).
3. How long does the E2 Visa last?
An E-2 visa can be initially valid for up to 2 years. However, this visa allows for indefinite extension and renewal. As long as the investor meets the original criteria to qualify for the E-2 visa, they can apply for a renewal or change of status of their E-2 visa.
4. Which countries are eligible for the E2 Visa?
To qualify for an E-2 visa, the applicant must have the nationality of the treaty country. Treaty countries are those which have a trade or international agreements with the United States. The current list (2022) of treaty countries is as follows:
Bolivia (only for those who already have an E-2 visa)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Denmark (does not apply to Greenland)
Ecuador (only for those who already have an E-2 visa)
France (only applicable to the departments of Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, and Reunion)
Japan (only applicable to Bonin and Ryukyu islands)
Netherlands (only applicable to Aruba and Netherlands Antilles)
Norway (does not apply to Svalbard)
Trinidad & Tobago
United Kingdom (does not apply to nationals of the Commonwealth)
To keep up to date with the most current list of countries eligible for the E-2 visa, visit the U.S Department of State website.
5. What are the benefits of the E2 Visa?
Of all the E-visa types, the E2 visa requires the most commitment but is also one of the best in terms of benefits. Some of the unique benefits that the E-2 visa offers are:
6. What businesses qualify for an E2 visa?
To qualify for an E-2 visa, the treaty investor must be investing in an E2-qualified business. A business that qualifies for an E-2 visa must have the following:
Although a factor, aspects such as size and sector the company is operating in, are not the most important in the E2 visa application. The most important (apart from not being illegal) is that it is not a marginal enterprise.
The E2 visa application must include as much evidence as possible to show that the business has income-generating potential. This can be from existing financial statements showing healthy finances and/or a detailed business plan.
A business that is not a marginal enterprise will have the following:
Third parties that are already in contract or showing commitment to buy the services or product of the enterprise.
Enough income to provide a decent stay in the U.S. for the treaty investor and their family members.
Evidence for future earning capacity within the short, medium, and long term. This will have to be supported with strong data to be convincing. It should also clearly indicate how the additional income contributes to the U.S. economy.
A future hiring plan indicating an increase in the number of paid staff
Types of Eligible E-2 Businesses to Invest in
There are multiple types of U.S business to invest in that are eligible for the E-2 visa. The most common business type is a restaurant, as well as multinationals. This also means that the immigration department will expect very specific and clear documentation for the E-2 visa. Another very popular type of business is the franchise. Some of the key benefits of investing in a franchise include:
They can be of any size, from a small corner shop to a state-wide operating business. This means that an eligible “substantial investment” can actually be small. For example, a lot of franchises require an initial investment of as little as $100,000. This allows you to make a “substantial investment” of 100% and hence a better case for the E-2 visa.
Franchise locations can be anywhere in the country, so a treaty investor can choose where they want to live and work.
Franchises often come with detailed business plans and extensive training from the franchisor. This helps the investor understand the commitment they are making. It also makes the E-2 visa application easier.
7. What are the required documents?
According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there are two forms of the visa process. Individuals already in the United States with a lawful non-immigrant visa can apply for the E-2 investor visa by completing the I-129 form. All E-visa forms can be found on the USCIS website.
For individuals who are outside of the United States, the I-129 form will not be applicable. All documentation apart from the I-129 form is the same for both cases. We will go through the process for investors that are outside the US later.
In addition to the I-129 form, investors applying for the E-2 visa must provide application supporting documents. These should include at least the following for each party:
Treaty investor (Individual)
If an individual is a principal investor in the E-2 visa application, then there are several documents that need to be prepared for the application process.
The first and most important document to prepare is proof that the investor is a treaty country national.
This is different for each country but is generally based on the definition of ‘citizenship’. Example documents that can be proof include passport and National Identification card.
Secondly, to qualify as a treaty investor, there must be irrevocable proof that the investment capital is in the process or already committed to the business and at-risk.
This can be company bank accounts showing the transfer of money has been processed or an escrow bank account that holds the necessary funds. More details on the benefits of the escrow bank account will be covered later.
As part of due diligence, the Department of Homeland Security and USCIS will want clear evidence showing the source of investment funds is lawful. This can be income statements, payslips, anything that can show where the investor has sourced the money from.
In addition to lawful source of funds, the investment must be proven “substantial”. An evaluation should be presented which shows that the investment is of a substantial amount of capital to the investor. This can be supported by documents showing that the capital is significant when compared to the investor’s income and net worth.
Another requirement for the E-2 visa is evidence that the investor is moving to the U.S. solely to develop and direct the E-2 company.
This is the same company, the investor has invested in and not for any other commercial activity or enterprise. This can be supported by the job role they will have when moving to the U.S. or through the investment amount. The investment value must be significant enough to indicate the investor’s interest in making the business succeed.
The E-2 business must be legitimate. To support this, documentation on the legality of the US business that the treaty investor is investing must be submitted.
Together with the legal status of the E-2 business, the applicant must submit proof that the business is not marginal.
The Financial Statements of the business can be used to clearly prove that this is a non-marginal company. The statements should also clearly show the financial status of the business, whether this is a deficit or surplus.
In addition, the applicant should submit the tax returns for the company. These will further support the activities of the business within the United States. It can also be evidence of the non-marginal status of the business.
In the case where the business is showing a negative financial status, a business recovery plan will be needed. The plan should include convincing evidence that there is potential for growth and income generation.
All financials related to staff must also be provided in the E-2 application.
This will include employee payroll summaries and W-2s or W-3s if applicable.
In some cases, the E-2 business that the treaty investor is investing in can be a start-up. In the case of a start-up, a recruitment plan will be required. This should indicate how the business will grow and how it aims to hire at least one paid employee within the next 2 years. To make the E-2 visa case stronger, this would ideally show more than one employee, suggesting significant growth potential.
Alternatively, one of the most attractive type of business to invest in for the E-2 visa is a franchise. In the case of a franchise, the treaty investor will be able to gather very strong evidence to support their application. This will include a business strategy, recruitment plan and marketing strategy for growth. In some cases, it will even come with its own employees and very clear financial statements thanks to a proven system that the franchisor has developed.
Finally, if the applicant is within the United States with a lawful non-immigrant visa they will have to submit the I-129 Form. This can be found on the USCIS official website.
8. The step-by-step visa application process
The E-3 visa application follows slightly different steps, depending on your relationship to the E-2 business. It is also slightly different if you are already in the United States or outside the country.
The first and most important step in all E-2 visa applications is to select or set up a company that is eligible as an E-2 treaty business. This means that it should meet all the eligibility criteria mentioned previously in this article.
Once the business is set up or identified, there are several steps to be taken to ensure higher chances of succeeding in getting the E-2 visa approved.
Treaty Investors Already in the United States (Change of Status)
For treaty investors already inside the United States with a lawful non-immigrant visa, the easiest and fastest option is to opt for a status change. The process is quite simple:
1. Transfer funds into the E-2 business account.
The amount transferred should be significant and irrevocable. It should either make you the majority owner of the business (more than 50% ownership) or come together with an Executive role.
2. Download I-129 from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Make sure to go through the relevant Checklist provided by USCIS in order to maximize your chances of meeting all necessary criteria.
3. Collect all relevant documents to support your application.
These must include amongst others, proof of citizenship, source of funds, US business details, and intention to depart the United States once the E-2 visa expires.
4. Complete and sign the I-129 form.
Once all documents are collected and the I-129 form completed and signed, your immigration lawyer will help you mail them to the USCIS California Service Center. This is the only center currently accepting the I-129 forms. More information on how to send the documents to the office can be found here.
5. Pay the filing fee.
The filing fee of $460 can be paid with a money order, personal check, or cashier’s check. You can also pay by credit card, issued by a US bank, by completing the G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions form. It is important to note that you can no longer pay for multiple filings together. If you do so, all documents will be rejected.
6. Wait for your application is being processed.
Once your application is processed (the average processing time is 6 months), you will be notified and your status will automatically change to E-2 status.
Note that you may choose the premium processing option for the processing time to be reduced to 15 days. Although this speeds things up significantly, it also adds a significant cost to the process.
Treaty Investors Outside the United States (Embassy or Consulate)
This can potentially be a longer and more involved process but it is the only option if you are applying for an E-2 visa from outside the US.
Having said that, individuals already in the United States can also choose this route. The difference between a change of status and applying for the E2 visa is that with the E2 visa you are able to travel. An E2 status does not allow you to travel outside the United States.
The consular process is as follows:
It is not necessary but highly recommended that you seek the advice of immigration lawyers before you start the application for your E-2 visa. This will ensure you do not make an irreversible mistake and that you have gathered all the right documentation to support your application.
Transfer funds to the E-2 business.
Gather all relevant documentation for the E-2 visa application.
Complete form DS-160 form on the US Department of State website. Make sure you read the additional information and FAQs before filling out the form. It is also important that you complete and signs it, even if someone else is helping you with the process. Filing the visa application form costs $370.
Once your application is completed, schedule an interview with the US embassy or consulate. Make sure you print the appointment confirmation and take it with you to the interview.
During the interview at the embassy or consulate, you will be asked questions regarding the evidence provided with your application.
Once approved, E-2 visas are generally issued within a week and you can freely enter the United States.
9. Can E2 Visa get loans?
The short answer is, yes. Both E-1 and E-2 visa holders are eligible for loans. Having said that, non-immigrant visa holders are considered a higher risk for lenders and will be more strict with the approval process.
In order to improve your chances of getting a loan as an E-2 visa holder, you should prepare accordingly. This goes for any type of loan, but is especially important if you are on a non-immigrant visa.
What to prepare?
Ensure you have all the paperwork ready.
This includes a copy of your visa, employment authorization form, and bank statements or tax returns. Be prepared to share your personal status, your education, and qualifications, as well as employment information.
Know the details of the loan you are asking for.
The lender will want to know exactly how much you are asking for and what you intend to do with the money.
Bring evidence of a good credit score.
Documents as proof of good credit score if you don’t already have one. This can be credit card history, previous loans that have been successfully serviced, or an accredited credit score report.
Consider the option of a cosigner.
If you know someone you can trust, having a U.S. citizen as a cosigner will definitely help your loan application.
What if the E-2 visa is denied?
There is always a possibility that the E-2 visa is denied. This can be due to a number of factors and is out of the applicant’s control. If you have already invested your money in a business, and your application is rejected, then there is no way to get it back. This is of course part of the E-2 visa application requirement, that your investment is “at risk” before you apply.
So how can you protect your investment?
One way to meet the requirement but minimize the risk is by using an Escrow agreement. It allows you to commit the full investment in an escrow account until you officially become an E-2 visa holder. Once the visa is approved, the money is transferred to the business or franchise. If the USCIS denies your E-2, then the money is transferred back to your bank account.
10. Can I get an SSN with E2 Visa?
Only individuals with employment authorization can apply for a Social Security Number (SSN). Since the E-2 visa allows the individual to work in the U.S, then they can also obtain an SSN. This also applies to their spouse and unmarried children under the age of 18.
How to get an SSN if you have an E-2 investor visa:
Complete the SS-5 Application for Social Security Card form
Together with all relevant documents, take it to your local Social Security Office, in person. It is important that you include your passport, entry stamp, E-2 visa issued by the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the I-94 form.
At the Social Security Office, you will be interviewed. Once you have passed the interview and are approved, you will receive your SSN Card.
For those who already have an SSN card issued previously, an in-person application is not necessary. This is only required for those applying for the card for the first time.
11. How long can I stay out of the U.S. with an E2 visa? (travel restrictions)
If you have only an E-2 status and not an E-2 visa, you will not be able to leave the U.S. However, with the E-2 investor visa, you have unrestricted travel. It is advisable to not travel too often or have long a very period of stay abroad as this can cause alarm by the Department of Homeland Security.
Too much time abroad can create the impression that you are not intending to “stay in the U.S. to direct the E-2 business”.
12. Can an E2 visa be converted to a green card?
Since the E-2 visa falls within the nonimmigrant visa category, it is not possible to convert it into a green card. Having said that, you can apply for an immigrant visa, while you are holding your E-2 visa.
Below are some options we have collated for you on how to get a green card:
Apply for an EB-5 visa.
This is an immigrant investor visa. The main step is the substantial investment of $1.8 million or $900,000 if you are also creating at least 10 jobs. The good news is, that you can potentially include the investment from your E-2 visa into this. Any jobs you have created through your E-2 business will also contribute to the visa.
Apply for an EB-1 visa.
This is a visa for people with “extraordinary ability” and it is possible to self-petition for it. This means you do not require a company or individual to sponsor you and this can lead to a green card later on.
Apply for an EB-2 visa together with a National Interest Waiver.
This visa is for people with “exceptional ability”. If you can prove that it is in the Interest of the U.S. to allow you in, you will be able to enter the United States without a US business sponsor. This visa is eligible for conversion to a green card.
In conclusion, E-2 visas cannot be converted into a green card or an immigrant visa category. It does however open up opportunities that can eventually lead up to one.
13. What happens if your E2 Visa expires?
One of the conditions of the E2 visa is that the applicant shows intent to leave the United States, once their E2 Visa has expired. Hence, the maximum duration of an E-2 visa is 2 years.
Having said that, the visa can be renewed indefinitely. As long as the investor continues to meet the eligibility criteria, they qualify for an E2 investor visa and can apply to renew it. The same applies to their family members.
In this article, we share with you why the E-2 visa is one of the best options for those looking at investor visas. One of the key benefits of the treaty investor visa is free to travel in and out of the U.S.
The visa also allows family members to come into the United States and allows them to get employment authorization too. Finally, it can be renewed indefinitely, meaning you can maintain your original citizenship while having the ability to live and work in a U.S. business.
The process is simple and can cost as little as $25,000 in investment, in a business of your choice. The applicant can file their application either within the United States as a change of status or through the U.S. embassy or consulate of their country.
The documentation might seem like a lot, but with the right support, can be easily managed. The E-2 visa can be a very easy and smooth process for those already wanting to invest and work in the U.S.