Each allows business owners to operate or expand a commercial enterprise in the U.S., but each has distinct requirements and advantages. While thinking about which visa is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:
Is a foreign entity required to qualify for the visa? A Business Immigration Attorney can help
The E-2 Visa allows applicants to invest or start a business from scratch, provided they submit a sustainable business plan and demonstrate that they have some capital available (including gifts and loans)
By contrast, the L-1 Visa is for companies with a presence abroad (via a subsidiary, branch, sister company, etc.) that wish to transfer a foreign manager, executive, or employee with specialized knowledge to the U.S. to help run their American office or establish a new one. In the case of foreign entities wishing to establish a new U.S. office, the new entity must already be formed prior to application.
Must money be spent prior to applying for the visa?
To qualify for the E-2 Visa, the applicant must make a "substantial" investment in the U.S., the amount varying depending on the type of business being formed. Essentially, as long as the amount is sufficient to get a business off the ground and operating - which must be proven by submitting a detailed business plan - you will typically qualify.
While you do not have to invest a certain sum of money to qualify for an L-1 Visa, if you plan on establishing a new office, you will need to show that you have enough funds to operate the new entity and support at least the transferred employee. However, the new office will be expected to grow significantly within one year, including hiring new staff.
Will I need a physical business space?
Though not required by the E-2 Visa per se, showing evidence of an existing office space, such as through an executed Lease Agreement, will help solidify the applicant's case for obtaining the visa. The U.S. government wants to see that you have a credible and sustainable business or investment planned, which a secured physical (not virtual or residential) space helps to prove.
The L-1 Visa is more stringent in this requirement: the applicant must prove that an existing business entity is based in the U.S. or, in the case of establishing a new office, must prove that an adequate commercial space has been acquired. In addition to providing a Lease Agreement, the applicant will also have to submit photos and specifications of the new business office.
Can I bring my family with the help of a Business Immigration Attorney?
Both visas allow you to bring a spouse along with dependent, unmarried children less than 21 years old. Additionally, each visa provides an option for your spouse to work legally in the U.S. and for your young children to attend school (but not work).
How long can I stay?
An E-2 Visa can be granted for up to five years, depending on your nationality and how well you qualify. It can be extended in two year increments indefinitely.
An L-1 Visa is usually issued for an initial period of three years, although in the case when an employee is establishing a new office, it is valid for only one year. It can be extended only for a maximum seven years.
Additional resources provided by the author
These are just some of the questions and considerations to keep in mind when making the crucial decision of which visa to choose.
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