Start a Business in the US with an E-2 Treaty Investor Visa
E-2 visas are a popular option for foreign nationals to live in the US based on an investment in a new or existing business.
Eligible CountriesNationals from the following countries are eligible for E-2 visas: Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), Costa Rica, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark (except Greenland), Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Grenada, Honduras, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway (except Svalbard), Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Senegal, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Yugoslavia.
Nationals of Bolivia and Ecuador are no longer able to obtain E-2 visas for new investments, but can obtain E-2 visas based on investments made in the past (prior to June 2012 in the case of Bolivia, and prior to May 2018 in the case of Ecuador).
Nationals of other countries (such as Brazil, China, India, and Russia) cannot obtain E-2 visas and must explore other options, which tend to be more difficult to obtain. These are described further at the end of this guide.
Eligible InvestmentsThe applicant must have invested, or be actively in the process of investing, a substantial amount of capital in a bona fide enterprise in the United States. There is no minimum dollar amount, but the amount is evaluated in comparison to the total capital needed for the business.
The applicant must have at least 50% ownership of the enterprise or possession of operational control through a managerial position or other corporate device.
Sponsoring Family Members and EmployeesSpouses and children of E-2 investors may also apply for E-2 visas, and spouses may apply for work authorization.
An E-2 investor can sponsor others from their home country for E-2 visas if those individuals will either (a) engage in duties of an executive or supervisory character (take control of/responsibility for business operations), or (b) have special qualifications (skills which make the employee’s services essential to the efficient operation of the business). For example, an E-2 investor who owns a restaurant may be able to obtain E-2 visas for chefs from their home country.
Permitted StayE-2 visa holders are generally allowed to stay in the US for two years, and this period can be renewed in two-year increments indefinitely. However, the permitted period of stay may be shorter, and it is important for visa holders to check their I-94 record after each entry to avoid an accidental overstay.
E-2 visa holders are allowed to enter the United States "solely" to develop and direct the investment enterprise, so outside employment is not allowed.
Visa Alternatives for Business Owners and ManagersIndividuals who do not meet the requirements for E-2 status may meet the requirements for L-1 intracompany transferee status. L-1 is not limited to treaty countries but requires at least one year of prior employment for the employer group outside the US, as well as a more thorough review of the substance of the business operation in the US (such as number of employees and space to house them), especially when renewing status for a new office in the US.
A person with “extraordinary ability” in science, business, the arts, or another particular field of endeavor may work for a US employer by applying for an O-1 visa. This visa requires evidence of recognition by peers in the field, such as awards and testimonial letters. It is a fixed-term visa but can be renewed over an indefinite period of time.
Foreign managers and executives transferring to an established US affiliate may qualify for an EB-1 visa, which grants “green card” status upon initial entry, allowing the individual to stay indefinitely. EB-1 status requires at least three years of employment for the employer group outside the US, of which at least one year must be in an executive or managerial capacity, and requires the US operation to have been doing business for at least one year.
Larger investments may qualify an investor for EB-5 immigrant investor status, which grants “green card” status upon initial entry, allowing the individual to stay indefinitely. EB-5 status requires a large investment (from November 2019, $1.8 million in “high-employment areas” or $900,000 in “targeted employment areas”), and the enterprise must create 10 full-time jobs.