How can I get a U.S. work visa by opening a business?
There are a number of ways that foreign nationals can obtain U.S. work visas by starting a business. Under U.S. immigration rules, these four methods are commonly used:
1) E-2 Investment Visa
2) E-1 Trader Visa
3) L-1 Intercompany Transfer Visa
4) EB-5 Investor Visa for Employment Creation
E-2 Investment Visas
The E-2 investor visa allows foreign nationals from 80 countries to start businesses in the U.S. The purpose of the E-2 visa is to enhance economic and commercial interaction between the two countries. A key element of this visa is that the visa applicant be a citizen of one of the 80 countries with which the U.S. has a reciprocal treaty. The U.S. Department of State maintains a list of these 80 countries. The U.S. business must be at least fifty percent owned by citizens of the same nationality as visa applicant.
The E-2 visa applicant must show demonstrate a prior investment or he or she is actively “in the process of investing” in a U.S. business. Thus, an E-2 visa may be obtained before actually starting business activities. At Merrick Immigration Law, we assist our clients develop unique strategies to lay sufficient groundwork for the business investment, while still retaining some flexibility before the visa is issued.
Investment Must Be “Substantial”
The E-2 visa applicant must also demonstrate that the investment is “substantial.” There is no specific minimum amount for an investment to be “substantial.” We assist our clients in evaluating whether their business idea is likely to meet this requirement.
A related requirement is that the E-2 business has the capacity to be more than just marginal enterprise. That is, it must be large enough to support others beyond just the investor and his or her family. Also, with E-2 visas for entrepreneurs, the applicant must “develop and direct” him or herself – it cannot be a passive investment.
Finally, an E-2 visa applicant must intend to depart the United States when the E-2 status terminates. It is not necessary to maintain an address abroad – the mere promise to depart in the future is sufficient. Most E-2 visa business owners are able to get their visas renewed indefinitely as long as the business remains active and viable and continues to meet all of the requirements. Although an E-2 visa is not the equivalent of permanent residency, many in E-2 status are able to remain in the U.S. for dozens of years.
E-1 Trader Visas
Another related investment visa option is the E-1 Trader Visa. This visa is available to foreign nationals who intend to engage in trading goods and services between the U.S. and the foreign national’s home country. E-1 visas are attractive to many because the investment level required is lower than that for an E-2 visa. For instance, there is no requirement that business be large enough to support more than just the visa holder. However, a limitation of the E-1 visa is that more than half of the company’s revenue must be derived from trade between the U.S. and the home country. This business plan cannot change unless the investor applies for a different immigration status, such as E-2. Nonetheless, the E-1 visa offers a way for smaller investors to get a foothold in the United States and later change status as the business grows.
L-1 Intercompany Transfer Visa
Another option for investing in a business is to open a branch office or subsidiary in the United States. This is an alternative for foreign nationals who are not citizens of one of the 80 countries that are eligible for E-2 visas. Some notable countries that are not E-2 treaty countries include Brazil, Russia, India and China.
One key requirement of the L-1 visa is that the visa applicant must have been employed for 12 months with a non-U.S. entity that is related to the U.S. branch or subsidiary office. The L-1 visa has a number of other complex requirements that can pose challenges Merrick Immigration Law PLLC provides our clients with dependable immigration legal advice so you can plan ahead and navigate the L-1 visa application process efficiently, without worry.
EB-5 Investment / Job Creation Visa
Another option for moving to the United States as an investor is to participate in the EB-5 Investor Visa program. Under this program, foreign nationals may apply for lawful permanent residency in the U.S. by making an investment of at least $500,000. They must also demonstrate the creation of 10 full-time jobs. This program is available for both direct investors, who intend to actively manage their businesses, as well as passive investors, who are simply interested in obtaining lawful permanent residency.
There are a number of proposals to raise the minimum investment level for the EB-5 Investor Visa program to $800,000 or even as high as $1.35 million. Contact Merrick Immigration Law PLLC to speak with an immigration attorney to find out more about this program.