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E-2 Treaty Investors

The U.S. has entered into reciprocal treaties with 82 countries, permitting foreign national businesspeople to obtain E-2 visas to develop and direct businesses. The foreign national must be coming to the U.S. to work as an executive, manager, or “essential” worker.

The foreign national visa applicant must have the same nationality as that of the majority owners of the enterprise or firm. The majority ownership of the business must be held by nationals of the treaty country. Joint ventures (50/50 percent ownership) may qualify foreign nationals having citizenship of the countries of which the venture’s owners have citizenship, even if they are separate treaty countries.

Substantial investment or trade is required. This is defined as the amount necessary to run the business or investing a high percentage of cash. Borrowed funds are permissible in certain circumstances.

Foreign nationals setting up new enterprises may be issued E visas valid for up to five years, but it is common for the consul to issue a one- to two-year visa for a new business. Spouses of E-2 visa holders may obtain authorization to work in the U.S.

See List of Visa Countries

  • Requirements
    • Treaty with United States and applicant’s country of citizenship
    • Substantial investment in business
    • Company owned 50%+ by citizens of treaty country
    • Worker must be an executive, manager, or have essential knowledge
    • Often a five-year visa; admission for two years at a time
    • Must prove investment or trade is substantial, and company is not “marginal” solely to earn a living
  • At Risk

    American consuls worldwide have been requiring that a significant portion of the invested funds be put to work before the E-2 visa is issued. More often, consuls do not view funds in a bank account as being “at risk.” This can create difficulties, as one cannot run a new U.S. enterprise until the E-2 visa is issued. We have advised a number of businesspeople on developing their enterprise, and have been successful in advocating to consuls that the enterprise is ready to be launched and the funds are at risk.

Steps for Obtaining an E-2 Business

  • Step 1

    Lawler & Lawler will provide by email a questionnaire and list of documents needed for the company and visa applicant. We will then evaluate whether investment or trade is “substantial.”

  • Step 2

    Determine whether the business is not a “marginal” enterprise.

  • Step 3

    Documents are gathered to prove company satisfied E visa criteria, and applicant has ability to run or manage the business, or has essential knowledge about the company.

  • Step 4

    Working with the employer and/or visa applicant, we prepare visa application forms and supporting letter, and assemble supporting documents.

  • Step 5

    E visa application is submitted to consul for a visa stamp. Applicants in the U.S. can apply to change to E status. However, upon departure from the U.S., one must obtain an E visa stamp before returning to the U.S.

  • Step 6

    When necessary, we discuss case with the consul.

  • Step 7

    Applicant appears at consul for interview.

  • Step 8

    Applicant comes to the U.S. and presents E visa for admission with I-94 form.

Purchasing an E-2 Business

Purchasing a business as opposed to creating one poses special issues for E-2 visas. Overall, it is becoming more difficult to find a good business to purchase in the U.S. for under $300,000. Prices vary by regions, but purchasing a good business can be expensive compared to creating a new business.

  • Step 1

    Investors should always do a thorough due diligence analysis and research why a business is being sold. Few sell profitable businesses, but sometimes an owner may wish to retire. Purchasing a money-losing business is not recommended for an E-2 visa as often the visa will be denied.

  • Step 2

    Sometimes potential investors are told that in addition to the tax reported income, the business generates more cash. This may or may not be true. The American Consul deciding the E-2 will look at the tax reported income and not unsubstantiated income claims.

  • Step 3

    The E-2 rules allow an E-2 applicant to enter into a contract to purchase a business and deposit the purchase price with an “escrow” firm (i.e., bank) for release of the funds to the seller when the E-2 visa is granted.

  • Step 4

    A business plan is needed for all new as well as existing businesses being purchased. It must be supported by the tax returns and other evidence.

  • Step 5

    The American Consul will also want evidence the investor has the knowledge and experience to run the enterprise.

  • Step 6

    Evidence of the enterprise’s employees is an important component.

Example E-2 Cases

  • Restaurant

    An experienced chef from Canada purchased a restaurant for about $230,000 and had $60,000 more for improvements.

  • Technology Company

    A French technology company owner, via his company in France with about eight employees, set up an office in New York. The investment amount was $150,000 and $40,000 was spent before applying for the visa.

  • School

    A Canadian businessman and expert in a unique industry was granted an E-2 to run his school to train workers in his niche industry.

  • Art Gallery

    A European art gallery owner set up a new gallery in the U.S. He invested about $155,000 and contributed some artwork to his new business.

  • Small Hotel

    A small European hotel owner purchased a hotel in a vacation area. It has three to four employees.

  • Technology Company

    A British software firm set up offices in San Francisco with an investment of about $170,000. The American Consul in the UK issued visas to two of the company’s owners/executives. They opened an office, spent some capital and hired a new U.S. worker before applying for the E-2 visas.

  • Auto Dealership

    A Scandinavian citizen born in the Middle East invested $145,000 to create a used car dealership. He had experience in this industry and one and a half employees.

  • Real Estate Firm

    An experienced businessman had real estate holdings and other businesses in the U.S. He set up a management company for consulting and managing real estate. He hired a U.S. employee and invested a substantial amount of capital.

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