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E-2 Visa, Explained

Learn the process, cost, timeline, and requirements of the E-2 Treaty Investor Visa

E-2 Treaty Investor Visas are on the rise

The U.S. government approved about 91% of E-2 applications last year, even though more than 10,000 more applications were submitted than in 2022. This means there was still a roughly 9-to-1 chance of approval for this visa for those who qualify and the number of E-2 visa holders in the U.S. is growing each year.

What is the E-2 Treaty Investor Visa?

The E-2 visa is a type of visa that allows people from certain countries to live and work in the United States if they do one of the following:

  1. Invest a significant amount of money in a U.S. business or entity (E-2 investor)
  2. Come to work in the U.S. as an executive, manager, or essential employee of a company owned by someone from their country (E-2 employee)

To qualify for an E-2 visa, the person’s home country must have a special trade agreement with the United States.

Key points:

  • The investment can be in a new U.S. business or an existing one
  • E-2 visa holders can work for the business they’ve invested in
  • They can also bring employees from their home country to work for the business

The “E” in E-2 stands for “Treaty.” E visas are a specific category of nonimmigrant visas granted based on treaties between the U.S. and other countries.

When your E-2 visa is first granted, you can stay in the U.S. for a maximum of two years at a time, but you can extend your stay in two-year increments from within the U.S., or you may travel and re-enter with a valid visa, to extend your authorized period of stay as well. There are no limits on the number of times an E-2 can be renewed.

In this guide, we’ll cover the eligibility requirements for the E-2 visa, the timelines for approval, and step-by-step instructions on the application process. 


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E-2 Visa Eligibility

The E-2 visa has a handful of general requirements that apply to all applicants, though there may be slight variations based on your country of origin.

Nationality

The investor, or investment entity,  has to prove to be a citizen of a country with a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States. Currently, there are more than 80 treaty countries, and you can find the full list here.

What is a treaty of commerce?

A treaty of commerce is a formal agreement between countries that establishes and regulates trade relationships. Its primary purpose is to promote both countries’ economic growth and job creation.

Investment

You must have invested or be actively investing a significant amount of money into a real business in the United States. This investment must be fully committed and at risk, meaning you cannot just take it back. It should be enough to make the business successful and earn substantially more than just a living wage.

Active Management

Entering as an E-2 investor typically requires the investor to play an active role in the management of the U.S. business. This means having control and ownership of at least 50% of the enterprise, being involved in making major decisions, and overseeing day-to-day operations by traveling to or residing in the U.S.

Business Type

The E-2  business must be a real, bona fide enterprise, and the business should not be marginal, meaning it has to show potential for growth and job creation in the U.S. The enterprise must have the capacity to generate more than a marginal income, meaning it has the ability to generate more than a minimal living for the investor and their dependents.

Source of Funds

Similar to proving the business is a legitimate and legal venture, the E-2 applicant must prove that the funds invested in the U.S. business have a legitimate source. This helps to ensure that the money used for the investment was obtained legally. This source of funds consideration requires a tracing of how the funds were generated and showing the funds moving from the investor, or investment entity, into the U.S. business.

Investment Criteria for U.S. Business Ventures: Qualifying vs. Non-Qualifying Investments

Typically satisfies E-2 criteria Does not typically satisfy E-2 criteria
Investing in an active businessMere ownership of undeveloped land
Funds are fully committed and at riskUncommitted funds in a bank account
Investment is substantial enough to make the business successfulSpeculative investments with no active involvement
Business earns much more than a living wage for the investorBusiness only supports basic living needs of the investor
The investor has a key role in running the business; or any employees can prove their essential or qualifying role The investor has a key role in running the business, or any employees can prove their essential or qualifying role
Money could be lost if the business failsSafe or protected investments with no risk of loss

E-2 Visa Timeline

Getting an E-2 visa typically takes several months, whether applying abroad and submitting to the U.S. Consulate or submitting a change of status from within the U.S. with the USCIS. Of course, timelines can vary. That’s primarily because the process differs from one U.S. consulate to another.

If you’re already in the US:

Most people (80%) get a decision on their application within 2 months unless they submit their application with Premium Processing, which expedites the timeline.

If you’re applying from outside the US:

The wait time depends on where you apply. It could take a couple of weeks up to several months. Every U.S. consulate has its own set of requirements, methods of submitting your case, and overall processing timelines and steps. Individual consulate websites often have visa processing information. You can find a specific consulate through the US Department of State website

Premium Processing for the E-2 Visa

E-2 applicants may also be able to request “premium processing” of their Form I-129 for an additional fee. If approved, USCIS will typically process your E-2 visa application within 30 calendar days.

How to Apply for an E-2 Visa

If you’re applying from within the U.S.:

  • Ensure you’re a national of an E-2 treaty country and that you meet all E-2 requirements, including all the business requirements and E-2 role requirements.
  • Prepare and file Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker)
    • Gather all documentation about your business (business plan if applicable, financial documents, proof of investment, source of funds, etc.) and information proving your eligibility.
    • Consider premium processing for a faster decision (30 days).
  • You’ll receive a decision from USCIS. If approved, your status changes to E-2 on the date listed on your Form I-797 Approval Notice.

If you’re applying from outside the U.S. (Consular Processing):

Although the exact steps vary per U.S consulate and require careful consideration, these are some typical steps:

  • ︎Ensure you meet all E-2 requirements, including nationality, business requirements, and E-2 role requirements.
  • Complete and File Form DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application) and DS 156E.
  • Once the Consular Officer reviews your application, you can schedule & attend a visa interview at your home country’s U.S. Embassy or consulate. Note that some Consulates follow a different process at this stage, so be sure to check carefully. Be prepared to discuss your business and investment plans.
  • Your passport will be stamped with the E-2 visa, often valid for 5 years if approved. Present it at a U.S. port of entry to be admitted to the U.S.

Can an E2 visa lead to a green card?

The E-2 visa is a nonimmigrant visa, meaning that there is no direct path to lawful permanent residency, or a green card. Additionally, the E-2 does not allow for the dual intent to enter the U.S. on the E-2 while intending to apply for a Green Card.

Some examples of Green Card paths include the employment-based preference categories as well as as family sponsorship. Read about your options here. 


E-2 Visa Cost

When considering the cost of a new E-2 visa as an investor, it’s important to remember there are two major expenses:

  • Investment Cost: The amount you invest in your US-based business, whether starting a new business, buying a franchise, or purchasing an existing business. This investment needs to be substantial, but there’s no set minimum amount.
  • Application Cost: This includes government filing fees and may also include costs for professional services like lawyers and business plan writers if applicable. As of April 1, 2024, these costs have increased.

What does the government consider a “substantial” investment?

There’s no exact dollar amount that defines “substantial investment” for an E-2 visa. But generally, the lower the cost of the business, the higher the percentage of investment needed.

Small service-based businesses, for example, may require a higher investment percentage than capital-intensive ones. Additionally, the business can’t be designed simply to provide a living for you and your family. It needs to show the potential to make a significant economic impact.

What is the application fee for the E-2 vias?

Applying from within the U.S. (Change of Status)

Applying from outside the United States (Consular Processing)

  • Form DS-160 (Nonimmigrant Visa Application): There is technically no fee when filing the DS-160 itself. However, there is a processing fee specific to the type of visa you’re applying for. In 2024, the processing fee for an E-2 is $315
  • Reciprocity Fee: This is charged to citizens of countries that charge high fees for US visas. You can check the reciprocity tables to see if this applies to you.
  • Optional: Form I-907: $2805 for premium processing (expedited review within 15 business days)

Do I need to pay an additional biometrics fee with my E-2 visa application?

In 2024, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) eliminated the separate biometrics fee for most nonimmigrant visas, including the E-2. However, if you are applying for an E-2 from outside the U.S. through consular processing, it’s possible you might still have to pay a biometrics fee in some locations. This is because certain consulates have their own procedures and may not have updated their systems to fully reflect the rule change 

What happens after the E-2 visa is approved?

If you applied from within the U.S. (Change of Status):

  1. USCIS Approval Notice: You’ll receive a Form I-797 (Notice of Action) from USCIS confirming the change of your status to E-2.
  2. Work Authorization: With this approval, you’re immediately authorized to work for the business in which you invested.
  3. Travel: If you need to travel outside the U.S., you will need to obtain an E-2 visa stamp at a U.S. consulate before returning. Note that this process is not merely a quick visa stamping but will require a complete E-2 application and consideration by the Consulate.

If you applied from overseas (Consular Processing):

  1. Visa Issuance: The U.S. consulate will stamp your passport with the E-2 visa.
  2. Travel to the U.S.: With your E-2 visa, you can travel to the U.S. and enter upon inspection by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at a port of entry.
  3. I-94 Travel Record: The CBP officer will create an I-94 record indicating your E-2 status and duration of stay. It’s important to review this for accuracy.
  4. Work Authorization: You’re authorized to begin working for your invested business.

Important points for both situations:

  • Social Security Number: You’ll need to apply for a Social Security Number (if you don’t already have one) to work legally in the U.S.
  • Taxes: You’ll be subject to U.S. tax laws.

Setting up a brand new business is feasible as well as purchasing an existing business or even a franchise., Purchasing a franchise, for example, can be viable, especially with its proven business models and brand recognition. Of course, each option can work, but much depends on the specific facts of the investment, the business model, any proven success of the business, and much more. Most business types can qualify for an E-2, including personal service providers, including businesses like hair salons, cafes, or even consulting firms. Legal professionals possessing the necessary qualifications and licensure can also establish their practices. The E-2 even extends to commercial ventures, encompassing import/export businesses (may also be qualified for the E-1), manufacturing, retail storefronts, and many other sectors where significant investment and a true commitment to developing the business are demonstrated. Boundless can help you explore different avenues to see what might be the best fit for your skills and goals. Check your eligibility today.

No. Your E-2 visa itself serves as proof of your work authorization. You are legally permitted to work specifically in the business you invested in.

In some cases, employees of the treaty investor (the person applying for the E-2 visa) may also be eligible for E-2 visas if they have the same nationality as the principal investor and will be engaged in executive, supervisory, or essential duties.

Although it is possible, it is critically important to remember that the E-2 visas require demonstrating ‘nonimmigrant intent’, meaning you only plan to enter the U.S. to work per the E-2, and then you plan to leave the U.S. thereafter. This can create complications in a variety of ways and needs to be carefully considered as part of an E-2 process and future planning.

Treaty investors and their eligible employees can initially stay in the U.S. for up to two years under the E-2 visa. If they need more time, they can request extensions, and each extension can be granted for up to two years. It is also possible, instead of applying for an extension from within the U.S., to travel and re-enter on a valid E-2 visa to get an extended period of E-2 stay.

Yes. E-2 treaty investors can travel outside the U.S. and will typically be granted an automatic two-year period of readmission when returning to the U.S. However, it’s important to note that frequent or extended travel outside the U.S. could cause questions to arise.

Yes. Treaty investors and their employees have the option to include their spouses and unmarried children under 21 years old on their application. Spouses and children can typically apply for E-2S or E-2Y dependent classifications, and if approved, they will typically be allowed to stay for the same duration as the employee. NOTE: It’s not necessary for spouses and children to have the same nationality as the treaty investor or employee.

Yes. In most cases, dependent spouses of E-2 visa holders (in E-2S status) are automatically granted work authorization, without the need to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Dependent spouses can use an unexpired Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) showing their E-2S status as proof of work authorization. 

No. The E-2 visa holder is typically only authorized to work in the U.S. business they have invested in and applied for the visa under. However, you can freely change positions or roles within the same company you originally invested in or possibly transfer to a subsidiary or parent company of your original E-2 business.

Yes. E-2 visa holders must file federal and state tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for all income earned in the U.S. 

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