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How to Change Status from an E-2 Visa to a Green Card

Learn how employers can help E-2 visa holders transition to a green card in the U.S.

For U.S. employers and foreign investors working in the U.S., understanding the pathways from a nonimmigrant E-2 Treaty Investor visa to a green card is essential. 

The E-2 visa is an excellent option for foreign investors seeking to establish or operate a business in the United States, but it’s important to note that the E-2 is a non-immigrant visa, with no direct path to permanent residency. Because of the E-2 visa’s non-immigrant intent, changing status from an E-2 to a green card requires careful consideration and may look different for each investor. In this guide, we’ll explore various paths and strategies to transition from an E-2 visa to a green card.

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Understanding the E-2 Visa

The E-2 Treaty Investor visa is a nonimmigrant visa category designed for foreign nationals who wish to invest in and actively manage a business in the U.S. To qualify for an E-2 visa, individuals must be citizens of a country with which the U.S. has a treaty of commerce and navigation and must make a substantial investment in a U.S.-based enterprise.

The primary purpose of the E-2 visa is to facilitate the temporary entry of foreign investors and their essential employees to oversee and run their investments. Unlike immigrant visas, which lead to permanent residency, the E-2 visa is temporary and does not inherently provide a direct path to a green card. It requires the visa holder to maintain their investment and managerial role, and its nonimmigrant status is contingent on the viability and ongoing operation of the invested business. The E-2 visa holder must also demonstrate to the U.S. government that they intend to leave the U.S. upon the expiration of their visa.

EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program

One possible path to a green card for an E-2 visa holder is through the EB-5 immigrant investor program — although it comes at a large price. The EB-5 visa provides a pathway to a green card for foreign investors who make a substantial investment in a qualifying U.S. commercial enterprise. 

If an individual has the financial resources, they may be able to pursue an EB-5 investment green card while simultaneously managing their U.S. business under the E-2 visa. However, it’s important to note that the requirements for an EB-5 green card are far more substantial. 

To qualify, investors typically need to invest $1.8 million in a new commercial enterprise or $900,000 if the investment is made in a targeted employment area (TEA). TEAs are either rural areas or locations with high unemployment rates. The investment must also result in the creation of at least 10 full-time jobs for qualifying U.S. workers within two years of the investor’s admission to the U.S.

The origin of the invested funds is also scrutinized, and if the money comes from abroad, a detailed documentation of the source and path of funds is required, ensuring its legitimacy. Notably, funds generated within the U.S. by the E-2 business can only be used if they are first paid out to the investor, who then pays U.S. taxes on the amounts received before reinvesting them to meet the criteria for the nearly $1 million direct investment for the EB-5 green card.

You can learn more about the EB-5 Investor visa in Boundless’ guide.

EB-2 and EB-3 Employment-Based Categories

E-2 visa holders with advanced degrees or exceptional skills may also consider the EB-2 or EB-3 categories for a pathway to permanent residency. 

The EB-2 category (Professionals with Advanced Degrees or Exceptional Ability) is for individuals with advanced degrees (such as master’s or higher) or exceptional abilities in their field, including arts, sciences, business, education, or athletics. The EB-3 category is for skilled workers with at least two years of job experience and professionals with a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. 

There are several requirements for the EB-2 and EB-3 categories that an E-2 visa holder should keep in mind:

  • EB-2 and EB-3 visas have different preference categories based on professional and educational credentials. E-2 visa holders will need to select a preference category that most closely matches their qualifications.
  • EB-2 and EB-2 categories require employer sponsorship, meaning the E-2 visa holder would need to receive a formal job offer from a U.S. employer willing to sponsor them. 
  • The EB-2 and EB-3 processes involve submitting a permanent labor certification program (PERM) to the Department of Labor (DOL).
  • Once the PERM is approved, the sponsor must file Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker) with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on the applicant’s behalf. 
  • The availability of green cards in these categories is subject to annual numerical limits, and there is often a backlog, particularly for certain countries.

Learn more about the E-B2 visa in Boundless’ guide. For more information on the EB-3 category, check out our guide here.

National Interest Waiver (NIW)

Individuals with exceptional abilities or advanced degrees who can demonstrate their work is in the national interest of the U.S. may also be eligible for a green card through the EB-2 category with a National Interest Waiver (NIW).

The EB-2 NIW allows qualified individuals to bypass the PERM labor certification process, which is typically required for employment-based green card applications.

Another significant advantage of the NIW is that it allows applicants to self-petition, meaning they do not need a specific job offer or employer sponsorship for their green card. This flexibility can be particularly advantageous for entrepreneurs who hold E-2 visas. 

To qualify for an EB-2 NIW, individuals must demonstrate that their work is of “national interest” to the United States. The key criteria include:

  1. Significant Contribution: The individual must show that their work has a substantial impact in their field, benefiting the U.S. as a whole.
  2. Advanced Degree or Exceptional Ability: Like other EB-2 applicants, NIW candidates should have an advanced degree or exceptional ability in their profession.
  3. National Interest: The applicant must establish that their work is in the “national interest” of the U.S. This can be demonstrated by showcasing how their contributions benefit the economy, culture, education, health, or other aspects of national importance

Read more about the NIW and how to qualify in Boundless’ guide.

Family-Based Green Card Options

In some cases, E-2 visa holders may be eligible for a family-based green card through a qualifying relative who is a U.S. citizen or green card holder. Family-based immigration options include immediate relatives, such as spouses, and preference categories based on the relationship with the sponsor.

You can learn more about the marriage-green card process, for E-2 visa holders married to U.S. citizens or green card holders, in Boundless’ guide.

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