Whenever I advise a potential or existing client on the E-2 visa process, the inevitable question always pops up: “How much do I absolutely have to invest to qualify?, “How much is enough”. My answer is always very lawyerlike : “It depends”.
What does it depend on? First of all, it depends on the size and scope of the US project, kind of business (services versus products), the geographic location (South Dakota is cheaper than Silicon Valley) and the inherent employment necessities (organic start-up versus plug and play like hospitality business which requires numerous employees). How much is needed minimally to operate the business, including the required employees to be hired, for one year of operations, is what is required to be considered “substantial” and be approvable.
So let’s rephrase the question then: “I have X amount of money to invest, is that enough?” The answer is yes if it meets the following baseline requirements:
- It should be six figures minimum, meaning US$100,000 and up. No consular officer will take an investment seriously if it’s not above that amount. Remember that you need to secure an office for at least three people (“sufficient physical premises”) and have enough funds for other basic operating costs (internet, electricity, office supplies, budget for marketing and salaries for at least two full-time positions) for a full year. It is hard to do that for less than $100,000. Adding anything else to this raises the total investment amount required.
- If the visa petition is filed by the principal investor, then the money is saved. This is the one category under E-2 that does not require that visa applicants receive a salary, and so this helps to minimize the total amount.
- Projected costs must not be pro-rated or skimped on. A consular official will note that projected salaries are incorrect or pro-rated, or if certain necessary costs are omitted in order to fit an applicant’s budget. The minimum investment does not mean what the applicant can afford, but what any investor would have to invest to start and operate the business, assuming no income, for one year, no ifs, ands or buts.
- If one calculates the total projected operating costs and they don’t have enough to cover it, then they should consider a different business model.
- Total operating costs should include franchise fees if the investor is investing as a franchisee. These businesses often require more funds upfront, but have the advantage of corporate support and training and quick employment of trained employees, who can help to generate revenue immediately.
It’s important to not fall for promises of unreasonably small investment amounts. Running a business in the U.S. can be expensive, but the upsides are numerous if one invests in the right kind of project, which from a U.S. government’s perspective, means the necessity of employing multiple U.S. workers. “Penny wise and pound foolish” – Invest enough to show real commitment to your investment, with more than enough money to make sure the business gets off the ground, creates jobs and prospers long-term, or there is no reason to apply at all.