U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents can generally only use immigrant visas to petition for their direct relatives like parents or children to join them in the United States. However, non-immigrant visas like the E-2 Investor visa provide opportunities for people to invite their more distant relatives or close friends to come to the U.S. with a visa to start a business. For that reason I call this visa the “Entrepreneurial Visa.”

Immigrants with a small amount of capital and a solid business plan to start a new company, or buy a business or franchise, can apply for the E-2 visa depending on their nationality(ies) and whether the U.S. has an investor treaty with the country. The decision of whether to grant the visa is based on the probability of success of that business. This determination takes into account both how detailed and innovative the business plan is as well as the demand for the business’ products and/or services, as well as the amount of funding required to get a business up and running until it begins to generate revenue sufficient to lead to its growth and success. Here are some things to keep in mind about this particular visa:

  • The E-2 visa gives the applicant 5 years to form a successful business in the U.S.: The continuation of the individual’s legal stay in the U.S. is based upon the success of the business. So if the business fails, the visa is terminated and the holder must return to his or her country of origin or apply for a change of status to another visa or for a green card based on another venture, job offer or direct family relationship with a U.S. citizen or resident. The good news is that as long as the business remains successful, the visa holder can continue to live in the U.S. indefinitely. The visa can be continually renewed every five years as long as the business remains viable.

  • Only an individual with experience and/or interest in running a small business should apply: While the visa may accomplish an important goal of family reunification, it should not be used by someone who is not serious about running a business or lacks an entrepreneurial mindset. There are other potential means available for someone just looking to invest money and come here to stay with relatives, such as the EB-5 visa. The E-2 is best used by a person who wants to work hard and do what it takes to maintain a profitable business. If they lack experience sometimes a franchise model is the best one, as they are instructed and guided by the corporate entity which controls the brand, which of course maximizes the probability of success.

  • The application process is relatively simple:  Many visa applications have a mandatory two-part process, ie. the petition must first be reviewed in the U.S. by immigration officials here and then, if approved, an applicant must apply for the visa itself at his or her corresponding U.S. embassy. In contrast, the E-2 visa can be applied for directly in U.S. embassies vis-a-vis consular processing, a process which is a quicker and less expensive application process, and can reduce the chance of denials (one chance of denial versus two). The application can also be done if the applicant is already in the U.S. through a change of status.

  • E-2 applicants are only eligible if they come from certain nations:  Investor visas are only available to citizens from countries that have bilateral investor treaties with the U.S. Notably, citizens of Brazil, Russia, India and China are not currently eligible for the E-2 visa. In those cases, the alternative may be EB-5 or other categories. However, it is important to point out that if someone possesses dual or multiple nationalities, that they can qualify based on just one nationality which has an existing treaty. For example, Israeli citizens don’t qualify, but if they have any European Union country nationality as well, they do.

In many situations, the E-2 visa can be a win-win situation for all involved. Many 1st and 2nd generation Americans don’t have the necessary funds to start a business on their own, but their uncles, aunts, cousins or even friends from their home countries do. These relatives can come to the U.S. while starting a business that will bring jobs and economic growth to the communities in which they reside. In that way the Entrepreneurial visa provides a means of reuniting families and creating new American jobs at the same time.

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