Last updated on June 8th, 2018
If you’re a foreign investor looking to start a business in the United States, you’ll need to apply for an investor’s visa. You’ll choose between either an E-2 temporary visa, or an EB-5 permanent visa (sometimes called an EB-5 green card). Giving you the information to choose between these two visa opportunities will help you save both time and money.
In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between the two types of investor visas. As always, this is no substitute for legal counsel. If you aren’t sure which visa you need, it’s best to consult a reputable immigration lawyer. A good immigration lawyer can both answer your questions and assist you as you continue the immigration process.
The E-2 Temporary Visa
What is an E-2 Visa?
Holding an E-2 visa allows an individual and their family to enter and work in the United States for a set period. During that time, they are expected to invest in, work for, and provide documentation of a successful business. Either the visa holder or other investors from the same country must own the business throughout that period of time.
In order to qualify for an E-2 visa, you must make a “substantial” investment in your enterprise. Whether an amount qualifies as “substantial” is based on your business’s needs. While the U.S. State Department suggests $150,000 as a minimum investment, your local consulate may adjust this number at their discretion.
Depending on your E-2 visa plans, some clients have reported success with investments closer to $50,000, or even just $15,000.
Who can Apply for an E-2 Visa?
You can apply for an E-2 visa if your country has an E-2 visa treaty with the United States. Your spouse and any children under the age of 21 will also be provided with visas. The processing time will vary slightly by country, but is usually less than 90 days.
How Long does an E-2 Visa Last?
By default, you can hold an E-2 visa for five years before you have to reapply. However, some countries have reciprocity treaties that require their citizens to reapply more frequently. For example, citizens of Sri Lanka must reapply after the first three years, rather than five.
Regardless of the date of expiration on the visa itself, the maximum amount of time you will be permitted to stay in the U.S. with E-2 visa status is two years. One quirk of this visa is that you will need to leave and re-enter at least once about every two years to maintain lawful status.
Who Should Apply for an E-2 Visa?
In general, the E-2 visa is best for those who are not interested in permanent residency in the United States. Additionally, its lower requirements make it a good choice for individuals who want to test a business’s viability before applying for an EB-5 visa. On the other hand, owners of unstable or struggling businesses might find it difficult to continually qualify for a renewed E-2 visa every two years.
The EB-5 Permanent Visa
What is an EB-5 Visa?
Like the E-2 visa, an EB-5 visa allows you to invest, live, and work in the United States. Unlike an E-2 visa, however, holding an EB-5 visa will eventually qualify you for permanent residence in the U.S. For this reason, the EB-5 visa requires the holder to have a significantly larger business that employs at least 10 U.S. citizens as permanent, full-time employees.
The actual dollar amount that you need to invest to qualify for an EB-5 visa depends on where your business is located. Businesses in targeted employment areas (TEA) require an investment of at least $500,000. Outside of a TEA, that number can reach $1,000,000 or more.
Finally, note that you do not need to own the company you are investing in. In fact, many EB-5 visa holders are investors in U.S.-based and owned companies.
Who can Apply for an EB-5 Visa?
EB-5 visas are available to individuals in any country. However, the United States only grants a limited number of EB-5 visas to each country every year. This means that investors from high-volume countries, such as China, can expect to wait two years or more before receiving their visas.
If you qualify for an EB-5 visa, your spouse and children under 21 will also be provided with visas and work permits.
How Long Does an EB-5 Visa Last?
EB-5 visa holders are in “conditional” status for the first two years. After those years are up, the EB-5 visa holder will be expected to show that their business fulfills the requirements above and employs ten or more U.S. citizens as full-time employees.
If all of those requirements are met, you may apply for permanent resident status. Your spouse and children will also qualify for permanent resident status at this point. You are no longer required to maintain an investment in your business at this point and will remain a resident even after you retire from active involvement in the business.
Who Should Apply for an EB-5 Visa?
The EB-5 visa is ideal for investors who want to move to the United States on a permanent basis. It’s also ideal for individuals who would like to invest in U.S. businesses without worrying about controlling a majority share.
Can an E-2 Visa Holder Apply for an EB-5 Visa?
Yes, E-2 visa holders who fulfill the requirements for an EB-5 visa may apply for one the same way as a new investor.
Ultimately, which visa option you choose will depend on your personal goals and needs. Those looking to stay in the US for an extended period of time will generally want to aim for an EB-5 visa. However, those looking to return home after a few years will generally be better off with an E-2 visa. Finally, remember that you can always apply for an EB-5 visa while in the U.S. on an E-2 visa.
If you are still unsure about which visa to apply for then consult an experienced immigration lawyer who can assist you with the process.