The United States has entered into treaties with several countries and established the E-1 visa to help citizens of those countries engage in international trading activities. (The authorization for this visa comes from the Immigration and Nationality Act at I.N.A. § 101(a)(15)(E), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(E); the corresponding regulations are at 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(e) and 22 C.F.R. § 41.51.)
If someone is a businessperson from one of the listed countries, and plans to either engage in substantial trade with the U.S. or work for an enterprise that does, then an E-1 visa may be appropriate. In fact, it may serve the visa holder well for a number of years, as there is no limit on the number of E-1 visas issued every year, and the E-1 can be renewed indefinitely.
Key Features of the E-1 Visa
Let’s review some of the pluses, minuses, and issues surrounding the E-1 visa:
- The visa holder can work legally in the U.S. for a U.S. company if more than 50% of its business is with the person's home country, and the home country has entered a treaty with the United States.
- While in the U.S., the person is restricted to working only for the U.S. employer or self-owned business that acted as the visa sponsor.
- Initial visas may last for up to five years, with unlimited extensions. The length of the visa depends upon the visa "reciprocity" agreement between the U.S. and the foreign country and upon the viability of the business (new companies receive shorter validity periods).
- Each time E visa holders (workers or family members) enter the U.S., they receive a period of stay of up to two years. They also may extend their stay while remaining in the U.S.
- Visas are available for an accompanying spouse and minor, unmarried children.
- The spouse, but not children, may apply for a work permit once physically present in the U.S..
What Are the Eligibility Criteria for an E-1 Visa?
Given what a desirable visa this is, the question becomes who exactly might qualify for one. To qualify for a visa in category E-1, the person must:
• be from a qualifying country
• work for a qualifying business
• be either a 50% (or greater) owner or key employee of that business, and
• be able to show that most of the company’s trade is with the United States.
Citizen of a Treaty Country
E-1 visas are available to citizens of certain listed countries (ones that have qualifying treaties with the United States). To check whether a particular country has such a treaty in force, see the complete list at Volume 9 of the U.S. Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), § 41.51, Exh. 1.
Company Owned by Citizens of a Qualifying Country
At least 50% of the business where the E-1 applicant will work must be owned by citizens of the treaty country. The company may be owned by the visa applicant or by others. If the company is owned in part or in whole by others, and some or all of them already live in the U.S., they may need to have E-1 visas themselves before the company can act as an E-1 sponsor.
Also, the owners from the applicant's country must either live outside the U.S. and be classifiable for E-1 status or live inside the U.S. with E-1 visas. This is complex stuff, so see an immigration lawyer if you’re having trouble figuring out whether you might qualify.
You're Interested in an E-1 Visa: What's Next?
For details about what to expect and do during the E-1 visa application process, see U.S. Immigration Made Easy, by Ilona Bray (Nolo). You might also wish to consult an immigration attorney for a full personal analysis of your eligibility, and help with the application process. Using Nolo's Lawyer Directory, you can find a qualified attorney who fits your needs and has taken the Nolo pledge promising respectful service. Look in particular for an attorney with experience in business immigration law (even immigration law has many subspecialties within it).
Updated by: Kyle Knapp