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E Visas: A Viable Pathway to U.S. Work Visas for Entrepreneurs and Companies

By: Olga Quinones, LL.M. Martensen Wright PC, and Anne Grethe Martensen, MBA, HA (Jur.) 

Getting a U.S. work visa can be challenging for individual foreign entrepreneurs and for foreign companies that wish to send their personnel to work in the U.S.

Most U.S. work visas require a job offer from a U.S. company. This requirement cannot be met by individual entrepreneurs. As far as the companies are concerned, they often have to comply with ever tightening requirements of Intra-Company Transfer L-1 visas or face the limitations of the Specialty Occupation H-1B visas before they can employ foreign personnel in the U.S. The E visa option is frequently the only viable option for individual entrepreneurs, and it is often the best solution for companies who need to relocate some of their key employees to the U.S.

There are two types of E visas: E-1 Treaty Trader Visa and E-2 Treaty Investor Visa. Both types of E visas are based on Treaties of Commerce and Navigation between the U.S. and foreign countries (“Treaty Countries”). Denmark, Norway and Sweden are three of the countries which maintain the above Treaties with the U.S., which allows citizens from these countries to apply for E-1 and E-2 visas. A full list of Treaty Countries can be found on the website of the U.S. Department of State:

Benefits of E visas:

  • E visas allow foreign entrepreneurs to come to the U.S. to start a business or to purchase and develop an existing U.S. business.
  • E visas can be extended as often as needed, potentially indefinitely, as long as all the requirements continue to be satisfied.
  • It is important to note that the E visa itself does not lead to permanent resident status (a.k.a. Green Card), irrespective of how long the individual has lived and worked in the U.S. in E status.
  • The validity period of E visa stamp issued by the U.S. Embassy is determined by reciprocity agreements between the U.S. and the Treaty Country. Citizens of some countries may have an E visa validity period of 18 months whereas citizens of other countries may have up to five years. It is important to check the reciprocity schedule prior to applying for an E visa as the validity period may change. This can be done via the State Department website (
  • E visas allow for the transfer of essential employees to the U.S., including employees who have been employed with a foreign parent or affiliated company for a short period of time (less than a year) or have not been employed with the foreign company at all prior to the transfer
  • Spouses of the E visa holders are automatically authorized to work for any U.S. Company once the dependent spouse is admitted to the U.S. in ‘E2S’ dependent status.
  • E visa allows the visa holder to travel to the U.S. from abroad during the validity period of the visa stamp in their passport. The validity period of the visa stamp does not determine how long time the individual is allowed to stay in the U.S. The period of allowed stay in the U.S. is determined by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol authorities (CBP) upon the individual’s entry to the U.S. E visa holders are typically allowed to stay in the U.S. for two years from the day of their last entry, regardless of the visa stamp expiration date.
  • If an E visa holder does not plan or want to travel outside the U.S. after their E visa stamp expires, they can apply for an extension of their E status in the U.S., without having to apply for a new E visa stamp at the U.S. Embassy. Extensions of stay in the U.S. are processed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and are typically granted in two-year increments. Extension of stay in the U.S. can be granted even after the expiration date of an E visa, as long as the extension application is filed before the expiration date of the admission period on the I-94 arrival/departure form.
    • However, if an extension of stay is granted, it is only valid while the individual is in the U.S. If this individual travels outside the U.S. after their E visa stamp expires, they will need a valid visa stamp before they can travel to the U.S.
    • The visa stamp renewal process requires a new E visa application processed by a U.S. Embassy abroad. The U.S. Embassy is not bound by the USCIS approval of E status extension.

The Basic Requirements for Both E Visa Types:

  •  The U.S. Company must ultimately be at least 50% owned by citizen(s) of the same Treaty Country as the visa applicant’s country of citizenship. It is important to note that ownership is traced to the ultimate individual owners of the business.
    • Foreign citizens who are permanent residents of the U.S. (Green Card holders) cannot serve as qualifying owners for the purposes of E visa applications.
  • The visa applicant must demonstrate an intent to leave the U.S. after the termination of their E visa status. Note: This does not preclude the applicant from ultimately applying for a Green Card if a separate basis for the Green Card application exists, but it does mean the visa application cannot complete the Green Card process from within the U.S.

E-1 Treaty Trader Visa

The specific requirement for an E-1 visa is that the Treaty Trader (individual or company) must have established “substantial trade” in goods or services between their country of nationality and the U.S. To be considered substantial, this trade must constitute at least 50% of the company’s or individual’s total international trade. This trade requirement may be fulfilled either by the foreign individual, foreign company or by the U.S. subsidiary that will serve as the employer of the intended visa holder.

Notes regarding Qualifying Trade:

  • Trade between the foreign country and the U.S. must be in existence before the visa application can be submitted for processing. Trade includes both export and import of goods and/or services.
  • If the company is trading goods, the goods must be manufactured in the applicant’s country of nationality (Trade Country), shipped to the U.S. from the Trade Country and invoiced in the Trade Country to count as trade for E-1 visa purposes. Alternatively, the goods can be manufactured in the U.S., shipped from the U.S. to the Trade Country and invoiced in the U.S.
  • Substantial trade is determined by the number of transactions over time, not only by the dollar amounts. For example, one transaction will not qualify as substantial trade, even if it involves a large sum of money.
  • Typically, US Embassies require substantial and detailed documentation in regard to the company’s international trade to satisfy the E-1 visa requirements. Such documents include, but are not limited to, bills of lading, invoices, bank account statements and other documentation showing transactions between the two countries.

Note Regarding the Visa Applicant’s Position in the U.S. Company

The visa applicant must be coming to the U.S. to be employed in a supervisory, executive or specialized capacity.  Ordinarily skilled or unskilled workers do not qualify for E-1 visas.

E-2 Treaty Investor Visa

As the name suggests, an E-2 visa is based on investment. This type of visa requires a substantial investment to be made in the U.S. Company by a foreign individual (often, but not always, the visa applicant) or a foreign company that has the same nationality as the visa applicant.

Notes regarding qualifying investment:

  • Qualifying Investment must be “substantial,” and the funds have to be irrevocably committed. “Substantial” is not defined in the visa regulations. Typically, if the U.S. Company is new, we see success with an initial investment of $80,000 – $100,000.
    • The investment must be sufficient to ensure the successful operation of the U.S. enterprise, and this amount is typically relative to the type of enterprise.
  • The investment must be made into qualifying categories of expenses related to the U.S. Company. Uncommitted funds in a bank account or mere ownership of undeveloped land are not considered an investment.
    • Specific types of qualifying expenses often depend on the type of business.
    • Examples of expenses for E-2 visa purposes include, but are not limited to, U.S. office infrastructure, inventory on hand, equipment, company cars, marketing expenses, recruiting expenses, and one-month’s office rent.
  • The investment may not be marginal, meaning that the U.S. enterprise must have the present or future capacity to generate more than just the income needed to provide a minimal living for the treaty investor (or the employee of the investor) and their family.
    • The U.S. business must demonstrate a realistic need and plan to hire U.S. employees and a realistic potential for a financial return that significantly exceeds what is necessary to support a living for the visa applicant and his/her family.
    • While there is no specific mention of job creation in the visa regulations, this requirement is the core of why the E-2 visa exists.
  • The investment must be ‘at risk’ in a commercial sense. If the investment funds are not subject to partial or total loss if business fortunes reverse, then the investment does not qualify to support an E-2 visa application. Loans secured with the assets of the U.S. enterprise do not qualify for E-2 visa purposes, nor does simply transferring money to a U.S. bank account

Note Regarding the Visa Applicant’s Position in the U.S. Company:

If the visa applicant is the principal investor, this individual must be coming to the U.S. to develop and direct the U.S. enterprise. If the applicant is a prospective employee of the U.S. company, this applicant must be employed in a supervisory, executive, or specialized capacity. As with the E-1 visa, ordinarily skilled or unskilled workers do not qualify for E-2 visas.

If you have questions or would like further information on E visas, please feel free to contact Martensen Wright PC at