The United States of America has long been known as one of the best places to do business in the world. It is often seen as a stepping stone to take businesses into the global market. Traditionally, investors and entrepreneurs would be able to gain access to the American market through an EB5 investor visa. However, waiting times and investment costs have soared in recent years and now the E2 program is becoming the easiest and most popular route. We’ll look at the pros and cons of this program, the E2 visa requirements, and the application process.
This visa class allows persons to conduct business and reside in the US as a non-immigrant. It is available for nationals of a U.S. Department of State treaty country. The program offers an Investor Visa which allows persons to invest capital and create employment for US citizens.
This can be through investing in existing businesses as a co-partnership, corporate entity or starting a new business. It also allows management and executive employees to enter if they hold the same nationality that the investor is applying through.
The visa is typically issued for a period of two years except for a few countries which issue a 5-year visa. The visa can be renewed an unlimited number of times.
E2 Visa requirements
The citizens of treaty countries who are willing to invest in the USA can be eligible for this visa.
Countries such as China, Russia, Brazil, India and Dubai do not hold bilateral work treaties with the US. Therefore, citizens of non-treaty countries are excluded from this visa program unless investors hold dual nationality of treaty countries.
In recent years, many business owners are looking for Citizenship by Investment programs in countries such as Grenada. These programs act as a fast-track route to obtaining an E2 visa and access to the global business market. We’ll look at the best Citizenship by Investment options below.
Unlike the EB5 visa, the E2 visa requirements do not specify a minimum investment, or quota, of capital. The visa requirement is dependent on how much it will cost to cover most or all of the business expenses. Valid reasons should be submitted to the US Migration service during the application if the investment is small (less than $100,000). The business should be able to provide ample revenue to support the investor and family during their time in the US.
As the E2 is a non-immigrant visa, it does not directly lead to a green card. Applicants must confirm their motivation is to conduct business in the country and not to immigrate. Thus, investors must leave the US upon visa expiration.
E2 visa vs EB5 visa
Advantages of the E2 program
There are many reasons why the E2 is becoming more popular than the EB5 visa.
Faster application process
The E2 application can be completed in a few weeks. An EB5 visa can take around five to seven years.
No minimum investment
The required investment is dependent on the costs of starting and running the business. Therefore, an investment of just $100,000 could be sufficient. The minimum investment necessary to obtain an EB5 visa has increased and is much higher. An investment of $500,000 in regional centre projects is required or $900,000 in direct business investment.
Investors that meet the requirement of non-resident aliens will not be taxed as US citizens. Non-resident aliens are those who reside in the US less than 131 days a year. This means that it is only necessary to pay tax on US-based income, and not on revenue generated overseas. Holders of EB5 visas are classified as resident aliens and so are taxed on all worldwide income.
No obligation to reside in the US
Holders of an EB5 visa are required to reside in the US for a minimum of 6 months per year. However, as the E2 is a non-immigrant visa, holders are not obligated to live in the US if they do not wish.
Inclusion of spouses and dependent children
Only the main investor needs to apply. Spouses and dependent children under the age of 21 will also be issued with a visa. This entitles family members to live and attend school in the US, and spouses will be allowed to work. This is also a benefit of the EB5 visa, excluding the right to work.
Currently, the E2 Visa Improvement Act is being discussed. If this becomes law, it will see the age of dependent children increased from 21 to 26 years. It will also give dependant children permission to work.
E2 holders are able to work in the US for the duration of the visa. The EB5 requires spouses and children to apply for an Employment Authorization Document that can take around 2 years.
Lower legal fees and less paperwork
Legal fees for the E2 application process are generally around $10,000-$20,000. For the EB5 visa they are around $50,000-$70,000. As the E2 is a non-immigrant visa the process is less strict and therefore the paperwork is considerably less than the EB5.
Disadvantages of the E2 program
Although there are many advantages to the E2, some applicants may prefer to obtain an EB5 visa for the following reasons.
The E2 only allows residence for the duration of the visa, applicants are required to renew in order to stay longer. As the EB5 visa is an immigrant visa, it gives holders the right to reside permanently in the US.
No direct route to permanent residence
Applicants must confirm that they will leave the US on expiration of their E2 visa. There is no limit to the number of times the visa can be renewed, but it will not lead to an immigrant visa. Investors can obtain a green card after 2 years of holding an EB5 visa, and can enjoy the same rights as a US citizen.
Not as many countries can apply
More countries are eligible for an EB5 than an E2. Therefore, investors may have to gain a second citizenship before starting the E2 application process.
Your invested funds are at risk
Due to the nature of investment in a third party company or the creation of your own business, your funds are at risk. There is no guarantee that you will receive a return on your investment. This means that it is important to perform sufficient due diligence before parting with your investment. This risk is associated with both E2 and EB5 visas.
Obtaining the E2 visa through a second citizenship
For investors or corporate entities that are not from eligible countries for the E2 visa there is another pathway.
It is possible to gain citizenship to an eligible country. You can then use that citizenship for the application. The fastest and simplest way to gain citizenship to a different country is often through a Citizenship by Investment program. There are just 12 countries that offer citizenship through investment. Of these, the most popular countries providing access to the US E2 scheme are Grenada, Turkey, Moldova, and Montenegro.
- Turnaround time of 2-5 months.
- Provides a route to a 5-year E2 issue.
- Two investment options
- Real Estate investment for a period of five years. $220,000 minimum investment by each party for shared ownership. The minimum is $350,000 for single ownership.
- One time donation to the National Transformation Fund (NTF). A contribution of $150,000 for a single applicant or $200,000 for a family of four is required.
- Grenada passport offers visa-free access to 143 countries, including the UK, SCHENGEN and Commonwealth countries.
- See our Grenada country page for more details of the Grenada CBI program.
- Turnaround time of around 6 months.
- Provides a route to a 5-year E2 issue.
- Three investment options
- Real Estate investment of $250,000 for a period of three years.
- Deposit $500,000 in a Turkish bank for a minimum of three years.
- Invest $500,000 in Turkish REITS (investment trusts in the real estate sector) for three years.
- Provides a route to UK residence through Turkish businessperson visa.
- Turkish passport offers visa-free access to 110 countries.
- See our Turkey country page for more details of the Turkey CBI program.
- Turnaround time of 3 months.
- Provides a route to a 12-month E2 issue.
- A donation of EUR 100,000 in the form of a government fee is required. In addition, applicants can invest EUR 250,000 in development projects or real estate in underdeveloped regions or EUR 450,000 in developed regions.
- Montenegro passport offers visa-free access to 123 countries, including Australia, Canada, UK and SCHENGEN countries
- See our Montenegro country page for more details of the Montenegro CBI program.
Application process for E2 program
If you are outside the United States, then the application for the E2 Visa should be lodged in your home country. If your home country is not a treaty country, then you should submit the application from an eligible country for which you hold citizenship. Regardless, you must lodge the application on your own behalf.
You will need to register the company and file a DS-160 for yourself and any family members. You will then need to pay the application fee of $205 and schedule an interview. Interviews last 10-20 minutes and your application will usually be approved or denied at this time. Documents required for the interview include:
- Passport with at least 6 months validity
- Evidence of the establishment or purchase of the business, including any evidence of money invested or in the process of being invested.
- Documents that show funding sources, for example loan agreements, bank statements.
- A five-year business plan and budget plan.
- Resume, with any degrees or certificates included. If the applicant is an essential worker, evidence is required.
If you are already lawfully in the US as a non-immigrant, you must file a I-129 form with USCIS. There is a $460 fee to do this, as well as a possible $85 biometric fee. Once the form has been processed you meet the E2 visa requirements, and you can start your application. This will allow a change of status to E2.
Waiting times for the application process vary by location, however turnaround times usually vary from 2 weeks to 2 months.
The E2 program is a pathway for investors and businesses
The E2 visa is becoming the most popular visa for business in the US, and it’s easy to see why. Due to a lower investment requirement and faster, easier application process it is a much more appealing choice than the older EB5 visa.
The United States has the largest consumer market in the world and the highest global household spending. This makes it one of the most desirable countries to start and conduct business. Citizenship by Investment programs are providing new routes to the E2 program. This opens up the program to a wide range of nationalities that couldn’t previously gain access.
Investment schemes offered by countries such as Grenada and Turkey are increasingly attractive to foreign investors from China, India, Brazil, Russia and Dubai.
For more ways to live and work in the United States, please see our USA country page.