The United States is open for business. In 2017, the U.S. economy experienced two consecutive quarters of GDP growth exceeding 3% for the first time since 2014, and just barely missed hitting that mark for three consecutive quarters. At the end of last year, lawmakers enacted a tax reform bill that will make it much easier to build a profitable business in the U.S. For foreign investors, there is a major opportunity to cash in on the friendly business climate and booming economy with an E2 visa business in the USA.
Why should foreign investors consider a business in the United States?
America boasts one of the most vibrant economic climates in the world. The consumers in the U.S. have money to spend, and there are countless thriving industries for foreign investors to take part in. Recent changes have made the business climate even better. The aforementioned tax reform bill lowered the corporate tax rate from 35% down to 21% – making the corporate rate in the U.S. among the most competitive in the developed world. What’s more, countless regulations have been rolled back or eliminated in the past year, making it far easier to do business here.
Living in the U.S. is another factor to consider. The U.S. is perhaps the most developed country in the world, and virtually every convenience imaginable is at your fingertips. More importantly from a business standpoint, it is far easier to sell products and services here, and investors have greater access to venture capitalists, angel investors, and others who specialize in startup investments. If you have a dream to be in business for yourself, there are few better places to make that dream a reality than in the U.S.
What is the E2 visa?
The E2 is an investor visa that allows foreign nationals who originate from a qualifying country to immigrate to the United States and invest in and operate a business. Citizens from approximately 80 countries qualify for the program; including countries such as Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, South Korea, Honduras, and Costa Rica. Though most major countries qualify, there are some exceptions. For example, if you are from Russia, China, or Israel, you are not eligible to obtain an E2 business visa for the USA. For a full listing of qualifying E2 countries, go here.
If you are from an eligible country, you can qualify for an E2 visa by meeting certain requirements. These include:
Making a “substantial” investment in a U.S.-based business;
Investing in a business that is “not marginal”;
Owning at least a 50% interest in the business;
Living in the U.S. and participation in the day-to-day operations of the business;
The ability to prove that you obtained the funds for investment legally.
Many of these requirements are subjective, meaning there are no concrete guidelines and the determination as to whether or not you qualify is at the discretion of the USCIS officer.
Perhaps the most important variable that falls into this category is the investment amount. The USCIS provides no specific dollar amount that you have to be investing, just the term “substantial”. However, though there is no set amount, you can get a pretty good idea of what you need from past experience.
Experience has shown us that $100,000 USD is the minimum amount you should have to invest in an E2 visa business in the USA. We have heard of approvals for smaller amounts, but going that route is far more risky. In fact, since the new Administration took over last year, $150,000 USD seems like a safer figure to work with. The USCIS also likes to see that your investment is going to create at least 2 jobs for American workers. This is one of the primary objectives of the program, so plan on showing how your new business will employ workers in the U.S.
Another area to consider is the type of business you are investing in. The USCIS does not want to see “marginal” businesses. And by that they mean businesses that are sketchy and lack a proven model and concrete business plan. Examples include multi-level marketing (MLM) companies and internet marketing. Though not all businesses in these categories are scams, there are simply too many of these types that are not legitimate, and it is too difficult for the USCIS to sort out the good ones from the bad ones.
Advantages of the E2 Business Visa
The USA is one of the most desirable places in the world in which to live, and the E2 investor visa helps you get there without family, employment, or school connections. This makes the E2 visa a unique path that anyone from an eligible country who meets the other qualifications can take advantage of.
Some of the most important benefits of the E2 business visa include:
Quick Processing: From the time you lodge your application, you can typically gain approval for your E2 visa within 2-4 months. This is much faster than many other types of visas.
Family Can Come: You can bring your spouse and children under the age of 21 to live with you in the USA.
Spouse Can Work: Your E2 business is not necessarily your only source of income. Your spouse can also work and provide additional income. This can be especially advantageous in situations wherein your spouse is a nurse or is in another high demand profession but cannot find a U.S. employer to sponsor a worker visa.
Can Renew Indefinitely: Technically, the E2 is a temporary non-immigrant visa that is valid for 2-5 years depending on your country of origin. However, you can renew the visa as many times as you want as long as the business you invest in is still operational.
Does an E2 business visa in the USA lead to a green card?
The short answer is no – not directly anyway. As mentioned earlier, the E2 is a non-immigrant visa that provides temporary residence in the USA. It cannot be converted directly to a permanent resident immigrant visa with green card status. That said, if your goal is to obtain a green card, an E2 visa can be combined with other avenues to help you get there.
Here are a few examples of how an E2 business visa can lead to a green card in the USA:
Family-Visa Conversion: If you have a family member already in the U.S., you may be able to enter now on an E2 visa while your family-based visa petition is being processed. Family visas can take several months to several years to process, depending on the category you are in. An E2 visa can allow you to stay in the U.S. until your family-based petition comes through.
Employment Visa for Spouse: I mentioned earlier that spouses can get a work permit to obtain employment outside your business. This could provide your spouse the opportunity to find a company willing to sponsor a worker visa. These types of visas are complicated and have annual caps, but if your spouse is already here and employed by a U.S.-based company, he/she can gain an inside track that can allow them to become sponsored much sooner than those who are outside the country and waiting to come in.
Conversion to an EB5 Immigrant Visa: What if you have no family connections and no employment connections from your spouse but still want a green card? There is still a way to obtain this through an EB5 visa. The EB5 is a permanent visa investor program for foreign nationals with larger amounts of capital to invest – typically $500,000 to $1 million USD or more.
The challenge with the EB5 program – aside from the higher capital requirements – is the complexity of the program and long wait times. Like employment visas, there are annual caps and it typically takes up to two years or longer for approval. If you go the E2 route, however, you can come here immediately (or in 2 to 4 months), start your business, and apply for the EB5. By the time your E2 is up for renewal, your EB5 should already be approved and you will have your green card.
What types of businesses are likely to qualify for an E2 visa?
The USCIS is looking for businesses that are legitimate, and they will expect you to present a detailed business plan to show how your E2 visa business will meet its goals of employing at least 2 Americans and achieving profitability. One of the best types of businesses for the E2 visa program are franchises. Franchise businesses are those that represent a company and their brand.
Well-known examples of this include McDonald’s and Subway. Most restaurant locations for these two fast food chains are owned by franchisees. But franchising is not just limited to the food industry; there are also franchise opportunities in industries such as automotive, children’s services, pet care, cleaning, home healthcare, and many others.
By investing in an E2 visa franchise, you are partnering with an established brand that provides the business plan you will need for your consulate approval, as well as in-depth training and support. The company you partner with has a vested interest in your success, because their name and reputation are on the line. They will work closely with you to help choose a location and take all the other necessary steps to get up and running.
E2 visa approvals can be challenging, but by working with an established franchise brand, your chances of success at your interview will skyrocket. Franchise companies are well-known to USCIS officers, and they know the business is legitimate. By going the franchise route, you have a much better chance to realize your dream of owning and operating your own E2 visa business in the USA.