Want To Start A Small Business in the United States? An E-2 Visa May Be Perfect For You.

The idea of starting your own business may always have been something at the forefront of your mind.  It certainly was for me but given that I was not a green card holder, I thought starting my own business was not an option for me.  I was also not encouraged by the “Big” business EB-5 green card category where a $1 Million dollar investment is required.  When I became a lawyer and realized I wanted to start my own law firm, I quickly realized though that the E-2 Treaty Investor Visa was the perfect option for me.   The key advantages of the E-2 Visa is the infinite duration, the fact that your family can come with you and also work in the U.S., & the relatively small investment amount that is required.   In fact, your dream of becoming a business owner in the U.S. could become a reality by spending as little as $15,000.  The remainder of this post summarizes the main requirements for an E-2 Visa and some of the common issues.

1.      You Must Be National of A Treaty Country

The E-2 Investor Trader Visa is only to people from the countries that the U.S. has a Treaty with.  Many Western countries are on the list but there are also countries from Africa, Asia and the Middle East on the list.  Israel was just recently added to the list.   A complete list of the countries on the list can be found here.

2.      You Must Have Invested or Be Actively in the Process of Investing

In order to satisfy this part of the test, you must fulfill three requirements.

i)Show Legitimate Possession and Control of the Funds

You must invest funds that you have obtained from a lawful means.  While dollar for dollar accounting is not required, you must prove to the Government that you either saved the money, were given the money as a gift or legitimately earned the money.  There are various forms of proof that will satisfy this requirement including tax returns, bank statements, investment accounts & more.  For some countries, this can be problematic if records are not readily available or the country is subject to a high degree of corruption.  When I applied, I showed the government 10 years worth of tax returns, my current W-2, my 401K investment statements and my bank statements.

ii)All Funds Invested are “At Risk” & Irrevocably Committed

All of the assets invested must be personal assets subject to risk of loss and this really means that you actually have something to lose.  Loans are fine but you must be on the hook if there is a loss and this requirement forces you to sign contracts and/or spend money prior to the approval of the Visa.  When I applied, I signed a one-year office space lease and would have been required to pay approximately $24,000 even if the Visa was not approved.  At risk money does include credit card debt or other loans as long as those debts are not secured by business assets or in the name of a limited liability business.  This provision is one of the “scarier” provisions related to an E-2 Visa.

iii) You Must Be Close to The Start of Business

While you cannot accept money from clients or “do business” until the Visa is approved, you must be close to starting your business.  The idea here is that the U.S. government does not want to approve Visas for people who “may” set up a business in the U.S. or who have a “desire” to start a business.   As such, your business must be at the start up ready phase.  This means you should have a signed lease, your business bank account should be set up, you should have a website, and you should have purchased what ever you need to get the business up and running.

3.      You Must Be in a Position to “Develop & Direct” the Business With Skills

You cannot get the E-2 Visa unless you are the one that is going to direct and run the business. Also, you must have the appropriate skill set such that the Government has faith that the business will be viable. For example, you would likely not have much success getting and E-2 Visa if you wanted to open a restaurant if the only experience you had was eating in a restaurant.  Normally, your educational background and experience should suggest that you will be in a position to make the business a success.

4.      Your Investment Must Be Substantial

The U.S. Government does not have a predetermined amount that they consider substantial.  As such, your investment could be as low as $15,000 or as high as millions.  I invested around $50,000 but only spent $13,000 for equipment, furniture and other items.  I also deposited $35,000 in my business account as operating working capital.  You should note that idle cash sitting in a business account is NOT considered an investment but the government will consider a reasonable amount of working capital as part of an investment. This small investment was sufficient because I was setting up a service oriented business which does not cost much to set up.  If the business was say a car manufacturer, the required investment amount would have been substantially more.   You should ensure that you keep records of all of your expenditures as the government will want to see them.

5.      Your Investment & Business Cannot Be Marginal

This means that the business cannot be set up so that it provides a means of living just for yourself and family.  You can demonstrate a business is not marginal by putting together a business plan that shows growth over a 5-year period or by showing that you plan to hire employees in the futurel

6.      You Must Intend to Return to Your Home Country After Expiration

This is not a difficult test to meet and all you must do is sign a document that indicates you plan to return home once your visa expires.  Unlike many other visas you do not have to show any ties to your home country like a home there.

All in all this is a great Visa for those who wish to start a small business in the U.S..  The Visa does have an extensive documentation requirement and you are strongly advised to seek the assistance of a lawyer.   Scott Legal Services, P.C., has actually been through the process and successfully filed the Visa petition for this business so who better go guide you.  Click here to find out more. You can also call us at 1-888-529-2964 or email us at iscott@legalservicesincorporated.com.

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  1. Akira Hirai July 9, 2012 8:02 pm

    Ian – this is a very helpful and informative article. In case your readers want to dig deeper into the business plan requirements of the visa, we published a blog post recently that may be helpful: http://www.caycon.com/blog/2012/05/you-can-live-and-work-in-the-u-s/

    Best regards,
    Akira Hirai

  2. R. Hidalgo July 10, 2012 4:39 pm

    Interesting article. There is a sentence that reads: “A complete list of the countries on the list can be found here”. I am afraid that the link to the member countries to the treaty has not been provided. Could you please give that missing information?

  3. Joseph S. Tann, Jr. July 11, 2012 2:16 pm


    Excellent article. If investment in an existing US business versus starting a new business in the US is desired, I represent two “green businesses” — a wind turbine company and a new technology battery rapid charge company — which are positioned for EB-5 investment. I will gladly provides details to sincere interests. Take care.


  4. Blanca Funes July 18, 2012 4:33 am

    can you post some information in regards to the time frame the visa is valid? one year, two years, i mean for those people who might like to know…

    • IanScott July 18, 2012 11:22 am

      Sure. If you are already in the U.S. on another Visa, you can either adjust your status or apply and then reenter the country. If you adjust status, the Visa is good for two years. If you apply and reenter, the Visa is good for 5 years. The Visa is renewable as long as you continue to run the business so one could spend the rest of one’s life in the U.S. if that was the desire.

  5. Andrew Jackson October 8, 2012 5:45 am

    I am Andrew Jackson, a financial writer. Today I came across your site (legalservicesincorporated.com) and enjoyed reading your article on finance. I just want to know if you allow guest posts? I would like to write on a relevant topic that is still to cover on your blog. I will make sure that my articles will be completely original to serve the quality. I do believe your readers will enjoy reading it. It will be a great honour for me if my article finds a place in your blog. Please let me know about your decision.

    Best regards,
    Andrew Jackson

  6. Immigration Advice Canterbury March 7, 2013 6:47 pm

    I blog often and I genuinely appreciate your content.
    This article has really peaked my interest. I will book mark your site and keep checking for new
    details about once a week. I subscribed to your Feed as well.

  7. Fernanda August 26, 2013 2:00 am

    Hi, thanks for your article it is very helpul
    I have aquestion , I have an E2 is there any chance to start another bussiness with the same visa?

    Thanks in advanced

    • IanScott August 26, 2013 12:27 pm

      Hello, You could apply to USCIS or the Consulate to get the nature of your business changed so that it includes the new business. We could help with this if you wish.

  8. Martha Monteiro October 17, 2013 12:42 pm

    Hello Ian Scott. great article.
    would Brazil or Portugal be out of this visa them? Please let me know.

    • IanScott October 19, 2013 12:52 am

      They are not on the list. The eligible countries gets updated occasionally. For example, Israel was recently added.

  9. Ali Malik January 5, 2014 3:25 am

    I am interested in E2 startup business. I have few business plans and would like to know more about them,

    Can you please call me or let me know my contact details are below.

    Many Thanks

    Ali Malik
    954 798 8756

  10. Sikander March 2, 2014 5:23 pm

    I have B1 visa valid for 5 years, i want to buy a C-Store in New York, and then apply for adjustment of status from B1 to E-2, someone told me that Interview at USCIS is Not required if Applicant is already in USA and applies for Adjustment of status and decision is made on Documents Only without interview.
    and he told that interview is required Only if applicant applies in his home country at U.S. consulate. IS IT CORRECT SIR?

    and in above comments i did read that if You Apply and Re-enter ,then visa is issued for 5 years, could You plz explain it more that if i Apply for E-2 visa while being already in USA and then if i go out of usa before approval is done then How would i re-enter ?
    and approval of adjustment of status is done in my absence then i would re-enter on B1 visa? and receive E-2 visa in USA? or i will get some Approval Document in my home country and send that to US consulate in my country and visa will be issued in my passport then i can re-enter only?

    • IanScott March 2, 2014 5:35 pm

      Thank you very much for contacting us and we welcome the opportunity to help you with your legal needs. At your earliest convenience, we would be happy to offer you a consultation with one of our lawyers. If after the consultation you decide to hire us to work on your matter, our $250 one hour consultation fee will be waived and the amount will be applied towards your future bill. (As such, the consultation would be free). In order to protect and be fair to you, our current clients and the firm, we only offer legal advice after an attorney-client relationship has been established. While some legal questions appear straight forward, a proper answer requires a review of the facts and circumstances as well as an application of legal knowledge. Moreover, almost all questions require follow up and additional analysis that is best done during a consultation. We look forward to working with you and please contact us if you would like to set up a consultation.​


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