Comparison of the E-2 Visa and the L-1 Visa

E-2 or L-1 Visas are two visa options that investors and entrepreneurs often turn to in order to start up business operations in the U.S.. While both allow a business owner to run a business in the U.S., they have different eligibility requirements and offer different rights for the applicant. To find out more about the E-2 Visa, click here. To find out more about the L-1 visa, click here.  We have summarized some of the key differences between the E-2 Visa and the L-1 Visa below.

TOPICE-2 VISAL-1 VISA
Does a foreign entity have to exist to apply for the Visa?NoYes – In addition, the person being transferred to the U.S. must have been an employee of the foreign entity for at least 1 year.
Does the Visa require that I spend money in the U.S. before I get the Visa?Yes – E-2 Investor Visas require a “substantial” investment in the U.S.. Substantial depends on the type of business you are trying to set up. Click here for more discussion on the E-2 Investment Amount requirement. Not Really. If the company in the U.S. is a new company, you will be required to show that it is properly capitalized so that you will be able to pay employees. With the exception of the lease though (discussed below), there is no requirement to “invest” in the U.S. prior to getting the Visa.
Do I need a lease for office space?Yes – While this is not explicit in the Statute, a binding lease agreement shows that the applicant is serious. Virtual and home offices are generally not acceptable. Yes – For a new office in particular, you will be required to show that you have physical premises to house all employees. USCIS asks for pictures and square footage of the office space and virtual and home offices are not acceptable.
Where do I apply for the Visa?Most E-2 visas are processed through Consulates but if you are in the U.S. you can process a change of status through USCISUSCIS for the application and then you must go to a Consulate to get a Visa stamp when you want to enter the U.S..
Can my spouse work?YesYes
Can my child work?No but they may go to schoolNo but they may go to school
How long will the visa be granted for?An E-2 visa can be granted for up to 5 years depending on the country and the strength of the application. For a new office, an L-1 visa can be granted for 1 year. For other L-1 visas, the visa can be granted for 3 years.
Is there a maximum amount of time that the Visa can be granted for?NoYes – an L-1 visa can be issued for a maximum of 7 years.
Is the Visa Country dependent? Yes. To be eligible for an E-2 visa you must be a citizen of a Treaty Country. Click here to see the list of eligible countries. No
Do I need a business plan?YesYes
What is the Visa renewal process?As long as the business is running according to the business plan and employees have been hired, the visa renewal process is quite straight forward. Some Consulates only requests tax returns. Others want to see more about the business operations.Renewal for a new office is very difficult and stringent criteria is applied. While there is not specific guidance that deals with how many employees you should have hired in the first year, 5 employees is a good starting point. For renewing a L Visa that is not a new office, you should provide evidence of the business operations in addition to the reason the applicant still needs to remain in the U.S..
Does the Visa lead to a Green Card?No – Visas do not “lead to” green cards. If you are eligible for a green card category you can apply with both and E-2 or L-1 Visa. An L-1 visa though, is a dual intent visa so you would be able to leave the country while your green card application was outstanding and reenter the U.S.. As the E-2 visa only allows for temporary intent, you may have difficulties reentering the country if you have a green card petition outstanding. No – Visas do not “lead to” green cards. If you are eligible for a green card category you can apply with both and E-2 or L-1 Visa. An L-1 visa though, is a dual intent visa so you would be able to leave the country while your green card application was outstanding and reenter the U.S.. As the E-2 visa only allows for temporary intent, you may have difficulties reentering the country if you have a green card petition outstanding.

For more practical or legal advice contact Scott Legal, P.C.. We offer services in a number of business areas including, Immigration, New Business set up, Contract review and development and entrepreneurial support. Call 212-223-2964 or email info@legalservicesincorporated.com for a consultation.

Ian E. Scott is a Harvard Law School Graduate, lawyer and author of Law School Lowdown: Secrets of Success from the Application Process to Landing Your First Job.  Mr. Scott worked as a corporate litigator in the law firm Cleary Gottlieb and currently runs his own law firm Scott Legal, P.C. specializing in Immigration Law & New Business set-up. 

2 Comments

  1. Mohammed August 27, 2015 3:53 pm

    Very informative and well organized article. The only thing I did not really understand was the last sentence in the comparison chart. ” you may have difficulties reentering the country if you have a green card petition outstanding”
    Does that mean that if you are waiting for a number on your green card you cannot apply for the e2 visa? Thanks

    Reply
    • IanScott August 27, 2015 10:16 pm

      You can still apply but the application may be impacted by the fact that there is an immigrant petition is outstanding. It really depends on the facts.

      Reply

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