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E-1 Trader Visa

Overview

An E-1 Visa is a Visa Classification that is available for foreign nationals who wish to live in the U.S. based on international trade that exists between the U.S. and the Treaty Country.   In order to qualify for the Visa, applicants must meet specific requirements outlined in the requirements/eligibility section below.

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Requirements & Eligibility

The following are the key requirements for the E-1 Visa

1. You Must Be a National of a Treaty Country

The E-1 Trader Visa is only available 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.  A complete list of the countries on the list can be found by clicking here.

 “Activities as Trade” Requirement?

Trade refers to the exchange of goods or services for consideration between the treaty country and the United States. The trade between the countries must be traceable and identifiable and the trade must already exist at the time of filing. The E-1 visa does not permit a trader to come to the United States to seek out trade relationships where no trade currently exists. Under the regulations, binding contracts that show there will be an immediate exchange of trade items can meet this requirement, although in practice many Consulates require several months or a year of existing trade before they will grant an E-1 visa.

Trade items for E-1 visa purposes are defined broadly and include any item that is commonly traded in international commerce. For example, trade items may include the following: goods, services (consulting, tax services, marketing services, etc.), international banking, insurance, transportation, tourism, data processing, advertising, accounting, design, engineering, technology and its transfer (including IT consulting, IT development, etc.), and communications.

In the E-1 context “goods” are defined as tangible commodities or merchandise having extrinsic value. “Services” are defined as legitimate economic activities which provide something other than tangible goods. If the trade is in services, then providing that service must be the purpose of the business and must be the commodity that is sold to clients. Any service that is normally traded internationally can potentially qualify a trader as an E-1 treaty trader.

What Documents Should be Provided to Prove that the Activities Count as Trade?

A non-exhaustive list of the documents that can be submitted to satisfy the E-1 trade requirements is below.

  • Invoices
  • Company bank statements
  • Purchase orders
  • Inventory data
  • Bills of lading
  • DHS customs receipts
  • Sales contracts or contracts for services
  • Letters of credit
  • Insurance papers documenting commodities imported into the U.S.
  • Accounts receivable and accounts payable ledgers
  • The company’s federal income tax returns

Additionally, the trader should submit a spreadsheet listing every qualifying transaction showing the company’s trade between the Treaty Country and the U.S. for the past one to three years.

The Trade Must be Substantial

As noted above, for E-2 Treaty Investor Visa, one of the frequent questions is “how much is enough” for an investment to qualify as “substantial.” In the context of E-1 Treaty Trader Visa, “substantial” is defined differently.

“Substantial Trade” is defined as follows:

The word “substantial” is intended to describe the flow of the goods or services that are being exchanged between the treaty countries. The trade must be a continuous flow that should involve numerous transactions over time. The applicant should focus primarily on the volume of trade conducted but may also consider the monetary value of the transactions as well. Although the number of transactions and the value of each transaction will vary, greater weight should be accorded to cases involving more numerous transactions of larger value.

The smaller businessman should not be excluded if demonstrating a pattern of transactions of value. Thus, proof of numerous transactions, although each may be relatively small in value, might establish the requisite continuing course of international trade. Income derived from the international trade that is sufficient to support the treaty trader and family should be considered favorably when assessing the substantiality of trade in a particular case. 

For entrepreneurs and smaller companies, particularly those engaged in trade in services, the Department of State is likely to consider if the income derived from the international trade is sufficient to support the treaty trader and his or her family.

What Documents Should be Provided to Satisfy the “Substantial Trade” Requirement?

Ultimately, whether the trade will be considered substantial and continuous, and how to best document the trade, depends on the business model and goods or services traded. Pay particular attention to the website of the Consulate or Embassy, which might have very specific instructions for how the application should be presented, down to the order and at some Posts, the number of pages.

The list reflects what Consular Officers might expect to see, but of course, not all of these items may be available. A selection of the best available evidence is needed, while being mindful of page and size limits. Reference should also be made to the regulations for a list of suggested documentation that may establish an alien’s eligibility for an E-1 or E- 2 visa, in those instances where additional support may be needed beyond the requirements set forth by the post.

The Trade Must be Principally Between the U.S. and the Treaty Country

What is the “Percentage of Trade” Requirement?

The international trade of the E-1 business must be principally between the U.S. and the Treaty Country, meaning more than 50% of the total volume of the international trade that the E-1 business conducts must be between the U.S. and the Treaty Country. Domestic trade should not be taken into account when determining the trade volume. For example, a company in Austria manufactures glass and exports it to other countries and within Austria. We assume the sales breakdown includes total domestic sales of $100,000, total sales to the U.S. of $700,000 and total sales to China of $300,000. In this example, the total sales for the company are $1,100,000. However, when calculating the international trade, the $100,000 domestic trade is not included, meaning that the total international trade is $1,100,000. The U.S. trade of $700,000 constitutes exactly 70% of the international trade. The company would therefore satisfy the principal trade requirement since over 50% of the international trade is with the U.S.

What Documents Should Be Provided to Satisfy the “Percentage of Trade” Requirement?

The trade spreadsheet listing every qualifying transaction showing the company’s trade between the Treaty Country and the U.S. for the past one to three years can also show the percentage of international trade that was conducted between the United States and the treaty country. The applicant may also submit a statement from the company’s CPA showing the percentages of all international trade, including trade conducted with third countries (imports/exports) over the last year.

You must intend to return to your Home Country after the expiration of the E-1 visa

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E-1 Visa Requirements Video

Application Process

There are two ways you can apply for an E-2 visa. These are described below.

1. Applying for an E-1 Visa While in the U.S. (Change of Status)

If you are in the U.S. on a visa (e.g. H-1B or F-1), you can file a petition to change status to an E-1 Visa with the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS).  This is done by filing the Form I-129, which is the same form that you file for many other non-immigrant visas (e.g. H-1B). You would also complete the E-1 visa supplement.  This petition is document-intensive and you must provide documentation to support all of the elements outlined in the E-1 visa requirements.   If your petition is granted, it is best to think of yourself as being “in E-1 status” rather than having an E-1 “visa” as the change of status does NOT permit you to reenter the country the way an E-1 visa would.  E-1 status is typically granted for a 2-year period.  Finally, if you have dependents on your visa that are also in the U.S. (e.g. H-4) and you want to change their status, you must also file a Form I-539.

2. Applying for an E-1 Visa at a Consulate (Obtaining an E-1 Visa)

If you are outside of the U.S., you must file a DS-160, a long application that is completed online.  You must also complete a DS-156E supplement.  The exact instructions on how to apply for the visa are usually outlined on the website of the relevant consulate and the documentation that you must provide is generally the same as the documentation you would provide if you were filing in the U.S. with USCIS.  That being said, the consulate may impose additional procedural requirements.  The visas are typically granted for between 2 & 5 years and you are permitted to leave and enter the U.S. whenever you like.  If you have dependents, separate DS-160 applications must be completed for them.  Click here to find out more about deciding whether to apply for an E visa at a consulate or through a change of status.

How long does the Visa last for?

If processed as a change of status, the time period will generally be 2 years.  If processed at a consulate, the visa can be valid for up to 5 year but the actual time will depend on the reciprocity agreement between countries and the decision taken by the consulate. See more detail on E Visa length and E Visa reciprocity by clicking here.

How are family members treated?

E-1 Treaty Traders can get an E-1 derivative visa for the spouse and children under 21.  The spouse can get work authorization but the children cannot. All parties may attend school in the U.S..

Other considerations or related articles?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for E-1 Trader Visa

An E-1 visa is a Treaty Trader Visa and allows nationals from certain countries to live and work in the United States to engage in international trade between the U.S. and their home country.  In order to be eligible, the foreign national must come from a Treaty Country. A full list of Treaty Countries can be found by clicking here.

1. What is Trade?

International trade is the import and export of goods and services between countries, and the definition of what constitutes trade under an E-1 Visa is quite broad. For example, the following items can be classified as trade:

  • Products and goods such as merchandise, food, mechanical equipment, manufactured products, commodities, natural resources and more.
  • Services – for example, a company that is resident in a treaty country may offer IT services to companies in the U.S. and this would be considered trade.
  • Finance and Banking Transactions – The flow of financial products or services between the U.S. and a treaty country
  • Insurance – the offering of insurance products or services between countries
  • Transportation – the offering of transportation services (e.g. an airline, bus, etc.) between countries
  • Tourism services offered between countries
  • Any good or service that can be exchanged

2. What are the Requirements of an E-1 Visa?

An E-1 Visa has three main requirements, which are as follows:

  1. You are a national of a treaty country:
    1. A full list of Treaty Countries can be found by clicking here. Being a member of a Treaty Country means having a passport from that country.
  2. You carry on “substantial” trade of goods and/or services:
    1. Substantial is not defined in the statute but the higher the volume of trade (in terms of number of transactions) and the dollar value, the better.
    2. Sustained trade over $100,000. Trade under $100,000 would generally be too low and the trade should be sustained over a period of time (usually at least a year but shorter times could be considered).
  3. You carry on “principal” trade of goods and/or services between the U.S. and your home Treaty Country:
    1. Principal trade means that the trade that occurs between the Treaty Country and the U.S. represents approximately 51% of the total trade of your business.
    2. The documentation requirement involves producing extensive documentation regarding the trade that has occurred over a period of time.

3. What is the Type of Evidence Required for an E-1 Visa?

The primary evidence required for an E-1 visa is proof of the international trade between the Treaty Country and the U.S. As such, the documentation usually includes the following:

  • Purchase orders or bills of lading showing shipping of goods
  • Contracts between the treaty country enterprise and U.S. companies (clients) for services
  • Customs documentation and/or import-export duties documents
  • Documentation showing payment receipts/payments to foreign enterprises
  • Accounts receivable (A/R) and accounts payable (A/P) ledgers showing cross-border clients
  • Client lists
  • Other documents showing that the international trade is substantial and that at least 51% of the trade is between the U.S. and the Treaty Country.

4. How is an E-1 Visa Different from an E-2 Visa?

An E-2 visa is a visa that requires a foreign national to invest a certain amount of money in the U.S. and also hire U.S. workers.  A full list of E-2 visa requirements can be found by clicking here.

For a more direct comparison of the differences between the E-1 and E-2 Visas click here.

5. What are Some Examples of an E-1 Business?

  • A fashion company or clothing seller that has a significant amount of international sales to U.S. customers.
  • An Information Technology company that provides services (at least 51% of services) to U.S. clients
  • An import/export company that exports a large number of products (food, commodities, car parts, etc.) to the U.S.
  • A television or production company that wants to make a movie or TV show in the U.S. and has done this often in the past such that greater than 50% of the services they are offering are in the U.S.

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