An E-2 visa is an investor visa that is issued to entrepreneurs who wish to start or buy a business in the U.S.. The investor must invest a certain amount of money in the U.S. (usually much greater than $50,000) and the business must ultimately create U.S. jobs. The investor must also be from a designated country that the U.S. has an investor treaty with. Countries all over the globe qualify including Canada, Australia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Spain, France, Egypt, Senegal, and many more.
An E-2 visa can be issued for up to 5 years but the actual amount of time that it is issued is based on the discretion of the consular officer that adjudicates your petition but also the reciprocity between the applicant’s country and the United States.
Where a 5 year issuance period is available (eg. for a Canadian Citizen), a consular officer has the option of issuing the visa for 5 years or for some lesser period. If the investor seeks to come to the U.S. to run the business indefinitely, the applicant may request a 5 year period (which can later be renewed) for the visa but in some cases the consular officer may issue the visa for less time (eg. 2 years). The consular officer may issue the visa for less time as he/she may want to revalidate the business plan in a couple of years to see if the business is on track. When the applicant comes back to renew the visa and the consular officer sees that they have hired employees and that the business is a success, they will usually issue the visa for a 5 year period at that point.
The other significant factor that determines the length of time an E-2 visa is issued for is the reciprocity schedule between the U.S. and the applicant’s country. The reciprocity means the maximum amount of time a non-immigrant visa can be issued for. For example, many countries have B visas that can be issued for 10 years and this means that the applicant can visit the U.S. multiple times using the same visa and will not have to apply for another one during that time. In this case though, the applicants typically only have a 6 month stay in the U.S. after which they must leave and reenter. While reciprocity for E-2 visas for many countries is 5 years it is very low for other countries. In fact, the reciprocity for some countries is 3 months which creates certain considerations for applicants.
It is important to understand what the 3 months means as this is a complicated area. When an E-2 visa is only valid for 3 months, the 3 months represents the time that an applicant would have to enter after he/she obtained the visa at the consulate. It does NOT dictate how long you may stay in the U.S. and run your business. Once the applicant enters the U.S. (once anyone enters on an E-2 even if they have a 5 year E-2 visa and they only have one day left on their visa) they are entitled to 2 years in E-2 status to run their business. This status can be renewed with USCIS indefinitely OR if the applicant leaves the country after the 3 month period, he/she would renew the visa at a consulate.
The key point to remember in this area of reciprocity is that Visas determine your ability to enter the U.S. and Government Regulation determines how long you can stay for. For an E-2 visa, regulation determines that when an applicant enters, they are entitled to 2 years on E-2 status as long as they continue to run the business and do not leave the country.
This concept is complicated and you should consult a qualified attorney if you are a citizen of a country that has a low reciprocity period (eg. Bangladesh, Iran, Armenia).
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