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Are the visa validity period and reciprocity fees the same for both the principal E-2 visa applicant and their dependent spouse and children?

A happy family of 3 smiling next to some questions marks

The E-2 investor and E-2 employee visas can be excellent options for nationals of E-2 treaty countries who want to build a business in the United States, or to work in the United States for a company that is a registered E-2 business. To learn more about the E-2 employee visa and its requirements, see here; for the E-2 investor requirements, please see here. To learn more about the E-2 business registration process, please see our earlier post here.

What benefits do the dependents (spouse and children) of the E-2 investor or E-2 employee receive?

In addition to often being the ideal visa option for entrepreneurs who want to start or grow a business in the United States – whether they have a startup, are opening a franchise, or are buying an existing business, the E-2 visa can be issued for up to 5 years, and can be renewed indefinitely. Another significant benefit of the E-2 visa is that the dependent spouse and children of the principal E-2 investor or E-2 employee also receive benefits. Specifically, the spouse of the E-2 principal can work and study in the United States, and the children of the E-2 principal can enroll in school.

As of January 2022, the spouse of a principal E-2 visa holder (whether an investor or an employee) receives work authorization automatically as part of their status. This means that they no longer need to apply for a separate work permit upon their arrival in the United States. For more information on this important update, please see our earlier post here. As of April 2022, the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), the Department’s primary directive for consular officers, explicitly acknowledges this important benefit for E-2 spouses at 9 FAM 402.9-9(e).

Must the E-2 dependent spouse and children pay the visa reciprocity fee?

Yes. The reciprocity fee differs from country to country, and is listed on the U.S. Department of State’s website here. This provision of the FAM (9 FAM 402.9-9(b)) makes clear that the dependent spouse and children must each pay the same reciprocity fee as the principal E-2 investor or E-2 employee.

While some E-2 countries have no reciprocity fee, others, such as Australia, have a substantial reciprocity fee. In the case of Australia, each family member – the principal E-2 visa applicant, their spouse, and each of their children – must pay the reciprocity fee of $3,574. For a family of four, this additional fee of more than $14,000 is significant for many applicants.

For more information on the reciprocity fee, please visit our earlier post on the subject here.

Are the visa validity period and other limitations on the principal applicant’s E-2 visa the same for their dependent spouse and children?

Consular officers are specifically instructed to grant the spouse and children of the principal E-visa applicant the same visa validity period and number of entries. This instruction was explicitly adopted by the Foreign Affairs Manual in April 2022, at section 9 FAM 402.9-9(b).

The visas issued to the spouse and children of the principal E-2 applicant should also have the same limitations that apply to the principal E-2 applicant’s visa. One exception to this general rule is when the principal has changed status through USCIS and has not been issued a visa. The Foreign Affairs Manual states as follows:

“If the principal applicant’s visa is limited in validity/entries by special processing, the visa for the derivatives should be limited and not exceed the period of validity or number of entries of the principal, except where the principal has changed status domestically and has not been issued a visa – at which time the visa should be issued based on the reciprocity arrangement that exists with the country of the principal applicant.” 9 FAM 402.9-9(b).

The “reciprocity arrangement” mentioned in the FAM is similar to the reciprocity fee – for each country, the United States has determined a specific visa validity period that ranges from three months to five years. The visa validity period determined by the reciprocity arrangement, like the reciprocity fee, can be found on the U.S. Department of State’s website here. For more information on how the reciprocity arrangement affects the visa validity period, please see our earlier post on the topic here.

It is important to remember that the principal E-2 applicant and each of their dependents will each receive a separate Form I-94 upon each entry to the United States. The Form I-94 – not the visa validity period – controls the length of time that each individual can remain in the United States, and this period of time could differ for each individual. It is critical, therefore, that each individual check their Form I-94 expiration date upon each entry to the United States. They can do so by visiting the CBP website here and clicking “Get Most Recent I-94” at the top of the page.

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