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Can I apply for an E-1 visa if my company is a start-up?

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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 and a full list of Treaty countries can be found by clicking here. This blog post will analyze if you can apply for an E-1 visa if your company is a new start-up company that only recently started operations.


You have a start-up entity in the U.S. and you are trading with your home country (you are selling products through your U.S. company to clients in your home country). You are running the U.S. entity from abroad and you only started operating 3 months ago, but you are wondering whether you could apply for an E-1 visa.

To qualify for an E-1 visa, you will need to meet the E-1 visa requirements. Start-ups can qualify for an E-1 visa, but there are few specific considerations you should keep in mind:

Is the E-1 trade substantial?

You may have a hard time showing that the trade is substantial if your company only recently started operating (such as above 3 months ago) and the trade volume is just picking up. For the E-1 trade to be substantial, there must be a continuous flow of trade items between the U.S. and the treaty country. This means, that there must be numerous trade exchanges between the U.S. and the treaty country over time.

The minimum period of time we would want to see would be at least 6 months but depending on the number of transactions with each client and the number of clients you have, we may recommend that the business trades for a bit longer before we apply for the E1 visa. Additionally, the minimum amount we would want to see is at least 250,000 in trade in those past 6 months, and you must be conducting business with numerous clients (preferably 5 or more), and there must be numerous transactions over the time with each client (for example, you could not just issue one invoice to each client – such trade would not be substantial).

Is your international trade principally with the U.S.?

To qualify for an E-1 visa, you will also need to show that the majority of your international trade (more than 50%) is with the U.S. This may be a challenge for some start-ups who focus on trading with any clients (from any countries) to earn revenue/profits, while for you to qualify for an E1 visa, at least 50% of your international trade would have to be between the US and your home country. This requirement needs to be met at the time you apply for an E1 visa (and even after the E1 visa is granted).

If you are starting a start-up in the U.S. and you are deciding between the E-1 and the E-2 visa, the E-1 visa has some great advantages, especially for start-ups.

One advantage of the E-1 visa (over the E-2 visa) if you are starting your company in the U.S. is, that you don’t need to make any investment in the U.S. (which is great if you own a start up and you want to save as much money as possible after starting the operations). Another advantage of the E-1 visa is that you don’t need to hire any employees – this is not a requirement like it is for an E-2 visa (however if the US business does have employees, that would be helpful for the visa petition).

On the other hand, you don’t need to show any history of trade/revenue for an E-2 visa. This means, that you can set up an entity in the U.S, make an investment in the U.S, create a business plan outlining your hiring and revenue projections, and even before you start taking any revenue, get an E-2 visa.

You should speak with an experienced immigration attorney to advise you on the best visa option for your business.

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