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Choosing Between E-2 and L-1— Special Considerations for Canadian Citizens

A woman considering her options

What is the E-2 visa?

The E-2 visa allows foreign nationals from a treaty country to come to the U.S. to develop and direct a business. They must make a substantial investment to start or buy the business. The business must be real and operating and it cannot be marginal, meaning it must hire U.S. employees. The investor must plan to depart the U.S. when the visa ends but the visa can be renewed indefinitely as long as the E-2 company continues to run and meet the E-2 requirements.

What is the L-1 visa?

The L-1 visa allows U.S. companies to transfer an executive, manager or specialized knowledge worker from a company abroad. The U.S. company must have a qualifying relationship with the company abroad and both companies must be actively doing business.  The employee applicant must have worked for the company abroad for at least one continuous year out of the past three years in a managerial, executive or specialist role and must be coming to the U.S. to hold a managerial, executive or specialist role. The L-1 visa is a dual intent visa, which means it is fine if the applicant intends to get a green card.

Special Considerations for Canadian Citizens when Choosing E-2 or L-1

The benefits of the E-2 over the L-1 are as follows:

  • The E-2 visa can be granted in 5-year increments for Canadians. The L-1 can either be granted for one year (if it is a new office application) or for three years.
  • The E-2 visa can be renewed indefinitely as long as the company continues to meet the E-2 requirements. The L-1A can be renewed up to 7 years total and the L-1B can be renewed up to 5 years total. After that time, the foreign national would need to depart the U.S. or find a new visa category.
  • The application only focuses on one company (the E-2 company in the U.S.) This is in contrast to the L-1, where the application must provide documentation for the company abroad and the company in the U.S.

While the E-2 is often a better option than the L-1 for the reasons described above, there are some significant benefits to the L-1 and some particular benefits for Canadian citizens applying for the L-1 as described below:

  • The L-1 does not require that the foreign national make an investment into the U.S. This is in contrast to the E-2 investor visa, where the foreign national must invest a substantial amount and the investment must be at-risk and irrevocably committed.
  • The L-1 is a dual intent visa, meaning if the foreign national decides to apply for a green card, they can still renew their L-1 visa and travel internationally without any issues. The E-2 visa is not a dual intent visa, so an E-2 visa holder would need to plan more carefully as to when to file their green card application and once it was filed it could impact their ability to renew their visa and/or travel internationally.
  • For Canadian citizens, they get the special benefit of being able to apply for their initial L-1 visas at a port of entry with U.S. Customs & Border Patrol. Normally, L-1 applicants must first submit their application to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services for approval and then go to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy to get the visa stamp, however Canadians are able to apply directly at the border for their initial L-1 application. This allows the applicant to have much more control over the timing of when the visa is granted and means they do not have to go to a U.S. Consulate to get a visa stamp. Especially during the pandemic, the ability to skip the Consulate has been a huge benefit, as there are often delays in getting an appointment.

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