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I own a business in my home country. Should I apply for an E-2 or an L-1 visa?

Two options pictured on a sign

E-2 visa is a visa that is available for foreign nationals who wish to live in the U.S. to develop and direct the operations of a business.

L-1 visa permits a U.S. employer to transfer an employee with specialized knowledge relating to the organization’s interests or a manager/executive from one of its affiliated foreign offices to one of its offices in the United States.

If you own a company in your home country and you also own a company in the U.S., you may qualify for both the E-2 and L-1 visa. This blog post will summarize certain factors you should consider when deciding which visa you want to apply for.

Are you a national of an E-2 treaty country?

The first thing to consider is whether you are a national of an E-2 treaty country. You can find the Current list of E-2 visa treaty countries here. If you are, you may qualify for an E-2 investor visa. If you are not, then an L-1 (or perhaps another employment-based visa may be your only option).

Do you have a prior managerial/executive experience?

The next thing to consider is whether you have prior managerial/executive experience. To qualify for an L-1 visa, you will need to show that in the past 3 years you worked for one continuous year for a qualifying entity  abroad in a managerial or executive capacity.

On the other hand, you don’t need previous managerial/executive experience to qualify for an E-2 investor visa. This means that even if you never managed a company before (e.g. you own a company in your home country but don’t have any managerial/executive role in that company), you may still qualify for an E-2 visa (but Consulates do look at whether you have previous experience managing a company and/or experience from the industry when adjudicating the E-2 visa petitions).

What is the ownership structure of your foreign and U.S. entity?

For an E-2 visa, it is not required that you also have a company in your home country (and in most cases the E-2 investors don’t have company in their home country). If you do have a foreign company, then the Consulate could ask whether that company has been employing employees to see what’s the likelihood that your US company will employ employees.

On the other hand, for the L-1 visa, you need to show that there is a foreign and a U.S. entity, and these two entities have a qualifying relationship (e.g. one example of a qualifying relationship could be that you own 100% in the U.S. and 100% in the foreign entity). If there is not a qualifying relationship between the two entities, you would not qualify for the L-1 visa (unless the ownership structure changes).

How long is the L-1/E-2 visa valid for? Can I renew the visas?

This is an important factor to consider.  The E-2 visa can be issued anywhere from 3 months up to 5 years, depending on you country’s reciprocity schedule. There is no limit as to how many times you can renew the visa for, and you could keep renewing it indefinitely (or as long as you can show that you have a non-immigrant intent).

On the other hand, the L-1 executive/managerial visa can be initially granted for 3 years and can be renewed 2 times for a period of 2 years (so 7 years in total). After your 7 year period is up, you would need to qualify for another non-immigrant visa or a green card (such as for example the Eb-1c Green Card).

Therefore, some people may prefer the E-2 visa as it can be renewed indefinitely.

Have you made an investment in the U.S.?

To qualify for an E-2 visa, you will need to show that you have made a substantial investment in the U.S. This means that if you have owned the business in the U.S. for several years, you will need to go through documents to show that you personally invested money in the business to start business operations or you will need to invest additional personal funds into the business.

On the other hand, for the L-1 visa, you don’t need to show any investment so if you don’t plan to spend a substantial amount of money, an L-1 visa may be a better option.

Does the U.S. company need to be operating?

For an E-2 visa, the Company should be real and operating, meaning that the Company already started serving clients or everything is ready for the company to start operations and you are only waiting for the issuance of the E-2 visa. You don’t need to show the U.S. Company is taking revenue yet.

For an L-1 visa, you will need to show that both the U.S. and the foreign company are doing business. One exception is that you could apply for a new office L-1 visa (in this case the U.S. company does not need to be operating yet, but you will need to submit a Business Plan and the L-1 visa will also only be issued for 1 year, not 3 years).

Please read our blog post about an L-1 Manager here.

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