The Visa Waiver Program or ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is a program that allows citizens from certain countries (38 countries) to apply for admission to the U.S. using a simplified process. The applicant can use a web interface to answer certain questions and can be granted ESTA online. This contrasts to other countries where the applicants must go to a U.S. Consulate and apply for a B1/B2 visa.
The benefit of ESTA is that it is fast, inexpensive and efficient. The applicant can enter the U.S. quickly (does not have to wait for a visa appointment) and the validity period is 2 years. The down side is that applicants entering on Visa waiver can only stay in the U.S. for 90 days and they cannot change or adjust status. (adjustment of status can be done if you marry a U.S. citizen).
Can I Set up my E-2 visa while on ESTA?
Yes. When you enter on ESTA, you are admitted on either B-1 or B-2 status whether you enter on ESTA or a B1/B2 Visa. If you are coming to the U.S. to advance your E-2 company, you will be admitted on B-1 status. You should note that whether you enter using a B1/B2 visa or you enter on Visa Waiver/ESTA the business activities that you are permitted to engage in are the same. There is a common misconception that entering on a B1/B2 visa gives you the ability to do “more” in terms of business activities in the U.S., this is not correct. ESTA limits your ability to extend, change or adjust status and limits the time you can stay in the U.S. to 90 days but does not stop you from doing anything you could do if you entered on a B1/B2 visa.
Please be advised, while you can set up your company on ESTA, you must apply for the E2 visa at a consulate as ESTA does not permit changing status.
You can find more about permitted B-1 activities by clicking here.
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