What do eBay, Google, Tesla, and Intel have in common? Besides a net worth in the billions of dollars, they were all founded or co-founded by immigrants. There is no denying the contribution immigrants from all over the world have made to the U.S. economy. The federal government recognizes the potential for economic growth and job creation through foreign contributions and has several paths for investors and entrepreneurs to enter the country. The experienced immigration attorneys at Trow & Rahal are well-versed in all the visa options available to international businesspeople and can help you achieve your goals of living and investing in the United States.

Temporary Visas for Foreign Investors and Entrepreneurs

Citizens of countries with which the U.S. has commercial treaties may be eligible for an E-1 (treaty trader) or E-2 (treaty investor) nonimmigrant visas. An option for a foreign company to open a U.S. branch of an existing foreign-based company could be the L-1 visa. Qualifying for these visas requires the following:

  • Treaty Traders (E-1) and Treaty Investors (E-2). These temporary visas are great options for executives and managers of companies or entrepreneurs looking to open an office in the United States. To qualify, the foreign national and fifty percent of the owners of the foreign company must have the nationality of the treaty country; they may not be permanent residents or citizens of the United States. There must be a treaty between that country and the U.S. allowing E-1 or E-2 visas. For the E-1 Treaty Trader, the company must already exist in the United States and have at least fifty percent of its business in trade with the treaty country. For the E-2 Treaty Investor, there must be a substantial investment into the U.S. company by the foreign company or investor with the treaty country nationality. Applicants typically apply for the E-1 and E-2 visas at the U.S. Consulate in their home country.  Each U.S. Consulate has its specific requirements and documentation that must be submitted to demonstrate that the eligibility requirements are met. The application can take several months to complete and then once submitted to the U.S. consulate. They will often take months to review the application and schedule an appointment.  While advance planning is required, the E-1 and E-2 visas can be optimal for foreign nationals as they can be approved in 5 year periods and have no upper limit.  While the visa in the passport is approved for 5 years, the E-2 status granted upon entry is for 2 years each entry. The spouse of an E-2 is granted E-2s status and is able to work upon entry into the United States, and the dependent children are granted E-2 status.
  • New Office L-1. The L-1 visa can be used to set up a new office in the United States which is considered an office that has been “doing business” in the United States for less than a year.  It is an effective way for someone to enter the United States to direct a new venture from a pre-existing foreign-based company. This is a great opportunity for workers to live in the United States and for companies to expand their business. The foreign national must meet all requirements of the L-1 visa, whether L-1A manager or executive or L-1B specialized knowledge.   The petition must include a business plan for opening the new office in the United States, evidence of how revenue and profit will be earned, as well as the role of the foreign national.   The USCIS approves a new office L-1 only for one year.  Before the end of that one year, the company must file another petition to extend the L-1 showing that it has customers or clients, it has hired employees and has revenue and profit. This is a high standard to meet.  It is best for a company to be up and running before filing a new office L-1 petition so that it can reach the level of business that is needed to obtain the extension.

Each of these visas has very specific requirements and complex application processes. We work with foreign companies, investors, and entrepreneurs to help them determine the best path to the United States. Once you are here on one of these visas, we can also help you with obtaining permanent resident (green card) status down the road if desired.

Immigrant Visas for Foreign Investors and Entrepreneurs Looking to Become Permanent Residents

Investors and company executives can qualify for green cards under many categories, but there are some specific immigrant visa categories designed specifically for foreign investors including the EB-5 or EB-1 visa. EB-5 investors receive up to seven percent of all employment-based immigrant visas issued worldwide each year. Briefly speaking, these programs require the following:

  • Foreign Investors (EB-5). This visa program allows a foreign investor to make an investment in a U.S. business to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States. The applicant must invest a minimum of $1,050,000 in a qualifying commercial enterprise. If the enterprise is located in a targeted employment area, (TEA) the required investment is $800,000. In addition, the enterprise must create full-time jobs for at least ten U.S. citizens for each investor. An investor can make an EB-5 investment into a private company or through a “regional center” into a pooled investment of more than one investor.  Regional Centers have to be designated as such by the USCIS and are located in a TEA for the lower investment amount.  The majority of EB-5 investments are made through a regional center.  The EB-5 petition filed with the USCIS requires in-depth information about the project in which the investment is made as well as a very detailed accounting of the source of funds for the investment to show that all the money used from the investment came from a legal source.   It is prudent to have the source of funds completed before making the total investment into the project to ensure that the documentation will satisfy the requirements.
  • Executives and Managers (EB-1c). To be eligible as a multinational manager or executive, the foreign national must be employed or be seeking employment in the United States as an executive or manager with the same company that employed him outside the United States in the same role they held for at least one year during the past three years.  The requirements are the same for an L-1 manager or executive. If the applicant first came to the U.S. on an L-1 visa for a new office/start-up, they cannot file an immigrant visa petition as a multinational manager or executive until the U.S. company has been in business for at least one year.
  • Persons of Extraordinary Ability (EB-1a). To be eligible for EB-1a status, a foreign national must have won an internationally recognized award (such as the Nobel Prize) or have extensive documentation showing sustained national or international acclaim. No specific job offer is required as long as the applicant is entering the United States to continue to work in their field of expertise.
  • National Interest Waiver (EB-2). This does not require an employer to file, and a foreign national can self-petition, just like the EB-1a Extraordinary Ability petition. To qualify for this waiver of the PERM labor certification, the foreign national’s work must be deemed to be in the national interest of the United States, and the individual must have “Exceptional Ability” or an “Advanced Degree.” Extensive documentation is required to show that the foreign national’s work will be in the “national interest” of the United States and that the foreign national is in the position to further that national interest.

These immigrant visa options are complex and involve multiple steps. Our team can advise you on the best strategies for completing the process as efficiently as possible.

Are You an Investor or Entrepreneur in Need of Legal Immigration Help?

If you are an investor or entrepreneur who needs legal immigration assistance, you should speak with an experienced immigration attorney as soon as possible. We have been helping businesspeople just like you with the immigration process since 1993 and always work towards exceeding expectations. Please contact us online or call our office directly at 202.537.4830 to discuss your specific business immigration legal needs. We service clients throughout the United States from our Bethesda, Maryland office and look forward to working with you.