E-1 Visas for Treaty Traders

Many foreign-born entrepreneurs can be authorized to create, invest in, and maintain businesses within the United States through the use of E-1 visas. These visas were established to encourage economic interaction between the United States and other bilateral countries.

According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, non-immigrant E-1 visas can be issued to those who will carry on substantial trade through the enterprise in which they have invested. The foreign national who applies for an E-1 visa must be a national of a country with which the United States holds a treaty of commerce and navigation or a bilateral investment treaty that encompasses the E-1 visa classification.

Those applying for an E-1 visa should be ready to prove that their investment in the enterprise will benefit the job market within the United States.

Although E-1 visas do not provide U.S. Permanent Residency, they are renewable and can provide a means to live and work in the United States for an indefinite number of years.

General Requirements for Treaty Traders (E-1 Visas)

For the foreign national to qualify for an E-1 visa, the following criteria must be met:

  • The treaty trader must be a citizen of a country with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation, also known as a bilateral investment treaty.

  • There must be ownership and control of the company by citizens of the treaty country. Hence, at least 50% of the commercial enterprise must be owned by a citizen, or citizens, of the treaty country who are not dual citizens of the United States or U.S. Permanent Residents.

  • The business in which the foreign national is to work must carry on substantial trade between the United States and the treaty country.

  • The principal trade which the business carries on must be between the United States and the country of which the treaty trader is a national.

Trade is the existing international exchange of items of trade for consideration between the United States and the treaty country. Items of trade may include, but are not limited to:

  • Goods
  • Services
  • International banking
  • Insurance
  • Transportation
  • Tourism
  • Technology and its transfer

Substantial trade generally refers to the continuous flow of sizable international trade items, involving numerous transactions over time. There is no minimum requirement regarding the monetary value or volume of each transaction. Both the monetary value of transactions and the number of transactions are important factors in considering substantiality, although numerous transactions over time can be seen as more important than a few large transactions. See 8 CFR 214.2(e)(10) for further details.

Principal trade between the United States and the treaty country exists when over 50% of the total volume of international trade is between the U.S. and the treaty trader’s country of citizenship. See 8 CFR 214.2(e)(11).

E-1 Visas for Employees

An E-1 visa can be issued to an employee who is not the owner of a foreign-owned company which serves as the treaty trader in the United States. In that case, the application for an E-1 visa must identify that employee as an executive or supervisory employee in the enterprise, or as having a highly specialized skill needed by the enterprise.

Duration and Renewal of E-1 Visas and E-1 Status

E-1 visas can be issued for up to a 5-year period, depending on the terms of the bilateral investment treaty between the United States and the country of citizenship of the treaty trader, and as reflected in the U.S. Department of State’s reciprocity tables with regard to the country of citizenship of the E-1 visa applicant. The E-1 visa is an entry document in the foreign national’s passport, permitting the visa holder to apply for admission into the United States. Each period of admission into the United States is for a maximum time period of two years in the United States in E-1 status.

Persons in E-1 status are eligible to apply with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) for extensions of their E-1 status in two-year increments. The person in E-1 status may apply for an indefinite number of two-year extensions of that status, as long as he or she continues to maintain E-1 status by complying with the requirements of that status.

In the alternative, a person with an E-1 visa in their passport that is valid for five years can maintain the validity of their E-1 status by leaving the United States at least once every two years, by no later than the expiration date of their E-1 status, and then applying to re-enter the United States on the following day, at which time, if their application for admission is successful, they will be re-admitted to the United States with a new two-year period of E-1 status.

However, if the visa holder fails to leave the United States after the last day of E-1 status that has been authorized, then that person is considered to be out-of-status, which is a violation of U.S. immigration laws, may cause ineligibility for obtaining future visas, and makes that person subject to removal (deportation) from the United States. Also, under Section 222(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, if a person overstays their authorized period of admission in any non-immigrant status, that person’s visa in that same non-immigrant classification becomes void.

Visa Eligibility for E-1 Family Members

Any spouse or unmarried child under the age of 21, regardless of nationality, of an E-1 visa holder is eligible to receive a derivative E-1 visa so that they may accompany the primary alien to the United States. The E-1 visas for the spouse and child do not provide authorization to work in the United States. However, E-1 spouses can file an I-765 Application for Employment Authorization with the USCIS in order to obtain an Employment Authorization Document card (“EAD” card). Children of E-1 visa holders are not eligible to work in the United States.

Advantages of an E-1 Visa

  • There is no absolute time limit on how long an alien can stay in the U.S. under E status, unless the USCIS refuses to allow a continued stay under E status.
  • No formal affiliation with a foreign business located abroad is required, provided that the business is at least 50% owned by citizens of the foreign national’s qualifying country.
  • The foreign national is not required to have worked for a foreign affiliate of the U.S. business for any period of time.
  • E-1 spouses can obtain employment authorization in the United States.

Please contact us for additional information on the criteria for U.S. E-1 visas and how an immigration attorney can help you with the process.

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