One of the most common questions I receive is how is the E-2 is different from the EB-5. The E-2 is a non-immigrant investor visa allows an individual to enter and work in the United States based on an investment he or she will be controlling. This visa must be renewed every two years and theoretically there is no limit to how many times one can renew as long as the investor continues to operate the business. The E-2 is a treaty-based visa — so if you are a foreigner and have never heard of the E-2, it might be because your country is not part of the treaty. Click here for a list of treaty countries.

The E-2 visa is a non-immigrant visa which means that it is not a greencard (a/k/a immigrant visa). It is often used for small businesses, though large entities like LG Electronics are known to use it to send their employees to the United States. There is no minimum investment as long as the amount is “substantial” – which is defined as follows on the USCIS website:

A substantial amount of capital is:

  • Substantial in relationship to the total cost of either purchasing an established enterprise or establishing a new one
  • Sufficient to ensure the treaty investor’s financial commitment to the successful operation of the enterprise
  • Of a magnitude to support the likelihood that the treaty investor will successfully develop and direct the enterprise.  The lower the cost of the enterprise, the higher, proportionately, the investment must be to be considered substantial.

There is also a requirement that the investment not be marginal:

The investment enterprise may not be marginal.  A marginal enterprise is one that does not have the present or future capacity to generate more than enough income to provide a minimal living for the treaty investor and his or her family.  Depending on the facts, a new enterprise might not be considered marginal even if it lacks the current capacity to generate such income.  In such cases, however, the enterprise should have the capacity to generate such income within five years from the date that the treaty investor’s E-2 classification begins.

As you can see the standards are not super-clear but generally this has been interpreted to mean that the E-2 business should be hiring employees. Again, there is no set number.

While the E-2 is a great way to quickly get a visa to do business in the United States (and if you are already in the U.S. you can take advantage of Premium Processing), as a non-immigrant visa, it will only cover the investor’s children until they are 21, after which they need to get their own non-immigrant visa, which is usually a F-1 student visa at this point in their lives.

Still, the E-2 has its benefits – mainly that it can be obtained quickly for a smaller amount of investment than the EB-5. Also, theoretically it is possible to make an E-2 investment and over the years grow the business and convert it into an EB-5 business to get a greencard. But this requires a lot of advanced planning in terms of fund sourcing and documentation.