E1 vs E2 visa: What are the key differences?

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Published on 10 May 2024 Time to read 13 min read Last update on 15 May 2024

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on the E1 vs E2 visa, designed to provide a clear understanding of these two crucial non-immigrant visa categories. In this article, we will explore the distinct features, requirements, benefits, and potential drawbacks of each visa type. Whether you are an entrepreneur, an investor, or engaged in substantial trade with the United States, understanding the nuances of these visas can significantly impact your business operations and residency status in the U.S.

E1 vs E2 visa Showdown

Feature E1 Treaty Trader Visa E2 Treaty Investor Visa
Primary Purpose To facilitate trade between the U.S. and the treaty countries. To encourage investments in the U.S. by nationals from treaty countries.
Key Requirement Substantial trade with the U.S., primarily between the U.S. and the treaty country. Significant investment in a U.S. business, with control over the investment.
Investment or Trade Focuses on substantial and ongoing trade. Requires a substantial capital investment in a business.
Duration of Stay Up to 2 years per extension, renewable indefinitely. Up to 5 years per extension, renewable indefinitely.
Work Authorization Main applicant and essential employees only. Spouses can work in the U.S. Main applicant, essential employees, and spouses can work in the U.S.
Economic Impact Must demonstrate continuous substantial trade. Must demonstrate that the business is not marginal and can support the investor’s family.
Principal Beneficiaries Traders and their key staff involved in the trade. Investors, key staff involved in the business, and their families.
Path to Residency No direct path; focused on temporary stay. No direct path; however, potentially lays groundwork for other visa categories leading to residency.
Eligibility Countries Limited to nationals from countries with a commerce treaty with the U.S. Same as E1, limited to treaty countries.
Renewal Criteria Must continue to meet substantial trade requirements. Must continue to meet investment and business operation criteria.
Ideal Profiles Business owners or key employees engaged in high-volume trade with the U.S., such as technology firm owners selling software or managers of export businesses shipping goods regularly to the U.S. Entrepreneurs ready to invest significant capital into a U.S. business, aiming to manage or direct the business, such as starting a new venture or buying an existing business with substantial investment.

Understanding the E-1 visa

The E-1 Treaty Trader Visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows individuals from countries with which the United States maintains treaties of commerce and navigation to enter the U.S. for the purpose of carrying out substantial trade. This trade must primarily be between the United States and the treaty nation. The visa is not limited to just goods but also includes services and technology, reflecting the modern trade landscape.

An ideal candidate for the E-1 visa would be someone who either owns or is a key employee of a company that conducts significant trade with the U.S. This person would typically be involved in continuous transactions that reflect a sizable and ongoing exchange of items or services. For example, an owner of a technology firm that develops software exclusively for U.S. clients, or the manager of an export business that ships goods to the United States on a regular basis, would be excellent profiles for this visa.

E-1 visa eligibility requirements

To qualify, applicants must meet several specific requirements:

– Treaty Agreement: The applicant must be a national of a country with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation.
– Substantial Trade: There must be a substantial volume of trade between the U.S. and the treaty country. While there is no minimum requirement for the monetary value or volume of each transaction, the trade should be sufficient to ensure a continuous flow of international trade items between the U.S. and the treaty country. This includes goods, services, international banking, insurance, transportation, tourism, technology, and some news-gathering activities.
– Principal Trade: The trade conducted must be principally between the United States and the treaty country, which means that more than 50% of the total volume of international trade conducted by the treaty trader must be between the U.S. and the country of the treaty trader’s nationality.
– Position within the Company: The applicant must be coming to the U.S. to develop and direct the operations of an enterprise in which they have invested, or are actively involved in a supervisory, executive, or highly specialized skill capacity. Ordinary skilled and unskilled workers do not qualify.
– Intent to Depart: Applicants must intend to depart the United States when their business in the U.S. concludes, though the E-1 visa can generally be renewed indefinitely as long as the trade conditions are met.

Benefits of the E-1 Treaty Trader visa

The E-1 visa offers a range of benefits for its holders, making it a valuable option for individuals engaged in international trade. Here are some of the key advantages:

– Extended Stay with Renewability: One of the primary benefits of the E-1 visa is that it allows for an initial stay of up to two years. Additionally, there are no limits on the number of extensions that can be granted as long as the visa holder continues to meet the trade requirements. Each extension also grants a stay of up to two years.
– Work Authorization for Spouses: Spouses of E-1 visa holders are eligible to apply for work authorization in the U.S. without restriction to their employer or the nature of the job. This work permit provides flexibility and financial support for families residing in the U.S. under an E-1 visa.
– Travel Flexibility: E-1 visa holders can travel in and out of the U.S. as needed without jeopardizing their visa status, which is ideal for traders who need to manage business activities in multiple countries.
– Opportunity for Employees: The E-1 visa is not limited to business owners and investors; key employees who are the same nationality as the principal employer and who engage in duties of an executive or supervisory character, or have essential skills, are also eligible for the E-1 visa. This facilitates the transfer of critical staff to ensure the smooth running of U.S. operations.
– Education Benefits for Children: Children of E-1 visa holders can attend U.S. schools, from elementary through college/university, without needing to obtain a separate student visa.
Path to Long-Term Residency: While the E-1 visa itself does not provide a direct path to permanent residency, it allows individuals to reside in the U.S. for a prolonged period as long as their trade activities continue to meet the necessary criteria. This prolonged presence can help in laying the groundwork for other visa categories that lead to permanent residency.

Challenges of the E-1 visa

This visa comes with specific restrictions and challenges that can impact potential applicants and their business operations. Firstly, it is limited to nationals from countries that maintain a commercial treaty with the United States. This exclusivity restricts access to the visa for individuals from countries not engaged in such treaties, potentially limiting the diversity of international traders in the U.S.

Another significant limitation is the application process. It requires a substantial amount of documentation to demonstrate significant trade between the treaty country and the U.S., and each renewal requires proof that these conditions are still met. This makes the renewal process potentially burdensome, as businesses must continuously demonstrate their eligibility under possibly fluctuating economic conditions.

Furthermore, the economic stability required to maintain the E-1 visa status can make visa holders vulnerable to economic downturns. If trade volumes decrease due to economic conditions or changes in the market, it could jeopardize the visa status, adding an element of uncertainty for traders and their families.

Understanding the E-2 visa

The E-2 visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows individuals from treaty countries to enter and work in the United States based on a substantial investment in a U.S. business.

A prime candidate is typically someone who is prepared to invest a substantial amount of capital, generally exceeding $100,000, into a U.S. business. This level of investment demonstrates a serious commitment to the business and helps ensure the operation’s financial viability.

E-2 visa requirements

To be eligible, applicants must satisfy several crucial criteria outlined by U.S. immigration policies:

– Treaty Nationality: The applicant must be a national of a country with which the United States maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation. This is fundamental, as the E-2 visa is exclusively available to citizens of these treaty countries.
– Substantial Investment: Applicants must make a substantial investment in a U.S. business. While there is no minimum investment amount specified by law, the investment should be significant relative to the total cost of purchasing or creating the business. Generally, investments of $100,000 or more are expected to qualify as substantial, but the amount may be lower if the nature of the business can justify it.
– At Risk Capital: The investment must be at risk, meaning it must be subject to partial or total loss if the business fails. This demonstrates the investor’s commitment to the success of the business. The funds must also be irrevocably committed to the business.
– Controlling Stake: The investor must have control over the funds and the business. Typically, this means owning at least 50% of the business or possessing operational control through a managerial position or other corporate device.
– Real and Operating Business: The business must be real and operational, not speculative or idle. This means the enterprise must be actively engaged in commercial activities that generate revenue and services.
– Non-Marginal Enterprise: The business must have the capacity, presently or in the future, to generate more than enough income to provide a minimal living for the investor and their family. This means the business should not be a marginal enterprise established solely for earning a living.
– Job Creation: While not a formal requirement, businesses that create job opportunities for U.S. workers are viewed more favorably in the application process. This aligns with the visa’s goal of benefiting the U.S. economy.
– Intent to Depart: Applicants must intend to leave the U.S. once their business and visa status conclude, unless they adjust their status. This is demonstrated by providing evidence of ties to their home country or the temporary nature of their stay.

Benefits of the E-2 visa

Here are some of the primary benefits:

– Extended Stay and Renewability: The E-2 visa allows for an initial stay of up to two years. However, the visa holder can renew it indefinitely in increments of up to two years each, as long as they continue to meet the visa requirements. This provides significant flexibility for investors to grow their businesses without the pressure of short-term evaluation.
– Work Authorization for Investor and Employees: The visa grants comprehensive work authorization not only to the investor, but also to certain employees who may be essential to the operation of the business. This includes executives, supervisors, and other workers with specialized skills necessary for the business.
– Spousal Employment: Spouses of E-2 visa holders are eligible to apply for work authorization without any restrictions regarding where they may work. This benefit greatly enhances the attractiveness of the E-2 visa for families, providing opportunities for spouses to pursue their own professional careers in the U.S.
– Children’s Education: Children under the age of 21 of E-2 visa holders can attend U.S. schools, from primary to secondary and even university, without needing a separate student visa. This benefit is significant for families who plan to stay in the U.S. for an extended period.
– Travel Flexibility: E-2 visa holders can travel in and out of the U.S. with fewer restrictions, which is advantageous for business owners who need to manage and oversee business activities in various countries.
– Potential Pathway to Green Card: While the E-2 visa itself does not provide a direct path to permanent residency, it can lay the groundwork for a transition to a visa category that does lead to a green card, such as through an EB-5 investor visa or other avenues.
– Investor Control and Business Flexibility: Investors retain control over their investment and are free to direct the business according to their vision and strategy. This level of control is not only empowering, but also essential for ensuring the success and profitability of their enterprise.

How can we help you?

Since our founding in 2015, Visa Franchise has been at the forefront of helping immigrants turn their dreams into reality. We have proudly assisted over 1,200 families from more than 65 countries in establishing successful businesses in the United States. Our clients have not only started businesses but have also been instrumental in generating over 2,500 American jobs. Many of these businesses have achieved revenues exceeding $1 million.

In an industry where experience and trust are paramount, Visa Franchise distinguishes itself by working with over 100 clients annually. This experience significantly exceeds the industry standard, where many only handle a handful of E-2 visa cases each year. Our extensive involvement ensures that we possess the capability to address a wide array of client needs and scenarios.

If you are beginning to explore your options or are ready to initiate your application, do not hesitate to reach out to us at patrick@visafranchise.com. Our expert team is ready to manage all aspects of your transition, from the visa application process to setting up your business in the U.S.

Challenges of the E-2 visa

The E-2 visa limits eligibility to nationals from countries that maintain a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States. This condition excludes potential investors from non-treaty countries, narrowing the pool of applicants who can benefit from this visa type. However, there are alternative pathways for individuals from non-treaty countries. One notable option involves obtaining citizenship from a treaty country, which can then be used to apply for the visa.

Another significant hurdle involves the requirement for a substantial investment, often interpreted as an amount generally in excess of $100,000. This substantial capital requirement can pose a barrier for smaller investors or those who might struggle to secure or risk such a significant amount of funds upfront without immediate returns.

Furthermore, it does not provide a direct pathway to permanent residency. Investors wishing to settle permanently in the U.S. must transition to another visa type that permits this, which can complicate their long-term residency aspirations and require additional legal processes.

Treaty countries for E-1 and E-2 visas

A treaty country refers to a nation that has entered into an agreement with another nation regarding issues of mutual concern, such as commerce, navigation, and investment. Some notable examples of countries that qualify for E-1 and E-2 visas include Japan, Germany, Australia, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, each of which has long-established treaties with the U.S. For a complete list of eligible countries, click here.

Recently, Portugal was added to this prestigious list through the AMIGOS Act, marking a significant expansion of the treaty network and providing new opportunities for Portuguese nationals to engage in trade and investment in the United States.


Navigating the complexities of E-1 and E-2 visas requires a thorough understanding of their respective demands and opportunities. While both visas offer strategic advantages for international trade and investment, they each cater to different business needs and personal aspirations. Choosing either the E-1 visa for its trade possibilities or the E-2 visa for its investment opportunities will significantly influence your professional journey and residency in the U.S.

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