US Visa for Entrepreneurs: A Guide to E-2, EB2 NIW, L1, EB1C & EB5 Direct

Written by: Victor Pan
Last Updated by Sabrina Giampaolo: June 19, 2023
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US Visa for Entrepreneurs

If you are an entrepreneur who wants to start or expand your business in the United States, you may be wondering what visa options are available for you. The U.S. immigration system offers several types of visas for entrepreneurs, each with its own requirements, benefits, and drawbacks. In this article, we will provide an overview of five common US visa for entrepreneurs: E-2, EB2-NIW, L1, EB1C, and EB5-Direct.

Contents

E2 Visa - US Visa for Entrepreneurs

The E2 visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows nationals of certain treaty countries to invest a substantial amount of capital in a US business and work in that business. This visa is valid for up to two years and could extend indefinitely as long as the investment and the business remain active. The E2 visa does not lead to a green card. But it allows the investor and their spouse and children under 21 to live and work in the US.

US visa

To qualify for an E2 visa, you must:

  • Be a national of a treaty country that has a bilateral investment treaty with the US. You can find the list of treaty countries here.
  • Have invested or be in the process of investing a substantial amount of capital in a bona fide enterprise in the US. There is no fixed minimum amount of investment required, but it must be proportional to the value and nature of the business. Generally, the investment should be at least $100,000 or more.
  • Own at least 50% of the US business or have operational control over it.
  • Demonstrate that the investment is not marginal, meaning that it generates more than enough income to support you and your family or creates significant employment opportunities for US workers.
  • Demonstrate that you have the ability and intention to direct and develop the US business.

EB2 NIW: National Interest Waiver Visa

The EB2 NIW visa is an immigrant visa that allows foreign nationals with exceptional ability or advanced degrees in science, arts, business or other fields to obtain a green card without a job offer or a labor certification from the Department of Labor. The EB2 NIW visa requires a self-petition to USCIS and a demonstration that your work is in the national interest of the US.

To qualify for an EB2 NIW visa, you must:

  • Have an advanced degree (master’s or higher) or its equivalent (a bachelor’s degree plus five years of progressive work experience) in your field of expertise; or
  • Have exceptional ability in your field of expertise, meaning that you have a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered.
  • Demonstrate that your work is in the national interest of the US, meaning that it has substantial merit and national importance; that you are well positioned to advance your work; and that waiving the job offer and labor certification requirements would benefit the US.

L1 Visa: Intracompany Transferee Visa

The L1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows foreign nationals who work for a multinational company to transfer to a US branch, subsidiary, affiliate or parent company. It has two subcategories: L1A for managers and executives and L1B for specialized knowledge workers. The L1 visa is valid for up to one year for new office petitions and up to three years for existing office petitions. It can extend for up to seven years for L1A holders and up to five years for L1B holders. The L1 visa can lead to a green card under certain circumstances.

To qualify for an L1 visa, you must:

  • Have worked for the foreign company for at least one continuous year within the past three years before applying for the L1 visa.
  • Be transferred to a US company that has a qualifying relationship with the foreign company, such as parent, subsidiary, affiliate or branch.
  • Be employed in a managerial, executive or specialized knowledge capacity in both the foreign and US companies.

EB1C Visa: Multinational Manager or Executive

The EB1C visa is a green card category for multinational executives and managers who have been employed by a foreign company that has a qualifying relationship with a U.S. company. The U.S. company must be doing business for at least one year and must employ the foreign executive or manager in a managerial or executive capacity. The foreign executive or manager must have worked for the foreign company for at least one year in the three years preceding the petition.

The EB1C visa has several advantages for entrepreneurs who want to expand their business to the U.S. or transfer to an existing U.S. branch or subsidiary. 

First, there is no minimum investment requirement or job creation requirement for the EB1C visa. Second, the EB1C visa is a first preference category, which means that there is no backlog or waiting time for visa availability. Third, the EB1C visa does not require a labor certification, which is a lengthy and complex process that involves proving that there are no qualified U.S. workers available for the position.

However, the EB1C visa also poses challenges and limitations. First, the EB1C visa requires that the foreign executive or manager continue to work in a managerial or executive capacity for the U.S. company, which may limit their flexibility and creativity as entrepreneurs. Second, it requires a qualified relationship between the U.S. and the foreign company. This may not be feasible or desirable for some entrepreneurs who want to start a new business in the U.S. or operate independently from their foreign company. Third, the EB1C visa requires that both the U.S. company and the foreign company be engaged in active and ongoing business operations, which may be difficult to prove or maintain for some entrepreneurs who are in the early stages of their business development.

US Visa for Entrepreneurs

EB5-Direct (Immigrant Investor Program)

The EB5-Direct visa, also known as the Immigrant Investor Program, is designed for foreign entrepreneurs who invest a significant amount of capital in a new or existing U.S. business, leading to job creation for U.S. workers. Successful applicants receive a conditional green card, which can eventually lead to permanent residency.

The EB5-direct visa is another green card category for entrepreneurs who want to invest in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S. that creates or preserves at least 10 full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers. The minimum investment amount for the EB5-direct visa is $900,000 if the business is located in a targeted employment area (TEA), which is either a rural area or a high unemployment area, or $1,800,000 if the business is not located in a TEA.

EB5 Direct Investment Advantages

The EB5-direct visa has several advantages for entrepreneurs who want to start or expand their own business in the U.S. First, the EB5-direct visa allows the entrepreneur to have full control and ownership of their business, without having to rely on a qualifying relationship with a foreign company or a U.S. company. Second, the EB5-direct visa allows the entrepreneur to choose any type of business activity or industry, as long as it is lawful and meets the definition of a new commercial enterprise. Third, the EB5-direct visa allows the entrepreneur to count indirect and induced jobs towards the job creation requirement, as long as they can demonstrate that their investment has created a positive economic impact on the region.

However, the EB5-direct visa also has some challenges and limitations. First, the EB5-direct visa requires a substantial amount of capital investment, which may not be accessible or affordable for some entrepreneurs. Second, the EB5-direct visa requires that the entrepreneur prove that their investment funds came from a lawful source, which may involve extensive documentation and verification. Third, the EB5-direct visa requires that the entrepreneur maintain their investment and job creation until they receive their permanent residence status, which may take several years depending on visa availability and processing times.

In conclusion, both the EB1C and the EB5-direct visas are viable options for entrepreneurs who want to live and work in the U.S., but they have different requirements and benefits that should carefully consider before applying. If you are interested in learning more about these visas or other immigration options for entrepreneurs, please contact us today for a consultation.

The International Entrepreneur Rule (IER)

Finally, there is another way for entrepreneurs to stay in the U.S. when all the options mentioned before are not available. The International Entrepreneur Rule (IER) is a policy that provides an alternative pathway for foreign entrepreneurs to live and work in the United States temporarily. Introduced in 2017 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the IER allows eligible entrepreneurs to receive parole, a discretionary grant to remain in the U.S. for a certain period, to oversee and grow their start-up businesses.

In the context of U.S. visas for entrepreneurs, the IER is not a visa category. But rather a parole option that can be advantageous for those who may not qualify for other visa types like E-2, EB2-NIW, L1, EB1C, or EB5-Direct.

Eligibility Criteria:

  • The entrepreneur must have a significant ownership interest (at least 10%) in a start-up entity founded within the last five years, with substantial potential for rapid growth and job creation.
  • The entrepreneur must have an active and central role in the start-up, allowing them to substantially assist with the growth and success of the business.
  • The start-up must have received a capital investment of at least $250,000 from qualified U.S. investors or at least $100,000 in grants or awards from U.S. government entities.

Advantages:

  • Offers a temporary solution for entrepreneurs who may not qualify for other visa categories or are awaiting the processing of other applications.
  • Initial parole period of up to 30 months, with the possibility of an additional 30-month extension, totaling up to 60 months.
  • Spouses and children of the entrepreneur may also be eligible for parole, and spouses may apply for employment authorization.

IER Application Process

  • File Form I-941, Application for Entrepreneur Parole, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), along with supporting documentation and required fees.
  • If USCIS approves the application, the entrepreneur and their family members must visit a U.S. consulate or embassy to obtain travel documentation before entering the U.S. on parole.
  • After arrival in the U.S., the entrepreneur and their family members must visit a U.S. port of entry to receive parole authorization.

 

It’s important to note that parole is not a visa or a green card and does not provide a direct pathway to permanent residency or citizenship. Entrepreneurs seeking a long-term solution may need to explore other visa options, such as the E-2, EB2-NIW, L1, EB1C, or EB5-Direct, depending on their specific circumstances and qualifications.