By Patrick Findaro, Managing Partner of Visa Franchise
By Patrick Findaro, Managing Partner of Visa Franchise
In 2014, I discovered the most direct path for foreign entrepreneurs to move to the United States–the E2 Investor Visa. A little-known U.S. immigration path to me at the time, the E2 investor visa had been used by millions of U.S. immigrants for more than 200 years. The U.K. and U.S. signed the first treaty in 1815 allowing what is now called the E2 visa. Since then, more than 80 countries have established treaties of navigation and commerce allowing their citizens to apply for the E2 Visa.
My brother and partner, Jack, and I created an advisory practice, Visa Franchise, out of our apartment back in 2015 to support immigrant entrepreneurs with selecting a U.S. franchise. Since then, we have grown significantly, having supported 350+ E2 visa clients from over 50 countries (and moved to an office with employees!). Having worked with 100+ immigration attorneys, we have accumulated incredible knowledge regarding the E2 visa requirements, business options, path to green card as well as selecting your E2 visa professional team. I will review those items and provide unique E2 visa case studies to further illustrate how you can successfully move to the U.S. through the E2 visa.
Over the past 10 years, E2 visa issuances have increased 80%, to more than 43,000 in 2019 alone. With an overall approval rate of 89%, the E2 visa has one of the highest approval rates for all U.S. visas. E2 visa investors are required to show how they will start (or buy) a U.S. business, hire Americans, and grow a profitable enterprise in five years. The requirements provided by U.S. government are quite clear but there is some room for interpretation by the U.S. consulate office. In the case of E2 visa denial, the consulate officer is required to indicate what E2 visa requirement was not met. If this happens, then your immigration attorney can work on a plan to modify your application for a future approval.
You have to be a citizen of an E2 visa country (click here for the official list of E2 visa countries). Dual nationality is accepted and is how we started Visa Franchise in the first place. Brazil does not have an E2 visa treaty but Italy does. Many Brazilians can claim Italian citizenship through their great grandparents who emigrated from Italy. We have supported 70+ Brazilians with E2 visa passports from Italy, Argentina, Croatia, and other qualifying countries successfully move to the U.S.
If you do not hold an E2 visa eligible citizenship, you can also invest as little as $200,000 through a citizenship-by-investment program in a country that does have the E2 treaty. At Visa Franchise, we have supported clients who have successfully obtained and applied for E2 visas after acquiring citizenship through citizenship by investment programs in Turkey or Grenada.
At least 50% of the E2 visa business must be owned by the E2 visa applicant or an entrepreneur with the same nationality. It is possible for multiple family members and business associates to apply for the E2 visa under the same enterprise. We have a group of Argentine clients who invested in a couple ice cream shops and were able to have multiple investors and their dependents (children under 21 years old and spouse) receive the E2 visa.
You need to show that your investment in the startup or acquisition of a business is sufficient to operate that business in a profitable manner. The U.S. government wants to see a business plan detailing how profitable the business will be over the next five years. For example, it is up to the consulate officer to decide if a $60,000 investment in a failing restaurant for sale is sufficient to meet the substantial investment requirement. Most likely it will require additional investment of $50,000+ in working capital, furniture, etc. to make the business success more viable. Business viability is more difficult for startup applications, especially in industries unfamiliar to the consulate officer.
Fortunately for franchise investments and businesses for sale, there are historical financials from other franchisees or the actual business to support your case. Detailing how much it costs other franchisees to open and operate the business is provided in Item 7 of the franchise disclosure document. Following the blueprint of the franchise system has always proven enough for our clients to meet the substantial investment requirement. However, issues arise when you do not invest in the items required to successfully operate a franchise or when there is too much financing (or lending) for a business acquisition.
In working with an E2 visa attorney and qualified business plan writer, 100% of Visa Franchise clients with an initial denial have received a final approval after the second interview. One such case was an Italian client who only invested $42,500 in a real estate property management business with another $60,000 set aside for working capital. He then invested the full $60,000 in marketing (Google ads/Facebook ads), a company car and miscellaneous expenses. With a revised business plan and receipts proving his expenses, his E2 visa was successfully approved for a five-year period.
Although there is no dollar minimum defining substantial investment, we have never had a denial for a client who invested more than $225,000. Through our 350+ cases, we have identified a significant increase in denial risk for clients investing less than $120,000. You can always reapply investing more capital, but will it be worth the three to six month wait to reapply, wait for the interview, and corresponding stress of uncertainty that you and your family would endure?
The E2 visa business, according to the State Department, “must be an active commercial or entrepreneurial undertaking.” Money or stocks sitting in a business bank account will not be considered an investment for E2 visa purposes. Top E2 visa attorneys suggest that the business is operating or as close to operations as possible before applying for the visa. Although we have had E2 visa approvals for businesses with just a letter of intent and no signed lease for the business premise, similar cases have also been denied. The denials have all been investors not following the advice of their immigration counsel. Denied petitioners generally invested and committed little capital/time, increasing the risk of denials for the Real Operating Enterprise requirement, among others.
The U.S. government wants to see that the E2 visa applicant has significant ‘skin in the game’ before the visa is approved. You could blame your fellow countrymen who have successfully received E2 visas for business plans that were not carried out and then tried to renew the visa with the same business five years later. This is especially common for passive real estate development and flipping businesses. For example, embassies in Paris and Buenos Aires are extremely rigid on real estate related businesses given past failures of these businesses to meet the ‘real operating enterprise’ and ‘Direct and Develop’ requirements.
You must be coming to the U.S. to direct and develop the E2 visa business. That does not mean you are working every day in the business. Also, you can travel to your home country often to take care of foreign business interests or an elderly parent, for example. However, you must be involved in the management, strategy, and finances of the business.
The business must provide significant income beyond just supporting you and your family. This could be a commercial cleaning business that provides owner benefits of $100,000+ a year. If business income is low (depending on the city less than $50,000), it is important to show the economic impact at the local, state and national level. We have had multiple E2 visa investors with profits under $50,000 but the companies employ 5+ Americans. In cases of low or negative business income, it is important for you, the business plan writer, and attorney to emphasize your contribution to the local, state, and national economy.
You must have control of the funds used and being used for the E2 visa business. It is fine to receive a donation from your parents or wealthy uncle, but the government will want to see that you have control of the funds. The adjudicating officer will also want to see that there is real business risk. For example, loans secured with the business assets are not allowed.
Now that you know the requirements for the E2 visa, you should think about what type of investor you are. We tend to see two types of E2 visa investors:
Foreign corporations and individuals seeking to enter new markets and/or expand product offering
Initial investment from $80,000 to $1,000,000+
Beyond visa eligibility, there is a major focus on return on investment
Aims to expand the business through opening new locations, acquiring competitors or other means
Location is important but often secondary to strong earnings and potential growth
Foreign individuals generally with a net worth above $1,000,000
Prioritize working less hours over gaining more income from the business
Initial investment from $150,000 to $350,000
School district is very important for the children
Longevity of the business is more important than high profits
Potential to sell the business after 2-4 years if they return to their home country or decide to pursue a green card
Depending on what type of invest you are, we recommend you explore one of three E2 visa business models.
Business is already operational and often profitable
Historical financials to better determine success of business
Easier to finance (through seller or possibly bank)
Wider array of businesses and industries available
Financial/ legal due diligence by professionals ($$$)
Successful businesses may have a high asking price
Seller training and ongoing support often limited historical financial figures
Initial & ongoing support from Franchisor
Established business model built to scale
Business functions provided by Franchisor (negotiating with suppliers, research & development, etc.)
Costs associated with gaining franchise rights
Time it takes to open the business and break even
Restrictions imposed by Franchisor
Unlimited upside to the Business
No franchise fees or high cost to pay for a customer base
Wide range of industries and geographies to operate the business
U.S. is one of the most competitive markets in the world especially for small businesses
50% of businesses with employees fail in the first year. Harder to benchmark success for your start up than for franchises and businesses for sale.
Many startups will not meet the substantial investment requirement for the E2 visa
Visa Franchise is available to advise you on what might be the best option given your investment immigration objectives. You may apply to be a Visa Franchise client by clicking on the following link.
If eligible, you will be entitled to a free 30 minute U.S. business consultation. We will provide you with the advisory support resources to start up, buy, or franchise an E2 visa business.
Over the past decade, many investors have purchased small independent businesses and rebranded them as franchises. Investors might benefit from instant vendor cost savings, increased brand recognition as well as ease of customer acquisition. This strategy is currently being utilized in industries such as property management, landscaping, tax services, and insurance services.
Buying an existing business and rebranding as a franchise (or even a franchise resale) can be a great option for investors who prefer ongoing support. Many E2 visa investors have constant questions about operating a business in the U.S. and appreciate the support of the franchisor and community of franchisees.
Compared to American business buyers, there is often greater urgency to close the business transaction in order for the investor to apply for the E2 visa. At the same time, the E2 visa approval process depends on the local U.S. consulate or USCIS. Generally, 10-20% of the purchase price is non-refundable and the rest is held in an escrow account contingent on the E2 visa approval. Once the E2 visa is approved, the funds will be released to the seller and you will officially own the business. For investors who have the funds available and set date to move to the U.S., the below seven step process can take three to six months.
The foreign franchisee goes through the similar process as an American franchisee. The main difference is applying for the visa and, in most cases, opening the franchise after the visa approval. Again, for prospective franchisees who have the funds available and set date to move to the U.S., the process generally take three to six months. The biggest variable is how long the consulate or embassy is taking to process the E2 visa interview. We have seen anywhere from one week to four months. Unlike the business for sale process, funds are generally not held in escrow contingent on the E2 visa approval. There are select franchisors who may be willing to refund the majority of the franchise fee should your E2 visa be denied after the second attempt.
Show you are serious to the franchisors and business brokers/seller. Franchisors and business brokers often look at the following items before allocating time to your inquiries:
Meeting all or most of the above qualities will greatly improve your chances of moving forward in a timely manner with a solid franchise or business opportunity.
First, we can examine the ways you as the E2 visa investor can obtain a green card. Here are a few different options to consider together with your immigration attorney:
Do you have an extraordinary ability? Perhaps you are at the top of your field and have been featured in numerous publications? Throughout your career abroad and now in the U.S., it is worth exploring with an attorney the possibility of building your professional portfolio to qualify for EB-1A green card.
Do you own a company overseas with 10+ employees and $1M+ in revenue? You might be eligible to apply for a green card based on the EB-1C green card category. You most likely have to invest additional capital in the E2 visa business and build up your organizational structure. The good news is that EB-1C visas are processed in less than a year!
Do you have a spare $900,000 to invest in a U.S. real estate project? Although current waits are 2+ years, based on a $900,000 investment and 10 Americans jobs created, you might be eligible for the EB-5 green card. It is in theory possible to apply for the EB-5 based on your E2 visa investment if you have invested over $900,000 (in a qualifying zone) and employed 10+ Americans. However, there is a lengthy bureaucratic process and simpler, easier ways to obtain a green card for E2 visa holders.
There are additional green card options involving company sponsorship of your spouse. The E2 visa spouse is eligible for work authorization and may receive sponsorship from a U.S. company for his/her green card. Here are a couple options to consider:
Does your spouse hold an advanced degree or its equivalent? How about an exceptional ability? Many employers are willing to sponsor green cards for exemplary employees under this category. There are even ways to self-sponsor a petition for eligible applicants. Visit the official U.S. government site to learn more about this option.
Does your spouse NOT meet the requirements for the EB-2 green card? Then it is worth considering the EB-3 visa. This would require a labor certification and a permanent, full-time job offer. Visit the USCIS site to learn more about this option.
Is your sibling an American citizen? How about your adult children? If so, you should explore with your attorney the possibility of an American citizen family member sponsoring your green card.
After all this discussion on the E2 visa, it is important to see if you qualify. Below is the current list of E2 visa eligible countries as well as the reciprocity schedule. No matter the nationality, E2 visa holders are eligible to reside legally in the U.S. for two-year periods. It is important to understand the difference between status (granted when you enter the U.S.) and visa expiration (granted by the U.S. consulate abroad). For more information on visa length vs. legal status, visit our article.
Perhaps you have an E2 visa treaty that is only three months or one year. Or maybe you have not finalized your green card strategy. There is a good chance that you will have to renew your E2 visa to continue residing legally in the U.S. If the business is not profitable or does not have 5+ American workers, it might be difficult to renew the E2 visa. Learn about eight tips to improve your chances of renewing your E2 visa here.
There are 10,000+ immigration attorneys currently practicing law in the U.S. As many as 5,000 of them have an established E2 visa practice. How do you go about choosing the right immigration attorney? It is important to consider their track record of success. Ask what their approval rate is especially for nationals from your same country.
Do you want to work with an attorney who takes on any case that comes across his desk? Be wary, as many immigration attorneys do not have the proper experience to support your E2 visa petition. U.S. immigration is constantly fluctuating and as the E2 visa can be processed by the U.S. consulate or USCIS, it is important for your immigration attorney to have ‘market color’. ‘Market color’ questions might be: “What type of businesses are being denied at so-and-so consulate?”
“If Rome is taking four months for a visa interview, are there other consulates to consider applying for the visa? “
Understand how other E2 visa applicants have approved or disapproved of the attorney is vital to know. There are Facebook, Google, and website reviews to consider. Also, many attorneys focus on a specific immigrant community and you can find out about the attorney through online networks and past clients directly. How fast does the attorney respond to your initial inquiries? That might be a sign of how the client relationship will be.
Also, you should ask who will be responsible for the E2 visa case and who is your principal point of contact. Some E2 visa investors are willing to pay $15,000+ to have direct access to a leading E2 visa attorney throughout the entire case.
Similar to making the decision to marry your spouse, making the decision to move to the U.S. with your family can be a pivotal life choice. It is important to surround yourself with the best advisors to avoid mistakes such as visa denials or business failures.
At Visa Franchise, we ensure our clients only spend time reviewing successful franchise concepts as well as work with E2 visa focused attorneys and other key advisors. We limit your risk of business failure and visa denial so you and your family can have a smooth transition to the U.S. To learn more about our services, apply to be a Visa Franchise client today!