What is an E1 Visa?
The E1 is a non-immigrant visa that allows foreign nationals to enter the United States for trade-related purposes. It works for business owners and employees who wish to work for an enterprise or personally engage in trade (imports/exports) with the United States.
An E1 visa applicant must be a citizen of one of the countries with which the US maintains a Treaty of Commerce and Navigation.
What is the US International Treaties Scheme?
The United States maintains treaties of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation with various countries across the world. As a result, the United States created certain immigration/business schemes for citizens of these countries. Through these specialized schemes, they can enter the US to promote trade and investment. The schemes are:
- E1 Treaty Trader: Designed for businesses and individuals carrying out “substantial trade” between their home country and the US.
- E2 Treaty Investor: Designed for individuals ready to make a significant investment in a US enterprise in which they control a minimum of 50% ownership.
- E3 Specialty Occupation Professionals for Australians: Designed for Australians who wish to enter the US to engage in a speciality occupation role.
What does “Substantial Trade” mean?
The substantial trade requirement is one of the most important aspects of an E1 visa that all applicants must understand.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) describes “substantial trade” as an amount of trade sufficient to ensure a continuous flow of trade between the US and the applicant’s home country. This means numerous transactions over time. Various types of trades can be carried out under the E1 visa classification. Common examples include but are not limited to:
- Exchange of goods and services
- International banking
- And other exchange of international service
There is no specific minimum monetary value or volume for each transaction. However, higher volume activities are accorded greater importance and priority.
What are the E1 Visa Requirements?
The E1 visa has requirements for both business owners and their employees.
To qualify for E1 Visa as a treaty trader (business owner), you must:
- Be a national of one of the 78 countries with which the US maintains a treaty of commerce.
- Engage in substantial trade
- Carry on principal trade between your country and the US.
- At least 50% of the overall volume of your trading transactions must be between the United States and the treaty country you represent.
To qualify for E1 Visa as an employee of a treaty trader, you must meet the following conditions:
- Your nationality must be the same as your E1 employer.
- You must be carrying out either an executive or supervisory role in the business. If you have a lesser role, you must have special qualifications that make your services essential to the business operation.
How to Apply for an E1 Visa
The E1 visa application procedures may vary from one embassy/consulate to another. Therefore, it is best to follow the guidelines on the website of the embassy/consulate where you will apply or consult an immigration expert for guidance.
In general, however, every applicant must do the following to apply for an E1 visa.
- Complete Form DS-160, Online Non-immigrant Visa Application: After completing the form online, you will need to print the confirmation page, which you will take to your interview later.
- Upload a photo: Upload a photo in the space provided while completing your application.
- Payment: You must pay the required fee for your application. The total amount may vary depending on your country of origin. You will get the details and how to pay on the embassy/consulate website.
Schedule an Interview
After filling the form, you will need to schedule an interview. The interview should be at a US embassy or consulate in your country of permanent residence. Though you may schedule it at any US embassy or consulate, it may be difficult to qualify for a visa outside of your country of residence.
Wait times for interviews vary by location and season, so it is best to schedule your appointment early.
Interviews are generally not required for applicants ages 13 and below and ages 80 and above. However, consular officers have the discretion to request an interview with any applicant, regardless of age.
Gather the Required Documentation
You will need to prepare for your visa interview by gathering all the necessary documents. The documentation is case-specific, depending on each applicant’s circumstances. However, some of the generally requested documents are as follows:
- A copy of your passport (valid for 6 months beyond your period of stay).
- Form DS-160 confirmation page for all applicants and dependents
- Nonimmigrant Treaty Trader, Form DS-156E signed by an officer legally empowered to act on behalf of the company.
- Confirmation of payment for the visa fee
- 5 X 5 cm colour ID photograph clearly showing your face, taken within the last months
- A cover letter summarizing the E1 visa requirements and how you and your business fulfil them.
- If applicable, a copy of legal documents establishing a qualifying relationship between you and your dependents (spouse or child below age 21). Examples: Marriage certificates, birth certificates, adoptions
- Supporting documentation
Supporting Documents for E1 Visa
Apart from the generally requested documents, you will need to provide some additional documents to establish your qualification for the visa. This may include the following:
- Proof of Nationality: Copy of the biographical page of your passport (biographical page is the page that has your biodata, such as name, date of birth, passport number, expiration date).
- Proof of Business Ownership: This depends on the form of business.
- Business registration documents
- Partnership or joint venture agreement
- Stock or shares certificates showing the total shares issued and outstanding shares
- Stock or shares certificates showing the distribution of ownership
- Corporate matrix
- If trading publicly on the principal stock exchange of a treaty country, include a sample of recently published stock quotations.
- Bills of lading
- Purchase order
- Letters of credit
- Sales contracts or contracts for services
- Trade brochures
- Client lists
- Carrier inventories
- Insurance papers documentation
- Accounts receivable and accounts payable ledgers
- Other documents that can help prove that international trade is substantial, and at least 51% of the trade is between the treaty country and the US.
NOTE: Since circumstances vary greatly from one applicant to another, the specific documentation may also vary. You should expect that the consular officer will ask for all items they need to help make a decision on your application. So, you should prepare to make them ready in due time to avoid delays.
Attend Your Visa Interview
Your visa interview appointment will come with all the items you are to bring. Make sure you have all of them with you.
An ink-free digital fingerprint scan is one of the crucial requirements for your application process. This may come during your interview or before, depending on your location.
During the interview, a consular officer will decide if you are qualified for the E1 visa. If the visa is approved, you might be asked to pay a visa issuance, depending on your nationality.
Some cases may also require further administrative processing after the interview. This means the embassy needs some more time and/or items to make a decision on the application. If this applies to you, the consular officer will inform you of the next steps to take.
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You can stay for up to two years on an E1 visa at the initial approval. If you still want to continue living and trading/working in the US after the initial 2 years, you can file a request for an extension. USCIS will grant you an extension if they find your request for extension valid.
There is no limit to the number of extensions you can get, as long as you and your business keep meeting the requirements to remain in the US.
Terms and Conditions of E1 Status
As a treaty trader or employee, you may only engage in the activity for which your visa was approved. Also, as an E1 visa holder, you can only work for the specific organization or employer that sponsored your Treaty Trader Visa. Though you may work for the organization’s parent company or subsidiary, the conditions below must be fulfilled:
- Establish a qualifying relationship between the organizations
- Provide proofs that the subsidiary employment requires supervisory, executive, or essential skills.
- Terms and conditions of the employment remain the same
As a treaty trader or employee, the E1 visa allows your dependents to accompany you or join you in the US. The “dependents” refer to your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21.
They will however need to undergo the E1 application process as dependents. If their application is approved, they will be granted the same period of stay as you.
After arriving in the US, your spouse may apply for a work permit by filing Form I-765 with USCIS. If USCIS approves the work authorization application, they will be able to work unrestricted in any part of the US. Your children can also study at any level during their stay in the US.