If you are a foreign country citizen, you must apply for a visa to enter the United States. You apply for a nonimmigrant visa for a temporary stay or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. If you intend to engage in substantial trade in the United States, you need a Treaty Trader or an E-1 trade investment visa. This visa is only issued to persons from countries that maintain commerce treaties with the United States.

There are several aspects of this visa that you must understand for a successful and seamless application process. Further, you should understand what the visa entails, the qualification process, and requirements, including documents needed before application. At the California Immigration Attorney, we would be happy to assist you with the E-1 Trade Investment Visa application process. In this article, you learn the fundamentals of this travel document with an in-depth description of its requirements.

What is an E-1 Trade Investment Visa?

An E-1 Visa is a unique one issued to non-US citizens who wish to carry out international trade in the United States. The persons must be from specific countries that have treaties with the US. Successful applicants or their employees are granted entry into the United States to engage in trade as non-immigrants. Their dependents and spouses may as well accompany them.

This visa encourages investment and trade, promotes peace, and maintains healthy trade ties between the US and select foreign countries. In essence, the visa allows non-US citizens to live, work, and engage in profitable international commerce in the country together with their families.

Specific Terms Used and their Definition

To grasp the qualification process, you need to understand some specific legal terms used in the process. The following are some of the most commonly used terms for application and granting of the E-1 Trade Investment Visa:

  • Treaty Country- A treaty country maintains trade or commerce ties with the United States. Such counties have qualifying international trade arrangements with the US or have been granted qualifying status through legislation.
  • Trade- Trade refers to the exchange of goods and services, which includes the importing or exporting these on an international level.
  • Substantial Trade- It refers to a continuous movement and flow of international commerce or trade with high volumes of transactions over a long period.
  • Special Qualifications- These refer to specific skillsets or acquired knowledge demonstrated by an employee that can be deemed essential to their company.

Who can Qualify for the E-1 Trade Investment Visa?

Some specific qualifications or requirements must be met by applicants for the E-1 trade investment visa qualification. They are outlined below:

  • To qualify for the visa, you must be from a country that maintains trade ties with the United States.
  • The applicant or trading enterprise must only engage in commerce. The firm’s interest should only be to conduct or engage in the exchange of tangible goods and services or technology.
  • The dollar value and the volume of the trade should be substantial. Such voluminous trade justifies reasons why the applicant must be or live in the United States to manage such commerce.
  • A minimum of 50% ownership of the trading firm in which the applicant will be working must be by a citizen or citizens of the country with a trading treaty with the United States. It means that the applicant may be the owner of the firm or other persons.
  • A minimum of 50% of trade activities the applicant will be involved in must be between the treaty country and the United States.
  • As an applicant, you can be the trader in your capacity, or you are an employee of the trading firm in an executive or supervisory role or you have high specialization in the skill-set that you possess. If you have ordinary skills, you cannot qualify.

Special skills are qualifications that set your skills and expertise apart. Special skills are crucial for the trading firm or enterprise’s operation. Certain qualities, if proven, would qualify as special skills. Some of them include the degree of your expertise demonstrated in your area of practice, whether any other employees have a similar skill set, what salary is appropriate for that skill-set, and if similar skills can be sourced from the United States.

Note that being knowledgeable in a foreign language does not qualify as special skills and doesn’t meet the qualification threshold. Additionally, a given skill set deemed essential may become commonplace later on.

Important Considerations for Qualification

There are some essential considerations that you must understand to be eligible for an E-1 Trade Investment Visa. Key among them is that you must have the same nationality as the treaty country. It however doesn’t apply to your spouse or your children as they can acquire a derivative E Visa without necessarily being citizens of the treaty country.

Before, the E-1 Visa only applied to businesses that were involved in the sale, exchange, or purchase of tangible goods. Today, you can be granted an E-1 Visa for the sale, trade, or purchase of tangible goods as well as services. That means businesses in the consulting space, advertising, engineering, or accounting field qualify.

Additionally, there is no specific dollar amount used to define substantial trade. The key requirement is that commerce is continuous, bringing the dollar amount and the achieved number of transactions into consideration. If you make one single huge transaction, you may not qualify for the E-1 trade investment visa.

When it comes to the legal definition of ownership, if any citizens from the treaty country have acquired permanent residence in the United States, they will not be counted in the 50% ownership status highlighted above. However, if any United States citizens live on an E visa status, they may qualify for the 50% ownership.

What are the Benefits of Having the E-1 Trade Investment Visa?

You are entitled to certain benefits if you apply for and are granted the E-1 trade investment visa to trade in the United States. Some notable ones are:

  • You are allowed to travel in and out of the United States for the initial two years.
  • You can reapply for the E-1 trade visa multiple times after the expiry of the initial two-year threshold. By so doing, you can efficiently conduct your business in the United States unhindered, guaranteeing business success.
  • If you travel abroad with E-1 visa status, you can be granted readmission if and when you return to the United States.
  • By having the E-1 visa, you could work and legally reside in the U.S.
  • Employees of the trading enterprise must not have been with the firm for a year, a requirement that is true for L-1 visa applicants.
  • You will be issued with visas for accompanying children and spouses if you are an E-1 visa applicant. The children, however, should be below 21 years old and unmarried. Your spouse could as well apply to work in the U.S. without any restrictions whatsoever.

You want a proper plan that ensures you meet the qualification process and are granted the visa. Your application must clearly show how you meet all the requirements for the E-1 Visa program to avoid any unseen setbacks. In this endeavor, it is crucial to engage attorneys who will guide you through the process. Below you learn the E-1 visa application process.

How to Apply for the E-1 Trade Investment Visa

Applying for the E-1 trade investment visa is similar to an E visa. You must follow specific steps for a successful process. Variations in the order of the process are possible depending on the Consulate or U.S. Embassy you are applying to. It is crucial to thoroughly go through the relevant information provided by the Embassy or the Consulate you intend to apply from. The common steps are outlined below:

  1. Fill the Online Application Visa Application Form- You will have to complete an online visa application process by filling the visa application form. You will also need to print out the confirmation page to present it during the consulate interview date. This is the online nonimmigrant visa application, Form DS-160. Remember, you will be required to upload your photo to complete the process.
  2. Interview Scheduling- The requirement for interviews is exempted for certain ages. However, the consulate officers can request to interview anyone in whichever age bracket. Generally, if you have a 13-year-old and younger, an interview is not required. Interview requirement is mandatory for anyone between the ages of 14-79 with some exceptions for renewals. Eighty years and older applicants do not necessarily have to go through the E-1 Visa application interview process. You will have to schedule an interview appointment at the U.S. Embassy or consulate in the country of residence. While it is possible to schedule the same at any other U.S. Embassy elsewhere, it may be challenging to get approval for your visa. Additionally, wait times vary based on location, the season, and, sometimes, your visa category. Reviewing the time differences is crucial, and applying for the visa early is highly recommended.
  3. Prepare for the Interview- If you are required to pay a non-refundable application fee, you should do so. You may as well be required to pay the visa issuance fee if approved.
  4. Gather the Required Documentation- Before the interview, you should gather the required documents. This includes the passport, which must be valid for more than six months beyond your stay in the U.S. If your spouse or children will accompany you, a separate application must be made. Other documents required are; the nonimmigrant Visa application Form DS-160, payment receipt for the application, photos, nonimmigrant Treaty Trader Investment Form DS-156E for your E-1 treaty trader investment visa.

Additional Application Requirements

The above-listed requirements might not be conclusive, depending on the consulate or embassy you are applying from. You should review all the instructions found on the consulate’s website or the embassy you wish to apply for your E-1 visa from. It will save you time and grant you a seamless application process.

As an E-1 trader visa applicant, it is crucial that you check and establish that the trading firm meets all the set-out requirements as established under the law. The enterprise or investment you wish to have must be compliant with the requirements for an E visa. For this purpose, the consular officer will issue you with special forms that you should fill and submit. You may be requested to provide certain documents that qualify you as a treaty trader. Exact documentation may not be established as they vary from person to person.

Attend the Interview

At the consulate or Embassy, an officer will evaluate the application to see whether you meet a treaty trader’s qualification. Completeness of your application process, all the necessary forms and documentation must be done for eligibility of the E-1 trader investment visa to be determined. As part of your application, digital scans of your fingerprints will be taken. Usually, this is done during the interview but may vary based on the location of the interview.

Additional administrative processing may be required after the interview. The consular officer will reliably inform you if this is necessary or not.

Once approved and processed, you may pay a visa issuance fee based on your nationality. You will receive communication about how you can collect your passport and the visa from the consular officer. It is crucial to review visa processing time to know when you expect the visa to be issued. You may pick it yourself, or a courier can deliver it.

What if you are in the United States Already?

As stated earlier, it is possible to apply as a treaty trader if you are already in the United States. It means that you are in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa and wish to engage in international trade within the United States. As long as your nonimmigrant status is valid, you can use the Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker Form I-129 to change to E-2 nonimmigrant status. You can file this with the USCIS. You will be issued with an I-797 approval notice if the USCIS approves your status.

Note that if you apply for the E-2 visa status while in the United States, you can only be allowed to work and stay in the U.S. but will not travel internationally. To travel abroad, you will be required to go through consular processing before entering the United States.

Stay Period

Once granted the E-1 treaty trader investment visa, you will have an initial stay in the United States for two years. As stated earlier, you can have your stay in the U.S. extended by applying for the same in increments of two years each. It will only be made possible if you meet the requirements for the stay, and it applies to employees of the trading firm as well. There is no limit as to the number of times that you can reapply for an extension of the E-1 classified visa.

However, nonimmigrant E-1 applicants must maintain a willingness to depart from the United States when the visa expires or when the visa is terminated for whatever reason. 

E-1 Trader’s Family and Employees of the Trading Firm

As earlier noted, the treaty trader or the trading company employees may be accompanied by their family (spouses and children below 21 years). It is not necessarily a requirement that the family members must be from the same treaty country as the applicant. Their nationalities can vary, and this will not affect their application.

These family members can seek to have the E-1 classification for nonimmigrants, and once approved, their period of stay will be similar to that of the principal trader. In some circumstances, the family members of the principal trader may already be in the United States. In that case, they can seek a change of status or an extension of their stay in the E-1 category as dependents.

They will be required to fill a single I-539 form with a fee. If the applicant’s spouses wish to apply for work authorization in the United States, they can use Form I-765 for a fee. Once approved, the spouses may not be limited as to where they are permitted to work. There may be some exceptions that would limit work by dependents of the E-1 principal trader.

While the E-1 trader can travel abroad and receive automatic admission for another two years in the United States, the trader’s dependents are not covered. It means that the dependents must note the duration granted to them when applying for the E-1 visa and submit an extension of stay on their own. The submission of the extension of stay must be made before the expiry of their visa status.

Terms and Conditions

There exist some specific terms and conditions that accompany a successful E-1 treaty trader investment visa. Notably, as a treaty trader or an employee of the trading firm, you can work or conduct commerce within the specified activities for which your visa was granted. It means if you applied as a treaty trader to engage in accounting as a form of international trade, you are restricted to operate within the confines of this particular profession.

However, if you are an employee of a trading firm under the E-1 visa, you can work for its parent company or its subsidiaries. It will only be possible if the relationship between the organization and the parent company or subsidiary is established. Further, such subsidiary employment must be established as requiring supervisory, executive, or skills deemed essential. The terms and conditions of your employment must also not have changed at the time of shifting to the parent company or its subsidiaries.

A substantive change in terms and conditions set out for the E-1 visa can only be approved by USCIS. Such changes are defined as any changes that are fundamentally resulting in a basic change of character that would affect the alien’s E classification eligibility. However, such changes are not limited to the acquisition, merger, sale, or any other event that may affect the trader or employee’s relationship approved previously with the treaty trading firm.

The trading firm must notify such a substantive change to the USCIS if the firm wishes to employ the trader in the E-1 status. The firm can also request for the extension of the stay of the affected employee by filing Form I-129. Such a petition must also carry evidence to the effect that the affected trader qualifies for the E-1 status. Form I-129 is not to be filled by a treaty trader who wishes to notify the USCIS of changes that are not substantive.

However, the treaty trader enterprise can seek advice from the USCIS to evaluate if a given change is considered substantive or not. For completion of such a request, the trading enterprise must fill in the I-129 form, explaining the change with an application fee to facilitate such changes.

Find a California Immigration Attorney Near Me

Successfully applying for and securing an E-1 trader investment visa for you or your employees requires adequate preparation and adherence to the requirements. You want to engage an immigration attorney who possesses years of specialized experience to help clients apply for E-1 trader investment visas.

The California Immigration Attorney is the go-to firm that will assist you with all your immigration needs. We expertly handle application processes and follow up with the immigration officers on your behalf. Feel free to reach us at 424-789-8809 and speak to one of our attorneys and have your queries answered.