A Brief Introduction to the E1 Visa

The United States enjoys trade agreements with countries all over the world. To facilitate and encourage ongoing business with these nations, the government makes available several types of visas—including the E1 and E2 visa—intended to encourage nationals from those treaty nations to participate in trade with US businesses or even invest in building US businesses. The E1 visa is available to any person or company from a treaty nation who wants to enter the U.S. for the purpose of carrying out international trade.

Qualifying for the E1

The E1 is a nonimmigrant visa intended specifically for treaty traders. This is not to be confused with the E2 visa for treaty investors, which we will discuss in more detail in a future blog.

Applicants for the E1 visa must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a national of a treaty country.
  • Intend to engage in “substantial trade.” While not strictly defined in terms of volume or value, substantial trade consists of several transactions over time and result in a steady flow of international trade between their country and the U.S.  
  • At least 50% of the trade volume must be between their country and the U.S.
  • At least 50% of the company is owned by citizens of the host treaty country

The trade can be in the form of goods that are physically shipped, or services such as technology, banking, insurance, and communications.

Employees may also obtain an E1 visa, provided that they are nationals of a treaty nation, intend to occupy a managerial or supervisory role that calls for expert knowledge or skills, and work for an employer who is either already in the United States on an E1 visa or can prove that they would qualify for an E1.

Below is an example of a treaty trader arrangement that the E1 is intended for:

Mary Jones is a Canadian national who runs a juice bar business at home. She has found a tropical fruit supplier in Miami who offers superior produce at excellent prices. Mary orders $15,000 worth of fresh fruit and exports them to her Canadian outlets. Eventually she decides she would like to move to Miami so she can have direct access to a variety of U.S. fruit growers and grow her business back home.

E1 Visa Terms

E1 traders or employees are only allowed to take the employment approved under the conditions of their visa. (A possible exception is working for the parent company of their employer.) They may bring their spouse and unmarried children under 21 to the U.S. as well, although only their spouse is permitted to take employment.

Visa holders are permitted to stay in the country up to two years, although an unlimited number of two-year extensions are available provided that eligibility conditions continue to be met. Unlike investment visas like the EB-5, however, the E1 is not a bridge to a green card and eventual citizenship. Applicants must be prepared to demonstrate that they intend to return home at some point.

Changing Status

Although there is no direct transition from an E1 to a green card, E1 visa holders may apply for permanent residency under conditions like the following:

  • Close relatives who are citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. may file a petition on their behalf
  • An employer files a Labor Certificate with the DOLEB
  • The visa holder files a petition as an ‘Alien of Extraordinary Ability’ or ‘Multinational Executive or Manager’
  • The visa holder files a petition through a National Interest Waiver, which is intended for those whose work will benefit American interests

Which Countries Qualify as Treaty Nations?

The list of nations with which the United States holds trade agreements is extensive. To see which countries have trade agreements with the US that qualify for either E1 or E2 visas, you can click over to this helpful list provided by the US State Department.

If you need assistance in applying for or extended an E1 visa, please call Ahluwalia Law P.C. today. We will review your qualifications, help you prepare and submit the necessary paperwork, and provide advice that gives your application the best chance of success. And be sure to check back on our blog soon for a forthcoming in-depth write up on the E2 treaty investor visa for foreign nationals seeking to invest capital in building a business enterprise in the United States.