If you are a business person who wants to travel to the United States for a specific purpose for a limited time there are several options, depending on the circumstances.
Apply for an ESTA
Citizens of eligible countries are able to enter the US for short visits for temporary business purposes without a visa through the Visa Waiver Program. These lucky individuals simply have to apply online for what is known as an ESTA. The approval process for an ESTA is very often only a few minutes and seldom longer than three days.
Examples of legitimate temporary business purposes include:
– Attending business consultations or business meetings
– Attending a business conference or convention
– Visiting the US to negotiate a business contract
Second option: The B-1 business visa
To qualify for a B-1 business visa, you will have to show proof that the purpose of your journey is to visit the U.S. for business of a legitimate nature and that you intend to stay for a specific period of time. You must also provide proof of enough funds to cover the cost of your trip during the time you will spend in the United States.
For how long can a B-1 visa holder remain in the U.S.?
A B-1 visa holder can remain in the U.S. for a limited time, generally ranging between 1 and 6 months. The maximum total length of time allowed in B-1 status on a single visit is generally 1 year. The specific duration of your stay will be determined by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) upon arrival.
It’s very important to note at this stage that B-1 visa holders are not allowed to engage in employment and must be able to support themselves during their stay in the U.S. You can, for example, not run a business on this visa while in the U.S. and live on the proceeds of that business. If that is your intention, please proceed to the relevant section below.
Starting a business in the United States with an E-1 or E-2 visa
If you are planning to start a business in the United States and then earn a living while working for that business, there are several visa options available. One option is the E-2 visa, which is open to citizens of certain countries that have a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, or Navigation with the United States.
As of the latest information, there are over 60 countries that have E-1 and E-2 treaties with the United States, allowing foreign-born investors to start businesses in the US or work in the US for certain foreign-owned companies. The list of E-2 treaty countries includes nations from various regions such as Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
A few of the countries that have E-1 and E-2 treaties with the United States include:
- Costa Rica
- United Kingdom
The full list of E-2 treaty countries can be obtained from the following US government website
Readers should, however, be aware that the list of E-2 treaty countries is subject to change without prior notice. It is, therefore, highly recommended to verify the current list of treaty countries with the U.S. State Department or to talk to a qualified immigration expert when considering an E-2 visa application.
To be eligible for an E-2 visa, you must be able to prove that you have a controlling share (50% or more) of the business, and you must be planning to enter the U.S. solely for the purposes of developing and managing that business.
To apply for an E-2 visa, you first have to prove that the business meets the requirements of the law. You may also be required to provide evidence that your stay in the U.S. will be temporary.
What must the E-2 visa application must include?
- DOS Forms DS-156, DS-156E, and DS-157 (the latter is for every male applicant who is older than 16 but younger than 45)
- A copy of your current valid passport. Its expiration date should be at least 6 months after your intended visit to the United States will end and there should be one or more blank pages
- Proof that the business is an actual, operating firm (acceptable ways to prove this can, for example, include catalogs, annual reports, news articles, or sales literature)
The E-2 visa is initially issued for a five-year period, and you can obtain E-2 status extensions for up to two years at a time from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Since there is no limit on the number of extensions one can get, you can (at least theoretically) stay in the U.S. indefinitely. A husband or wife and children younger than 21 years who would like to accompany or join you in that country for the duration of your stay can also apply for an E-2 treaty investor visa.
The procedure for applying for an E-2 visa involves several steps, including setting up your E-2 company, transferring investment funds into the bank account of the E-2 company, and finally submitting the E-2 visa application.
How does one renew an E-2 visa?
To renew or extend an E-2 visa, you must demonstrate that you continue to meet all of the E-2 visa requirements. The renewal process involves submitting the necessary documentation to demonstrate that you are in a valid E-2 status.
The renewal application should be submitted electronically, and the applicant must provide a cover letter that addresses all the requirements for E-2 visa eligibility. Apart from that, the applicant must also submit forms such as DS-160 Confirmation Sheet, DS-156E, and U.S. federal tax returns for the business for every year since the E-2 visa was last issued.
We recommend that you consult with an immigration lawyer or other qualified professional to ensure that you are following the most up-to-date regulations and guidelines when seeking to start a business in the United States.
Once I have an E-2 visa can I leave the U.S. and come back as often as I want?
The E-2 visa does not impose any travel restrictions, and visa holders may travel as many times as required before the expiry of their E-2 status. Additionally, there is no limit on the time an E-2 visa holder can spend abroad. E-2 visa holders are typically admitted for a maximum period of two years upon each entry to the United States, and they can obtain extensions for up to two years at a time from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Prospective applicants should also note that, while there are no travel restrictions on the E-2 visa itself, the time you will be allowed to remain in the United States will be determined by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer upon each entry to the country. Additionally, the E-2 visa holder must clearly have the intention to depart the United States when their status expires or is terminated.
Can I visit any other countries with a US B1/B2 visa?
In this regard, we have good news. With a U.S. B1/B2 visa you can also visit several countries that offer visa exemption to people who hold a valid US visa. The list of countries is expanding on a regular basis. Some countries will grant you entry if you have traveled to the US at least once, while others will welcome you with a valid US visa, whether you have ever traveled to the US or not.
Some of the countries that you can visit with a B1/B2 visa include:
Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Anguilla, Bonaire, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, and Saint Martin.
Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
Georgia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Montenegro.
It’s important to note that visa rules can change without notice, so it’s always a good idea to check with the visa office of the country before you plan your trip.
Other visa options for those who want to run a business in the U.S.
Another option is the EB-5 visa, which is an immigrant visa for investors and entrepreneurs. To be eligible for an EB-5 visa, you must invest a minimum of $1 million (or $500,000 in certain cases) and create at least 10 full-time jobs for US workers.
The L1 visa is another option for entrepreneurs who would like to start a business in the US. This visa allows the foreign company to transfer a manager or executive to the US to work for a new office.
It’s important to note that each visa has specific eligibility criteria related to the amount invested, job creation, and other requirements. That is why we recommend that you consult with an immigration attorney or other qualified professional to ensure that you are following the most up-to-date regulations and guidelines when seeking to start a business in the United States.