A national from a foreign country who wants to visit the United States for temporary business purposes has to apply for a B-1 visitor visa unless he or she qualifies to enter the country under the VWP (Visa Waiver Program). In that case they should also be in possession of a valid ESTA.
Generally speaking, citizens of Bermuda and Canada also do not require B-1 visas to attend to temporary business matters in the US, although certain types of business trips could require a visa.
The following are examples of what is regarded as ‘temporary business’:
- Negotiating business deals
- Attending a conference or convention that is related to business matters
- Attending business consultations or meetings
Documentation to have ready when attending an interview for a B-1 business visa
A valid passport – The expiration date of your passport should be at least six months beyond the date when you intend to depart from the United States again. Every person who requires a visa should submit his or her own application, including any of their family members who are listed in the main applicant’s passport.
The online confirmation page- you received after submitting form DS-160 (Nonimmigrant Visa Application) online.
Payment receipt – Anyone who had to pay an application fee has to keep the payment receipt and present it at the visa interview.
Recent photo – During the completion of the online visa application form, you will be asked to upload a recent photo of yourself. If the upload is unsuccessful, you will have to take a printed photo in the prescribed format with you to the visa interview.
Additional documentation – Before attending the visa interview, you should first visit the website of the United States Embassy or Consulate where you are applying. You might be asked to bring additional documentation to prove that you qualify. Examples include proof of the following:
- The purpose of your visit to the US
- That you have the financial means to cover all the costs involved with your trip
- That you intend to leave the US again after the trip
The authorities will normally accept proof of your family ties in the US and/or that you are employed in your own country as sufficient. If you aren’t able to pay for all the costs related to your trip, one option is to provide suficient proof that someone else is prepared to cover all or part of these costs.
Visa applicants have to qualify based on their residence and/or ties in their own country instead of giving assurances from friends and family members in the US. It is also not necessary to bring an Affidavit of Support or an invitation letter when you apply for a visitor visa. If you opt to take one of these documents to the visa interview anyway, please be aware that it can not be used as a factor when the authorities decide on whether or not you meet the qualifications for a visa.
Entering the United States as a foreigner to start a business
When a foreigner wants to go to the United States to start a business, the B-1 visa discussed above has a number of disadvantages. These include:
- It might be less flexible than alternative visa options
- It is not suitable for long-term business activities
- It does not apply to those who want to work in the United States
If you are currently the owner of an established business in your own country, you should consider a few other options. Continue reading for more details.
Intra-company Transferee (L-1)
This type of visa is aimed at people who are working for a multi-national firm as a high-level manager, executive, or highly skilled employee. It is required when the firm wants to transfer one or more of these individuals to or from the United States.
One of the biggest benefits of this type of visa is that the spouse and/or dependents of the visa holder could be granted L-2 visas that allow them to work in the United States during their stay in that country. Apart from this, an employer is also allowed to file one blanket petition to apply for more than one L-1 visa at the same time.
The E-visa come in three different types: E-1, E-2, and EB-5.
The Treaty Traders Visa (E-1)
This is the best option for foreign investors, managers, and professionals from a treaty-nation firm who want to visit United States for any of the following reasons:
- To manage a significant investment in the country
- To become involved in trading between the United States and an overseas enterprise
For the purposes of this visa, the term trade is defined as the global exchange of technology, goods, and/or services.
Firms from treaty nations who are planning to dispatch high-level staff members to the United States to set up a business could find the E-1 their best option. Although there is no specific dollar value that defines a trader for the purposes of this visa, a minimum of 50% of their trading activities should be conducted in the US.
The benefits associated with an E-1 visa include that the visa holder can freely travel to the United States and back. Unlimited 2-years extensions are also available for this type of visa, provided that your status remains unchanged. Your dependents are also allowed to join you in the US while your E-1 status remains valid. Plus, your spouse can legally start working in the country.
The E-2 visa
Investors who would like to start or grow a business in the United States might find the E-2 visa the best alternative. Similar to its E-1 counterpart, a fixed dollar amount for your investment in the US is not required – as long as it is ‘substantial’.
Generally speaking though, the more valuable the business, the smaller the share of its total value the investment in the US has to be. A small percentage of a very large business is of course still more than a large percentage of a much smaller business.
Similar to its E-1 counterpart, the E-2 visa allows indefinite renewals and your spouse as well as your dependents will be able to join you in the United States.
Applying for E1- or E-2 visas
The procedure to apply for E-1 and E-2 visa is virtually the same. Both applications must be sent to the US consulate/embassy that has jurisdiction over the matter. The only differences are in the type of supporting documentation that is required and the cost.
The Investor’s Green Card or EB-5 visa – So far we have discussed non-immigrant visas that provide the holder the right to work in the United States for a limited period of time. The EB-5 visa or ‘green card’ allows for permanent residency in the country.
The applicant has to invest between half- a million and a million USD in a business. If the enterprise is in a high-unemployment rural area, the amount is $500,000. At least 10 jobs must be created in the process.
Only 10,000 EB-5 visas are issued per year. About 5,000 of those are made available to people who submit an application in terms of the pilot program via a CIS-designated Regional Center.
A commercial enterprise can be any of the following (but is not limited to):
- Holding company
- Joint venture
- Business trust
- Sole proprietorship
As the law stands at present, applicants from all countries can apply. If the application is approved, spouses and dependents below the age of 21 may also get green cards.