As the world spins along, so does the global economy. Professionals of international business and commerce are vital players in the exchange of goods across continents and oceans. We need them to help keep civilization humming. For many foreign nationals conducting international trade in the U.S., the E-1 Visa is an essential requirement. Much like the EB5 investor visa, but temporary in nature, the E1 Visa was designed for international business professionals who wish to come to the U.S. solely to engage in the trading of goods and services. The E1 visa program is a byproduct of treaties of commerce between the U.S. and specific countries around the world.
This page was designed to offer some basic information to foreign traders interested in learning about the E-1 Visa program, and perhaps help them decide if they should consult with an immigration attorney. The following topics are covered on this page:
- E1 Visa Basics
- Treaty Countries
- Applying for an E-1 Visa
- Can My Family Join Me?
- Consulting an Attorney
It’s important to remember that while certain issues relating to immigration law are discussed on this page, nothing contained here is intended as substitute for speaking directly with a qualified immigration lawyer. If you have questions about the E1 Visa, or other visa programs, contact our office for more information.
E1 Visa Basics
This particular visa is granted only to foreign nationals who hail from countries that have treaties of commerce, friendship or navigation with the U.S. According to statistics maintained by the U.S. Department of State, there has been a steady increase in the number of E Visas issued since 2011. In 2015, the number of E visas issued totaled 59,221. This figure represented a 48 percent increase since 2011.
The section of law providing for the E-1 Visa is found in the Immigration and Nationality Act, which states that certain foreign nationals can become authorized to enter the United States “in pursuance of the provisions of a treaty of commerce and navigation between the United States and the foreign state of which he is a national.”
In less legalistic phrasing, foreign nationals who hold an E1 Visa (also known as “treaty traders”) come to the U.S. in order to engage in “substantial” international trade. The trade must principally occur between the U.S. and the country of treaty.
Types of Trade – Substantial Trade
The types of goods and services that qualify under the E1 Visa program can include: insurance monies, transportation, international banking, managerial consulting, tangible commodities, merchandise having “extrinsic” value, and more. More than 50 percent of the trade conducted by the E-1 visa holder must be international in nature. Domestic trade is not calculated in this figure.
E-1 trade must specifically involve an exchange of qualifying commodities, goods or services. In other words, the trade must be traceable and identifiable and the title of goods must pass from one country to another.
In order to qualify as substantial, the type of trade involved cannot be a one-time transaction, but rather must ensure a continuous flow of trade between the two countries.
When reviewing an E1 application, consular officials will favorably consider the income resulting from the trade and whether this amount is enough to support the E1 Visa holder and his or her family. Proof of substantiality might include insurance documents related to imports, credit slips, customer receipts, and trade brochures.
The E-1 Visa is available to individual traders as well as employees of companies deemed to be treaty organizations. However, individual employees must hail from the same country as the treaty employers. In the case of companies that maintain corporate stock and conduct E-1 trade, at least 50 percent of the stock must be owned by nationals of the treaty country.
Though the E-1 Visa shares some common traits with the EB5 investor visa, it is temporary in nature. A foreign trader can come to the U.S. under this program indefinitely, but they must intend to eventually leave the country. Because of its temporary nature, the approval wait time for an E1 Visa can be shorter than in the case of an EB5, making it a more attractive option for some foreign nationals.
The length of time a person is allowed to stay in the U.S. under E1 status varies, but the initial admission is typically for up to two years. Extensions of two years can be requested as needed.
A full list of E-1 Visa treaty countries is available through the US Department of State website. A partial list of countries which have E-1 treaties with the U.S. include the following:
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
For more information on who qualifies for treaty trader status, contact our lawyer to see how we can assist you.
Applying for an E-1 Visa
For international traders living abroad, the process typically begins by filing a Non Immigrant Visa Application (Form DS-160) with a US Embassy or consulate. In addition, a Nonimmigrant Treaty Trader Application (Form DS 156E) must also be filed. Once the proper forms are filed an interview with a consular officer must be scheduled. It is ultimately up to the discretion of the consular officer to grant an E1 Visa.
In the case of an employee who seeks a visa with an E-1 company, the employer must file a Petition for Alien Worker (Form I-129) on the worker’s behalf. This form is filed through US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once this is approved, the foreign worker is eligible to file for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or consulate abroad.
Finally, in the case of a foreign national who is already in the U.S. under legal nonimmigrant status, and wishes to change to E1 status, that person is eligible to file for an E1 Visa through USCIS on their own behalf.
Because of the different filing procedures that can apply depending on the specific immigration situation, it is recommended that anyone seeking to obtain E-1 Visa status consult with a qualified immigration attorney.
Can My Family Join Me?
In many cases, yes. Spouses and unmarried children (less than 21 years old) can apply for E-3 status. Family members granted this status are not required to hail from the same nation as the treaty agreement. In some cases, spouses under E-3 status are eligible to apply for employment authorization during their stay.
Consulting an Attorney
While those wishing to obtain an E1 Visa are not required to retain the services of an immigration lawyer, it is highly recommended that they do. Immigration law, and the immigration system are complex and involve multiple bureaucratic agencies. The process can be daunting, even for the most savvy of international business professionals.
Each immigration situation is different and can require different filing procedures. It’s important to remember that simple filing errors can be costly, time-consuming and lead to a denial of application. In addition, an experienced lawyer will help the foreign national decide on the best type of visa for their particular situation. If you have questions about your eligibility for an E1 Visa or other type of visa, contact our office to see how we can help.