The E-1 “Treaty Trader” Visa

Employment-Based Immigration

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The E-1 is designed to accommodate people who wish to come to the United States to conduct international trade services between their country and the United States. Just as with the E-2 visa, their country must be a “treaty country”; that is, it must have entered into a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United States.

“International trade” is defined broadly — it is not limited to tangible goods. It can include services such as international banking, insurance, transportation, tourism, and communications, among others. You can also bring your spouse and unmarried children to the United States in E-1 treaty trader status.

Primary Benefits of the E-1 Classification

Under a valid E-1 visa:

  • You may travel in and out of the United States with no need to apply for advance parole, The E-1 treaty trader visa is a multiple re-entry visa, and as long as you continue to qualify under its terms, you will be granted an automatic two-year extension every time you re-enter the United States. Your spouse and children, however, cannot receive an extension unless they apply for one and their petition is approved.
  • You may remain in the US indefinitely, as long as you continue to meet the requirements of the E-1 treaty trader visa (you are still engaged in trading services, for example). All you need to do is apply for successive visa extensions of two years each. The number of extensions is potentially unlimited, in stark contrast to the H-1B visa.
  • You may not only bring your family members with you, you may keep them in the US as long as you are in the E-1 classification; except that your unmarried children will become ineligible for further extensions once they get married or turn 21.

Additionally, a visa holder’s accompanying dependents can attend school, and the spouse of a visa holder can work legally by applying for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Who is Eligible for an E-1?

A company owner or senior employee who is engaged in trade and who seeks to enter the United States for the purpose of providing trade-related services may apply for an E visa. The following requirements apply:

  • The company must be at least 50 percent owned by nationals of the treaty country;
  • All employees must be nationals of a nation that carries on regular trade with the United States (the United Kingdom, for example);
  • The applicant must engage in substantial trading services with the US (or be one of the employees of a company that provides substantial trading services with the US).
  • The company must engage in substantial “principal trade”, which typically means that over 50% of the total volume of trade must be between the U.S. and the trader’s country of citizenship.

Documents You Must Have to Apply for an E-1 Visa

You must provide some or perhaps all of the following documents to apply for an E-1 from abroad:

  • Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application; if you are applying from abroad;
  • Form DS-156E, Nonimmigrant Treaty Trader / Investor petition, if you are applying from abroad (this form is also used for E-2 treaty investor visa petitions);
  • Form I-129, if you are applying for a change of status to E-1 status from within the United States;
  • Proof that you will leave the US and not seek permanent residence in the US after your E-1 visa expires;
  • Your resume;
  • Evidence of your expertise in international trade;
  • A copy of your passport with at least six months’ remaining validity;
  • A passport-style photo;
  • Documentary evidence that you have engaged in at least one year of trading activity;
  • Evidence that you have remitted money to the US;
  • Evidence of the establishment of business operations in the US;
  • Evidence of your citizenship in a treaty country;
  • Evidence of a trading relationship between the US and the treaty country; and
  • Evidence that the business is legally established and legitimate (financial documents, media reports, etc.)

Additional Documentation

In some cases, you will not need to submit all of the foregoing information to obtain an E visa. In other cases, you must submit substantial additional documentation that is not listed above. It is critical that you work with a seasoned immigration attorney during the document assembly and verification process.

There are two main ways that you can become aware of local documentation requirements that apply to specific US embassies or consulates: (i) contact the appropriate embassy or consulate and ask if there are any special documents that you must submit, and (ii) submit your petition and waiting for a Request for Evidence (RFE) to inform you of what additional documentation is required.

Additional documents may be requested, for example, to establish whether you or your company meet the requirements of the law and comply with the requirements of the E-1 visa category. It is impossible to specify the exact documents you may need since this will vary from individual to individual.

The Visa Interview

Just as required for the E-2 treaty investor visa, you will probably be required to attend an in-person interview before your E-1 will be issued. You will also be required to bring certain documents. The officer will ask you questions designed to allow him to determine whether you are qualified for an E-1.

If you apply at a US embassy or consulate abroad

You will need to interview with a consular officer, your fingerprints will be taken digitally, and you will be photographed. You won’t necessarily get your visa right away, even if your petition is approved — some administrative processing may be required. Under certain circumstances, certain additional steps may be necessary to secure approval.

You may have to pay a visa issuance fee, the amount of which depends on your nationality. It is also possible that immigration authorities may retain your passport for a few days before returning it to you with your visa stamped onto it.

If you apply for adjustment of status to E-1 status while in the United States

If you apply for an adjustment to E-1 status while in the United States, the USCIS, rather than a US embassy or consulate, may require you to meet with the USCIS in person before they will approve your application.

Entering the United States on an E-1 visa

Obtaining a visa stamp on your passport is not a 100 percent guarantee that you will be admitted to the United States — even a visa holder can be denied entry at the border. The immigration officer will check your passport and will probably ask you a few questions about your business in the United States.

The immigration officer should stamp you in for a two-year period of stay, or for a period of stay equal to the length of time that your passport will remain valid, whichever is shorter. Your period of stay should appear on Form I-94, which will be provided to you, and it can also be accessed on the Customs and Border Protection website. Do not lose Form I-94, because you will almost certainly need to present it to US immigration officials sooner or later.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does approval of an E-1 application take?

Processing can take up to 6 months. If you are in a rush, you may also opt for premium processing (see below).

How much does an E-1 cost?

The normal filing fee is $460. The premium processing fee, which guarantees a response (one way or the other) within 15 calendar days, is $2,960.

Can I remain eligible for an E-1 treaty trader visa if I apply for a green card in another status?

In other words, “Is the E-1 a dual intent visa?” Although the E-1’s “sister visa”, the E2 visa, is certainly a dual intent visa, the E-1 is unique in this regard. The USCIS, which handles domestic applications for changes in immigration status, believes it to be a dual intent visa. The State Department, which handles E-1 petitions from overseas, believes it is not.

This means that if you have a green card petition pending, you can still extend your E-1 within the US. If you seek an E-1 visa at a US embassy or consulate abroad, however, it will likely be denied if you have a green card petition pending, because the State Department expects you to intend to depart the United States as soon as your E-1 status ends.

Will my work activities be restricted?

Yes, your work activities will be restricted to the activities that have been approved under your E-1 visa. Employees, however, may under certain circumstances work for the parent company of their employer. Separate USCIS approval of the continuing validity of your E-1 visa may be required if, for example, your company merges with another company.

Can I change immigration status on an E-1?

Yes, you can, although you may be subject to certain limitations based on what type of visa you qualify for. You will need to file Form I-129 or Form I-539 with the USCIS.

Can I study on an E-1 visa?

Yes, as long as your studies don’t interfere with your work. To this end, you are permitted to study only part-time.

Can I bring an employee (such as a maid) to the US with me?

Yes, you can bring an employee, as long as you can demonstrate that your employee’s act of accompanying you to the US does not constitute an abandonment of their residence abroad. You will also have to show that they have been employed by you for no less than a year before accompanying you to the US.

Can my children work on an E-1 visa?

No, your children cannot work while under the E-1 visa. Your spouse can do so, but only after applying for and receiving an employment authorization document (EAD).

Can my family members study on E-1 visas?

While your children cannot work under E-1 visas, they may attend primary school. middle school, high school, college, or university. They are not required to apply for separate student visas (e.g. F-1 visas).

Will my children have to leave the United States if they turn 21 or get married?

Perhaps, but not necessarily. While your children’s E-1 visas will no longer be extended once they turn 21 or get married, you children may qualify to stay in the US under another visa status — an F-1 student visa, for example, an H-1B specialty occupation visa or, if your child married a US citizen, permanent residence based on family relationship. One plan might be for your child to graduate from a US university in F-1 status, and then work in the US after graduation.

What are my most likely options if I want to change from an E-1 visa to a US green card?

There are several possible US visas that may be available to you, including:

  • Family-based visas, if you have an immediate relative in the US (or if you marry a US citizen or permanent resident); and
  • Employment-based visas based on outstanding ability, for example, or possession of an advanced degree such as a Ph.D.

Why aren’t citizens of my country eligible for E-1 visas?

For citizens of a given country to be eligible for E-1 visas, the United States and the treaty country must have entered into a treaty of commerce and navigation, and the terms of that treaty must allow US citizens to enjoy the functional equivalent of E-1 visas under the immigration law of that country.

Some countries maintain restrictive domestic investment policies or currency controls that are opposed to the interests of US businesses. When it comes to these countries, the United States may not have entered into any trade or investment treaties with the country, resulting in no eligibility for an E-1 visa by its citizens. If you find yourself in this situation, you might try another type of employment-based, nonimmigrant visas such as H-1B, E-3, or L-1 nonimmigrant status.

What is the minimum amount of trade needed to qualify for E-1 status?

No exact minimum level is specified. Nevertheless, the higher the amount of trade, the more likely it is that an E-1 visa petition will be approved. Additionally, different standards might apply to different industries.

What is the E-2 visa?

The E-2 “treaty investor” visa allows certain people who make qualifying investments into the US economy, along with their family members, to enter and remain in the US. Like the E-1 visa, E-2 visas are available only to citizens of countries that have entered into treaties of commerce and navigation with the United States.

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