The U.S. immigration law has established several categories of non-immigrant and immigrant visas targeted to investors and business people. This article explains the more pertinent aspects of these. For other visas of interest to workers or companies please check out our section on employment visas.
B-1 -- Business Visitor
This visa category is for those who want to come the United States temporarily to conduct business activities. A B-1 holder may not receive compensation from a U.S. employer, or engage in productive employment that U.S. workers might perform. B-1 visas are for people coming the United States to consult, sell products, attend conferences or business meetings, evaluate investments, etc. A B-1 visa is obtained by application at a U.S. consulate abroad, where the applicant must prove the ability to support him or herself in the United States, document the purpose of the trip and demonstrate an intent to return home to his or her foreign residence at the end of the trip. Due to the relatively simple application process, many people seek to use this visa, where another visa would be more appropriate (in the eyes of the U.S. government). Therefore, consulates closely examine whether applicants are truly eligible for a B-1.
B-1 visas are usually "multiple entry" for up to 10 years, allowing for the visa holder to repeatedly enter the country during that time without applying for a visa each time. The duration of stay can be anywhere from 3 weeks to 6 months upon initial entry. Once in the United States, the visa holder can be extended, through the INS, for up to 18 months on one trip.
Nationals from 23 countries can enter the United States for up to 90 days without having to obtain a B visa, under the visa waiver pilot program. Although there are certain disadvantages (for example, someone cannot change visa status while in the country under this program), this category can be useful for short term business visits.
E-1 and E-2 -- Treaty Traders and Investors
An E-1 treaty trader is someone who enters the United States primarily to carry on trade between the United States and a foreign country that has signed a treaty of commerce and navigation (or its equivalent) with the United States. The treaty trader must carry a passport from the country represented. The initial period of admission is one year. Indefinite extensions of stay are possible.
An E-2 treaty investor is also a national of a foreign country with which the United States has signed a treaty of commerce and navigation, or its equivalent. However, a treaty investor is someone directing and developing a business in which he or she has invested a substantial amount of capital. Top managers and executives of firms that have made substantial investments in qualifying enterprises may also qualify, as may "essential" employees. A one year initial period of admission is permitted, with extensions available in appropriate circumstances.
The so-called "Millionaire's Visa," the EB-5 or Employment Creation immigrant category allows 10,000 visas annualy for "immigrant investors" who can invest at least $1 million in a new enterprise in the United States. This new enterprise must create at jobs for at least ten U.S. workers. And, if the investment is in a certain targeted underemployment area, the required investment can be reduced to $500,000.
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