Note: U.S. embassies are not open in all countries, so check with your local embassy to find out where you can apply for a visa. Read here for current travel restrictions by country. Also, turnaround times can take anywhere from 2 to 8 months or more for nonimmigrant visas and years for permanent residence visas. The type of visa, country of residence, and current global conditions all affect turnaround times, so individual results can vary greatly. Use this link to locate the closest embassy and contact them for more information on visa availability and travel restrictions in your country.
In general terms, a visa is a document issued by a territory to grant traveling and long-term residency privileges to a foreign citizen. Nonimmigrant visas are for temporary stays and usually have expiration dates. International Immigrant visas permit permanent legal residence and also pave the path toward U.S. citizenship.
If you’re visiting for 90 days or less and just exploring how to start an LLC or corporation in the U.S., you may be eligible for a waiver. Check here to find out if you live in an eligible country. There are several types of visas, but we’re just exploring the main types for international entrepreneurs.
In general, B-type visas are easier to obtain because they are temporary permits to enter the U.S. E-type visas are for foreign nationals who want to live in the U.S. and work in or invest in their businesses. Because they permit legal residence, any E-type visa could take years for approval. If you want to apply for an E visa, contact your local embassy to find out if the U.S. is issuing them for nationals in your country.
If you’re traveling to the U.S. for a business meeting or conference, or to handle a matter such as opening a U.S. bank account or negotiating a contract, a B1 visa will allow you to enter the country for a specific, limited amount of time. This visa is good for up to 10 years, but each visit is limited to 180 days. You’ll have to prove residency in your country and provide evidence that you can cover your expenses while in the U.S. If the B1 visa is right for you, you can start the application process by completing form DS-160.
A combined B1 and B2 visa allows international visitors to do business and tour the U.S. and neighboring countries, such as Canada and Mexico. The combined B1/B2 visa is a great way to visit the U.S. and explore business opportunities across the borders. This visa is good for 10 years, and you can stay in the U.S. for up to 180 days per entry.
The E1 visa is reserved for applicants who are treaty traders or investors. They must demonstrate extraordinary ability and outstanding expertise in their fields of industry. If your work is well-documented in the arts, sciences, business, education, or athletics, and you want to continue that work in the U.S., you may submit your own Immigrant Petitions for Alien Workers, form I-140 with the USCIS.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires the following to qualify for the E1 visa:
Substantial trade generally refers to the continuous flow of sizable international trade items, involving numerous transactions over time. See the USCIS E-1 Treaty Traders page for more information.
The following qualifications are required to be approved for the E2 Treaty Investors visa.
The E5 visa is likely the most difficult to obtain, primarily because of its financial requirements. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services requires that a foreign citizen must invest, without borrowing, either $1.8 million USD or $900,000 USD in a rural or high unemployment area that’s designated a target employment area. At least 10 full-time jobs for U.S. citizens or residents authorized to work in the U.S. must be created within two years, and these jobs cannot employ either the investor, investor’s spouse, or children.
Note: E-type visas cannot be applied for outside the U.S. There are currently additional restrictions and delays due to the covid pandemic. Contact your local embassy or an immigration attorney for more information.
B-type visitor visas have pretty straightforward online applications. With a little tech-savvy you can walk yourself through the guided process here. E-type visas are much more complex. We recommend hiring an immigration attorney or a visa filing service to help you select the right visa type and complete your application for you. All applicants will need to gather various civil documents from the next step.
Save yourself some time and stress by putting together an organized packet of all the paperwork you’ll need for your visa interview (next step). Requirements vary by country, but you can find a list of civil documents with this U.S. Visa document finder. If you hired an immigration firm, they’ll process your application. All applicants will need the following documents, in addition to documents for each visa type.
International entrepreneurs who don’t need a petition can start with Step 2 in the U.S. Department of State’s online application process. Here’s a breakdown of the steps and it’s easy to click through as each step is completed.
NVC Processing – Case is created in the National Visa Center system.
Pay Fees – Once you receive a welcome letter from NVC, you’ll need to pay the application fees.
Online Application – Complete the application for you and your qualified dependents after fees are paid.
Scan and Submit Documents – All civil documents will be uploaded to your online account. There are instructions and tips within the application.
Note: All documents that are not in the English language will need to be submitted with certified translations.
You’ll receive an email notification when your application has been reviewed and your visa interview appointment at your local embassy has been scheduled.
Find the interview instructions for your country on the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs website.
You’ll need to complete a medical examination with an authorized physician in the country where you will be interviewed. Schedule an appointment when you receive your appointment date and time from the National Visa Center.
Prepare your answers to the most common visa interview questions. It may help to practice interviewing with someone. Here is a list of common E-1 visa interview questions.
The E-5 interview is more complex and requires additional scrutiny. This article has good information and assistance if you need help with your application or interview.
On the day of your interview, all applicants (you, your spouse, and qualified dependents) are required to participate. Bring your documents and dress formally, as you would for a job interview. Arrive at the U.S. Embassy at least 30 minutes early and expect the interview to last about 20 minutes. You should know by the end of your interview if your visa is approved.
As of 2018, 55% of America’s large startups had at least one immigrant founder. It’s easy to see that international entrepreneurs can create jobs and grow their businesses for long-term success on U.S. soil. Feel free to share your visa application experience below.
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