The E1 visa or otherwise called the Treaty Trader Visa is a US non-immigrant visa for all those who trade with the US. The trade must be between the US and an E1 visa country with which the US has a trade and investment treaty.
The E1 visa allows a person who is a sole trader or a company with trade representatives to go to the US and continue the trading operations. The trade can be in any industry, such as transportation, communication, banking, advertising, management, and others. There are no prohibitions in terms of the type of industry that the trade must occur.
Additionally, the trade for an E1 visa must be substantial. Substantial trade means that trade of products or services is done in bulk and is continuous. The regulations do not specify a minimum amount of trade that must happen to qualify for an E1 visa, since this differs based on industries.
Those who hold the E1 visa are allowed to work in the US for the company with which they are trading, but cannot change employers without risking their E1 visa status. E1 visa holders are also allowed to study by taking a few courses at a university, but cannot enroll in full time study since they would not be able to engage in the work or trade that the E1 visa requires them to.
What Are the E1 Treaty Countries?
The E1 Treaty Countries are the following:
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Do I Qualify for the E1 Visa?
To be eligible for the E1 visa, there are certain conditions that you must meet. The criteria for this type of visa are as follows:
- You must be involved in international trade.
- You must be from a country that has a trade treaty with the US.
- If you work for a company, at least 50% of it must be owned by people who are citizens of a trade treaty country.
- You must have a senior position such as a supervisor, manager, or executive.
- You must be the dependent (spouse or unmarried child under 21 years old) of someone who fulfills the above criteria.
Meeting the requirements is key to being eligible for the E1 visa. If you do not abide by these rules, then your application for the E1 visa will be denied.
How to Apply for the E1 Visa?
You can apply for an E1 visa from two places, depending on your situation:
- From within the US through USCIS
- From outside the US through a US Embassy
Within the US
If you are applying from within the US, you must file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, if you will be engaged directly in international trade. If you will be working for someone who is engaged in international trade as a supervisor, manager, or executive, then the company must file Form I-129.
You must also submit filing fees and other documents to prove nationality, trade relationship, and intent to return to your home country. USCIS will then process the request and send you the appropriate response. If your request is granted, USCIS will give you or your employer a Form I-797, Approval Notice.
Outside the US
If you are outside of the US, you must apply through a US Embassy in your home country. Applying from outside the US is a lengthier procedure. It involves the following steps:
File Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application
Fill in the necessary information and at the end, you will get a confirmation page which you will need later on for your documentation.
Pay the application fee
The fee for the E1 visa is $205. You might be asked to pay additional fees such as visa issuance fees or reciprocity fees based on the country you come from.
Schedule your visa interview
You should schedule your interview as soon as possible to avoid long waits due to the high workload of the US Embassy. All visa applicants over 13 and under 80 years old need to interview with an official of the US Embassy. When you schedule your interview, you will be given a visa appointment letter, which you need to have with you for your interview.
Gather the documents
Gather a file of documents to bring with you on the interview:
- Your valid passport.
- If you are an employee of a company, submit documents which prove the nationality of the company and that it belongs to a treaty trade country.
- Have one photograph according to the US Visa Photo Requirements and submit it with the DS-160 form.
- Form DS-160 confirmation page.
- Filled Form DS-156E, Treaty or Trader Investor Application.
- Receipts that prove you have paid the necessary fees.
- Visa appointment letter.
- Letter from employer describing your position and how you are an essential employee to international trade.
- Letters or documents which prove you or the company you work for have substantial trade with the US.
- Evidence of your intentions to return to your home countries such as property deeds, apartment lease, or other documents.
Attend the scheduled interview
During the interveiw, a US Embassy official will ask you questions regarding your character and purpose of visit to the US. The official will also try to determine whether you intend to return to your home country. If they suspect that you intend to stay in the US permanently, your visa status might be at risk.
How long does it take to process the E1 visa?
The E1 visa processing time depends on the caseload of the US Embassy or USCIS if you applied from within the US. However, the estimated processing time is between two and four weeks from the time you file your application. After the processing period is over, you will be notified about whether you have been given the visa or you were denied.
How long is the E1 visa valid?
If the US Embassy or USCIS have decided that you fulfill the requirements and grant you the visa, it will have a limited validity. The E1 visa is initially valid for 2 years only. This means that you are allowed to stay in the US to conduct international trade for 2 years. Afterward, there are various options for you to continue your stay, or you can return to your home country.
If you continue to meet the requirements of the E1 visa and are eligible as an international trader, you might leave the US and come back again through a Port of Entry (POE). In some cases, the E1 visa is then automatically renewed for another 2 years.
However, the most usual situation is that you will have to apply for an extension of the visa. The US allows E1 visa holders unlimited extensions as long as they meet the E1 visa criteria and show continuous intent to return to their home country. To file for an extension, you must file Form I-129 and Form I-539, Application to Extend or Change Status.
You must also include a copy of your passport, copy of your Form I-94 which you got when you entered the US, copy of Form I-797, US tax documents, and proof that your stay in the US is essential to continuing the trade.
Can I apply for a Green Card with an E1 visa?
Since you will constantly have to prove your intent to return to your home country after your visa expires and your work is completed, going from an E1 visa to Green Card is difficult. However, it is not impossible. The easiest way is for you to find a job and an employer willing to sponsor your stay. You can then change your status to an H-1B visa and then apply for the Green Card.
Additionally, if you have family in the US who have permanent residence, you can apply to join them. More difficult manners to obtain permanent residence are through filing as an Alien of Extraordinary Ability or EB-1 person or you can file a National Interest Waiver (NIW) if you have advanced education and training, and if you can show that your work will benefit the US.
Can I bring my dependents with an E1 visa?
With an E1 visa you can also bring your dependents to the US. Dependents are the spouse and unmarried children under 21 years old. The dependents can apply for the E1 visa at the same time as the primary E1 person, or afterwards.
To apply for the E1 visa as dependents, they must show a relationship with the primary E1 visa holder. This includes birth certificates for children, and marriage certificates for spouses. The US does not recognize multiple spouses, so only one marriage certificate is valid. However, same sex spouses are allowed to apply.
Dependents with an E1 visa are allowed to study in the US and also work. To be allowed to start their employment, E1 dependents must apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). This can be done by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. After approval of this document, the dependents can choose to work part or full time.
If the primary E1 visa holder extends their stay, the dependents can also file for extensions by filling in Form I-539, Application to Extend or Change Status. In addition, if the primary E1 visa holder gets a Green Card, the dependents will also get the Green Card.
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