Earlier this year, I successfully applied for the E2 Visa without an attorney or lawyer. I am sharing my experience so that you can take some anxiety away from applying on your own. For about 6 years, I have been on the F1 Student Visa, which allowed me to work in the United States for up to 29 months for any company. Most often, F1 visa holders can only work up to 12 months in the US after graduation. Only those who are STEM majors get an extra 17 months (now 24 months) to work in the US.
However, I could not apply for either the H-1B or the H-1B1 work visa (exclusive to Singaporeans and Chileans) because I own more than 50% of my company (errund). So if I were to run my company in the US, I had to get another type of visa. I realized in mid-2016 that my most viable option was the E2 Investor Visa. I inquired with a few immigration attorneys who supposedly have a 90% success rate and wanted to charge me north of USD$10,000.
Being true to my entrepreneurial spirits, I applied for the E2 Investor Visa on my own, without any legal help from an attorney. The main reason for that was the lawyers needed me to prepare the supporting documents on my own. In other words, I am paying 10 grand or more for their administrative team to vet and file documents. I figured I could vet and file my company papers on my own instead and only hire an attorney if I needed an appeal. The great thing about the E2 visa program is that there is no limit to how many times you can apply. Hence, the cost of proceeding without an attorney for me was extremely minimal. There are 3 main steps to the E2 application:
1. Preparing the Documents
Preparing the documents took me about 6 months because I was largely preoccupied with managing errund. I imagine the process can be done in 3 months. There are several supporting documents for the E2 visa to be issued, and some of these documents are embassy specific. For example, the US embassy in the UK has one of the strictest requirements I have seen. Regardless, the documents together have to meet the criteria set for the E2 visa by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Most embassies have published a checklist of recommended supporting documents they need from you to prove that you have met the criteria. Examples are documents that prove that your investment is “substantial” and is “at risk.”
A note about the substantial investment requirement: how much you need to invest is primarily based on the net worth of your business or the cost of starting your business. Ideally, the investment has to be 50% or more of the starting cost or net worth of your business. There is no a minimum amount but the number is almost certain to be less than $500,000 as if you were to invest that amount, you would most certainly prefer to apply for a green card via the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. (The amount for the EB-5 has since increased to a minimum of $900,000 inside a Targeted Employment Area and of $1.8 million outside.)
2. Scheduling an Interview
I flew to Singapore earlier this year within a week of scheduling my embassy interview on ustraveldocs.com. The website seems to be a phishing site but it’s actually legitimate. I wish the website had ssl security to save me time from checking its legitimacy from various government websites.
While you need to prepare your supporting documents in advance, you need not submit them before scheduling your embassy interview. In fact, you need only to submit them a week before your scheduled interview, at least for the US embassy in Singapore.
3. Passing the Interview
On the day of interview, I was only required to bring documents to identify myself and the interview notice. Your passport and supporting documents should already be at the embassy a week before the interview.
After passing through a security screening, I was given a number and then ushered into a common waiting room. I imagined being called to a private room to discuss the details of my application. However, at the embassy, I quickly realized this was not so as I saw various people ahead of me being questioned about their application at a counter. It was not easy to hear the full conversation between the applicant and consular officer but I could figure the outcome of most interviews. One particular Indian couple ahead of me were denied as they wanted to open an Indian restaurant in the US – however, the E2 visa requires the investment to be at risk and they have not invested any money into the restaurant yet.
Finally, my number was called and I went to the counter. The consular officer separated from me by a thick glass window asked what my business was about and where it operated. When I was done with my routine answers, he said I was approved! The interview took not more than 5 minutes! The officer did say he had read through my application prior and was satisfied with it.
The validity period of the E2 visa is dependent on the treaty your country has with the United States. In my case, it was 2 years. If like mine, your E2 visa is valid for 2 years, you are still able to stay in the US for more than 2 years on an E2. This is so because the duration of stay (DS) upon entry into the US by an E2 holder is normally 2 years. This means if you were to enter the US a day before your E2 visa expired, you could stay in the US legitimately for the next 2 years but once you re-enter the US you will need a unexpired E2 visa. Moreover, there is no limit on how many times you can renew your E2 visa.
Overall, I must say the application was smooth sailing although this is so only if you can prove your business is legitimately operational for quite a while in the US, have existing customers, and will hire or have hired US citizens. The more you can prove so the higher chances you have for approval.
Intent of E2 Visa
The ultimate intent of the E2 Visa is to create jobs for Americans. In order to get or renew your E2 visa, you ultimately have to prove that you will hire or have hired Americans. The first time you get your E2 visa, you need not have hired any Americans but during visa renewal, the emphasis is expected to shift to how many Americans you have hired and will hire.
If you have specific questions about the supporting documents which I did not cover in depth in this post or want to share your experience, leave me a comment below.