How to apply for E2 Visa Again Without an Attorney in 3 Steps

I got my first E2 visa in 2017 which was valid for 2 years. The term depends on the reciprocity your country has with the United States. For example, the US embassy in Canada issues E2 visa with the term of 5 years whereas the US embassy in Poland issues E2 visa with the term of only a year. Other embassies even issue E2 visa with the term of 3 months!

Earlier in 2019, I successfully renewed my 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. If you are applying for the E2 Visa the first time, please read How to Apply for E2 Visa Without an Attorney in 3 Steps.

Again, there are 3 main steps to the E2 renewal:

1. Preparing the Documents

Preparing the documents took me less time this time as I already had a running business with years of tax returns. I was able to put together the documents in less than a month.

This time, the documents required were mostly tax returns, as well as hiring records of employees and my plan for hiring more employees. The focus is no longer on the amount invested but rather the number of jobs you created or will create for US citizens and permanent residents.

2. Scheduling an Interview

Again, I had to fly to Singapore after I scheduled my embassy interview on ustraveldocs.com. The website user interface did not seem to change over the years so the familiarity helps a little.

Just like the last time, I did not need to send my supporting documents before scheduling my embassy interview. I dropped it off about a week before my interview at a collection point provided for on ustraveldocs. So this part of the process should be relatively easy and straightforward.

3. Passing the Interview

This time, I felt the interview was more thorough than the last one when I first applied for the E2. The embassy officer had clearly reviewed my documents just like the last time. But she had more questions about the business and my plan on hiring more Americans.

So go in with the plan for hiring more Americans and a thorough understanding of your business. If you run a real business, the latter should not be hard. The harder part should be the plan to hire more Americans as well as having already hired some Americans. To hire more, your business needs to be in good health and growing. So focus on your business and it will take care of the E2 visa renewal!

Once you are approved, you can expect to get your passport with the visa in about a week or two so plan your travel accordingly.

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. I may respond slow so feel free to reach out creatively.

4 Lessons for Entrepreneurs from Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future is the book I would recommend every entrepreneur to read. Non-entrepreneurs who want to be inspired about the direction of humanity should read it too. The book leaves you in no doubt that there is hope for humanity. The book also makes you think big yet comprehend that the big starts from the small. There are many lessons to be learnt from the book, but I found these 4 to be the most valuable for me as an entrepreneur:

1. Re-invest your earnings.

Widely seen as the modern day Iron Man, Elon Musk is the Chairman and CEO of two most avant-garde companies in the world – Tesla and SpaceX, known for popularizing electric cars and building reusable rockets respectively. Elon had a relatively humbler start in entrepreneurship. His first company arguably was Zip2 which he co-founded with his brother. Zip2 was an online listing for the newspaper industry that was later acquired by Compaq for $307 million in 1995. Elon gained $22 million from the acquisition.

Elon re-invested the money and co-founded X.com which eventually merged with another company to form Paypal, the famous online payment service still widely in use today. When eBay bought Paypal in 2002, Elon made $165 million from the sale.

While most people would retire with that much money in hand (at least for a few years), Elon used about $100 million almost immediately to start SpaceX in 2002. He also invested in Tesla in 2004, and eventually took over as its CEO after the 2008 financial crisis.

Elon has re-invested his earnings from each sale of his company into another company to grow his wealth and to do something more impactful. This lesson is important on the individual as well as the company level. Companies should re-invest their earnings into growing their company to impact even more users rather than take profit. One famous company which has done this successfully is Amazon which has razor thin profit margin because it has re-invested in new products and services and it has sought to minimize the prices its customers pay, rather than take profit.

2. Work your hardest.

In the book, one Paypal employee said this of Elon Musk, “we all worked 20 hours a day, and he worked 23 hours.” In fact, in interviews or speeches, Elon’s favorite advice is to work super hard and he would talk about how he worked 100 hours a week. Elon further explained that if you work 100 hours you would accomplish twice as much as someone else working 50 hours a week. The underlying assumption of course is the productivity level of your competitor is the same as yours and your productivity does not decrease as you work longer hours.

While some criticize such advice, as it goes against the wisdom of work smart not hard, I think it makes more sense for a smart person to work harder because he or she would have higher productivity. There are so many smart people these days that to distinguish yourself, you got to work your hardest and smartest.

But I do think working your hardest does not mean you have to work 100 hours a week. Some time must be given to rest, family and social life in order to maintain and restore productivity. Even Elon concedes that working 80 or 90 hours a week seems to be more sustainable for him and he expects his employees to work at least 50 hours a week (not 100!).

3. Build from scratch.

When Elon Musk travelled to Russia to buy refurbished Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) in order to build rockets for a Mars project, he was mocked and given a ridiculous offer by the Russians. He then did something unexpected by his travel mates. He calculated the cost of building a rocket and found that it was cheaper to do so even in the US rather than buy ICBMs from the Russians. SpaceX was then born and the rest is history.

In many occasions, rather than seek short cuts, your company might be better off building the solution from scratch. Elon used this approach of building solutions in the early stages of SpaceX as it was building reusable rockets with parts that no other companies or manufacturers had experience making. Elon also used this approach in Tesla. Many other trailblazers such as Steve Jobs from Apple and Jack Ma from Alibaba have applied this method – the iPhone tested the boundaries of phone parts manufacturers and industrial designers while Alipay a payment escrow service, which is now a mainstream payment method in China, was created by Alibaba to inject trust into its online shopping platform at a time when China’s banking system was largely offline.

4. Persevere.

SpaceX’s first 3 rocket launches failed big. As their rockets were made up of thousands of customized parts, any small imperfection can lead to a spectacular explosion. For example, the cause for the first failure was supposedly a rusty nut.

The third failed launch almost bankrupted SpaceX if not for some last minute funding maneuver by Elon Musk. Elon once said, “My mentality is that of a samurai. I would rather commit seppuku than fail(seppuku is the ancient Japanese tradition of publicly committing suicide by cutting one’s abdomen). This does not mean Elon Musk doesn’t fail. Rather, it shows his commitment to persevering and giving his all to ensure the success of his companies.

Your company or startup will encounter many failures but be encouraged by them because each time you fail, you are closer to success as well, provided you learn from the mistakes. Persevere.

5 Lessons for Entrepreneurs from The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

Arguably one of my favorite biographies, The Everything Store is about the story of Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos. Rather than ask you to read the whole book which is undoubtedly a breeze to read, I am sharing 5 main lessons entrepreneurs like me can learn from it:

1. Always focus on customers and pricing.

Throughout the book, the idea that Jeff is obsessed about reducing prices for Amazon customers has been a recurring theme. This can be seen in various examples in the book, as well as recent examples not covered in the book, such as Whole Foods dropping prices immediately after being acquired by Amazon.

Moreover, Jeff is truly concerned about offering the best customer service on earth as evidenced from Amazon’s smiling face logo as well as its commitment to customer service. My personal experience as a Business Prime member with Amazon reinforces the company’s commitment to customer service and pricing.

The whole rationale for Jeff’s obsession with customers and pricing is a company in for the long haul has better offer the best prices and customer service to keep existing customers or lose out to cheaper competitors in the long run. As a leader in the industry, Amazon had better use its financial muscle to lower prices so as to be the most competitive and retain its leadership.

So rather than price your product or service high, you should price it as low as you can to prevent new entry of competitors as well as to keep customers loyal. Once your price is low enough, make your customers happy by offering great customer service as it’s cheaper to keep existing customers than to acquire new ones.

2. Keep as much equity as you can, if you can.

Prior to it being a public company, Amazon just had 2 funding rounds – a seed round and a series A round. Amazon’s seed round was led by twenty investors for a total of $981,000 and later in 1996 the company raised a $8 million Series A round from Kleiner Perkins. A year later, in 1997, Amazon went public.

Today, founders of most companies that go public own less than 10% of their company at best, as their companies would have gone through at least 5-6 rounds of funding which dilute their ownership. During the time when Amazon went public, Jeff Bezos allegedly owned as much as 50% of Amazon if not more. 20 years later, Jeff Bezos still owns about 17.6% of Amazon.

What Jeff did with his ownership of Amazon is an anomaly rather than the norm and he could only do it because Amazon had tremendous growth and a decent margin to sustain its operations without the need for outside money. Within a few weeks of its start, Amazon was making $20,000 a week selling books. Most importantly, he invested every dollar of profit back into the company to grow it.

So if you are starting or running a company, you should balance growth with raising outside money and losing ownership of your company. The media often reports about company x or y raising millions of dollars, generating a craze among startups to raise as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time. But contrary to public opinion, raising more money is not always better for the company and its founders. There are plenty of startups as examples which raised millions of dollars only to go bust a few years later. On the other hand, there are startups that only raise a moderate amount of money by bootstrapping their operations and still become very successful. One phenomenal example is Amazon.

If you believe in the long term future of your company, you should try to retain as much equity as possible so that you can drive the operations and goals of your company to achieve its vision. Jeff Bezos’ position as the largest shareholder of Amazon helped him to make many business decisions easily to achieve Amazon’s vision and allowed him to be the leader of the company over the years.

3. Be great with selling one product and then expand.

When Amazon went public, it was known as the “Earth’s biggest bookstore” but Jeff Bezos wanted Amazon to be a technology company rather than an online bookstore. He wanted Amazon to be the “everything store” or an online platform that sells everything on earth. Few people back then shared his vision of the company and in fact, Amazon was often misunderstood. He did not mind that people didn’t understand Amazon.

With the tremendous growth and revenue from selling books online, Jeff could use the Amazon platform and its customers to sell other items. Amazon shortly ventured into selling children toys, jewelry and other items of various categories you see today on its website. In fact, Amazon went beyond selling goods to selling services, such as web hosting and cloud computing also known as Amazon Web Services.

This business strategy of having a niche and using it to expand to other product and services is used by many great companies. At errund, we are currently focused on connecting customers to cleaning professionals for homes and offices but that will not be our only focus. In the near future, we will expand to other home and office services such as electrical, plumbing and other maintenance works.

4. Entrepreneurs make mistakes but they should quickly learn from it.

According to the book, Jeff Bezos spent millions acquiring companies only for them to go bankrupt during the dot com crash. This did not stop Jeff from acquiring companies but he was subsequently very careful about which companies to acquire.

Many big corporate companies sitting on a whole lot of cash tend to go on a buying spree. The is because as business schools will tell you the managers behind the acquisitions get paid more as the organization becomes bigger. Also, it’s easy to justify acquisitions by fear of competition from smaller companies and inflation diluting the value of their cash pile.

5. Be on top of everything.

Like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos is a well known micromanager who has his hands in almost every part of Amazon’s operations especially in its early days. Doing so allows him to know Amazon and ensure every part of its operations are aligned with the mission and vision of the company.

As an entrepreneur, you wear many hats in the beginning – sales person, product manager, engineer, recruiter etc. However, as your company grows and you start to hire, you may be tempted to just hold on to “CEO” title and focus only on Profit and Loss. Doing so may make you lose touch with key operations of your company that make it great in the first place.

While you may not need or want to be a micromanager like Jeff, you should consider getting in touch with various operations of your company from time to time so that you can be on top of everything. You can look to Tesla, Amazon and Apple to know that being on top of everything at your company definitely helps it become more successful!

If you have read the book, leave a comment below to share about the main lesson you have learnt from it.

How to Apply for E2 Visa Without an Attorney in 3 Steps

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 attorneys needed me to prepare the supporting documents and they would file the documents. In other words, I am paying 10 grand or more for their team to vet and file documents. I figured I could vet and file my company papers on my own instead and hire an attorney if I needed an appeal. The great thing about the E2 visa application 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:

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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.

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.

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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.