The E-1 visa is one of thee visas under the E visa category. The E-1 visa is designed specifically for traders from countries that have signed treaties of commerce and navigation with the United States. Today, we’re explaining everything you need to know about the E-1 visa application process.

How Does the E-1 Visa Work?

The E-1 visa allows an individual trader or an employee of a trade company to visit the United States to engage in trade operations. The E-1 visa does not require the employee to engage in specific trading activities or industries; as long as it’s a legal industry in the United States, the trader may qualify for an E-1 visa.

One of the main requirements for an E-1 visa is that the individual or company is engaged in “substantial trade” with the United States. Substantial trade is defined in different ways.

E-1 Visa Requirements

There are three main E-1 visa requirements, including all of the following:

  • Be a national of a country with which the United States has a treaty of commerce and navigation
  • Carry on substantial trade
  • Carry on principal trade between the United States and the treaty country that qualified the treaty trader for E-1 classification

USCIS defines “trading” as “the existing international exchange of items of trade for consideration between the United States and the treaty country.” Some of the items available for trading under this definition include goods, services, international banking, insurance, transportation, tourism, technology, and certain news-gathering activities.

Meanwhile, USCIS defines “substantial trade” as “the continuous flow of sizable international trade items, involving numerous transactions over time.” As long as your trading activity meets that definition, you may qualify for an E-1 visa. There is no specific dollar amount of trading that determines whether or not you qualify for the E-1 visa.

E-1 Visa Requirements for the Employees of a Treaty Trader

To qualify for the E-1 visa as an employee of a treaty trader, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be the same nationality of the principal alien employer (assuming that employer has the nationality of the treaty country)
  • Meet the definition of an “employee” under relevant law
  • Be engaging in duties of an “executive or supervisory character”; or, if the E-1 visa applicant is employed in a lesser capacity, have special qualifications that cannot be performed by an average employee of the company

If the employer is not an individual (i.e. if the employer is a corporation or company), then the organization must be at least 50% owned by persons in the United States who have the nationality of the treaty country.

To meet the “special qualifications” requirement, you must be able to provide unique services that are essential to efficient business operations. Your qualification for this status will depend on the degree of proven expertise in the employee’s area of operations and whether or not other employees possess those skills.

How to Apply for an E-1 Visa

The application process for the E-1 visa varies depending on whether your employer is based in the United States or outside of the country. Generally, here’s how the application process works:

Step 1) Employer Petition: If applying for the E-1 visa with an employer within the United States, that employer will need to file form I-129, Petition for a Non-Immigrant Worker. The employer will also have to pay filing fees to USCIS. If successful, USCIS will award your employer with form I-797, which you will need to move forward with the visa application.

Step 2) File Form DS-160: DS-160 is the standard non-immigrant visa page for immigrants seeking to enter the United States temporarily. Form DS-160 is available from the website of your local U.S. embassy or consulate. Complete the form online and submit it to move forward.

Step 3) Pay the Application Fee: The typical E-1 visa application fee is $205 USD, although additional fees may be charged depending on your country’s reciprocity agreement with the United States.

Step 4) Schedule your Interview: After paying the E-1 visa fee, you can schedule your interview with a local U.S. embassy or consulate. Most applicants between ages 14 and 79 are required to complete the in-person interview.

Step 5) Gather Documents: You may be required to submit documents prior to your interview or bring documents to your interview. Those documents can include all of the following:

  • Valid passport
  • Documents proving the nationality of your employer verifying that it belongs to a trade treaty country
  • Form DS-160 confirmation page
  • Form DS-156E for Treaty or Trader Investors
  • Receipts proving you have paid applicable E-1 visa fees
  • Letter from your employer describing your position, your responsibilities with the company, and other relevant details
  • Documents proving you have “substantial trade” with the U.S. according to the requirements listed above
  • Proof that you intend to return home and are not planning to permanently move to the U.S.

Step 6) Attend the Interview: During the interview, you will be asked various questions about your application. The interviewer wants to ensure you are visiting the United States for legitimate reasons. The interview may ask about your investments, your duties with the company, and other information.

How Long Does It Take to Process the E-1 Visa?

It can take approximately 3 to 5 weeks to process the E-1 visa, depending on your application.

How Long Does My E-1 Visa Last?

The E-1 visa typically lasts for two years.

If your visa is nearing its expiry date and you continue to engage in trade activity within the United States, then you can leave the country and re-enter to renew your visa. With this system, your E-1 visa will be renewed for another two years.

If you do not re-enter the country, then you will have to apply for an extension. Typically, your extension will be granted if you meet the same criteria for an E-1 visa. You will also need to file form I-129 and form I-539.

Can I Change My Status or Apply for a Green Card with an E-1 Visa?

The E-1 visa is not an immigrant visa to establish permanent residence in the United States. However, there are ways you can change your status with an E-1 visa or apply for a green card.

First, if you plan on investing more than $500,000 in the country, then you may be eligible for an EB-5 Immigrant Investor visa, which allows you to pursue permanent residence in the United States in exchange for investing a specific amount of money.

Alternatively, you may qualify for the EB1-1 “Extraordinary Ability” visa, which is available to those who have exceptional status or abilities in a particular field.

Other available visas include the EB-2 visa for employment-based exceptional ability or the EB-3 visa for skilled professionals.

Can I Bring My Family to the United States on an E-1 Visa?

Family of E-1 treaty traders and employees can accompany the visa holder to the United States. The nationalities of the dependents do not need to be the same as the treaty trader or employee. These family members can seek E-1 non-immigrant status as dependents and gain access to the special dependency visa under the E-1 visa program. To qualify for an E-1 dependency visa, you must meet one of the two following groups:

  • Spouse of an E-1 visa holder
  • Unmarried child under 21 of an E-1 visa holder

Family members can extend their stay in the United States or change their status by filing a form I-539. The spouse of an E-1 visa holder can also apply for work authorization by filing form I-765. If that form is approved, then the spouse can work anywhere in the United States with no restrictions.