E2 visas are issued to foreign entrepreneurs willing to invest a significant amount of capital into an American enterprise while living in the U.S. to oversee that business investment. Because the E2 visa process is centered on specific investment and work-related criteria, E2 permission is treated as a work visa by the government. Meaning E2 visa holders may only remain in the U.S. as long as they are meeting specific investment and work-related requirements. If E2 visa holders are interested in retiring, they must secure an alternative visa arrangement or apply for a green card.
EB5 Visa Alternative Route to a Green Card
Once granted, E2 visas are generally valid for a five-year period. Current visa holders can request extensions of their E2 visas in two-year increments. This is as long as they properly observe and maintain all work and investment requirements. An E2 visa holder could remain in the U.S. indefinitely. E2 visa holders currently have no limitations on the number of extensions they can request. This stands in sharp contrast to most visas, which tend to have strictly enforced limitations on extension periods. However, there are numerous reasons why an E2 visa holder may wish to “convert” their visa to a green card. Chief among these is gaining freedom from strict enforcement of the E2 work and investment requirements. One of the primary ways that E2 visa holders obtain green cards involves additional investments that make them eligible for EB5 visas.
The EB5 visa program allows investors to become permanent U.S. residents (green card holders) after a number of specific steps have been taken. It’s worth noting that after initial requirements have been met, the spouses and unmarried children (younger than 21 years of age) of EB5 visa investors may also become permanent residents. Investors (and their eligible family members) can then become U.S. citizens five years after being granted permanent resident status.
Steps to Earn a Green Card
The four initial steps that must be taken in order to earn green card status through the EB5 visa process:
- Identifying an eligible EB5 project
Investment in specific projects identified by regional centers for enterprise or eligible new commercial enterprises is required for EB5 visa status.
Once an eligible project has been identified, a specific investment must be made. $500,000 in capital (or other eligible investment resources) is required if the eligible project is located in a Targeted Employment Area. Otherwise, a minimum investment of $1 million in capital (or other eligible investment resources) is required. When investment has been made in an eligible project, a corresponding I-526 form must be filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. It may take as long as 18 months for USCIS to notify applicants about whether their petition has been accepted.
- Conditional Permanent Residency
EB5 visa holders are granted a two-year conditional permanent residency status so that they may implement their eligible project work funded by their investments. As noted above, it can take as long as 18 months to determine whether an applicant’s 1-526 form has been accepted by USCIS. Once approved, an EB5 visa holder can attain conditional permanent resident status by filing additional paperwork with USCIS. Before conditional permanent resident status has been attained, an applicant must fulfill specific physical presence requirements. Any EB5 visa holder looking to travel outside the U.S. during this time should consult an attorney before committing to travel plans in order to avoid conflicts that could compromise their immigration petition.
- Permanent Residency
An I-829 petition must be filed at a specific time before the applicant can have their conditional permanent residency status transferred to unconditional permanent residency status. Green cards are generally issued between 6-8 months after this petition has been filed with USCIS.
Sponsorship and Transfer Alternative Route to a Green Card
If the idea of investing to fulfill EB5 visa requirements is unappealing, an E2 visa holder could alternatively obtain green card status through sponsorship. Both employment-based and family-based immigration sponsorship options are available to existing visa holders. It is worth noting however that the criteria for sponsorship-based green cards are extremely narrow and strictly enforced. Generally speaking, employees must be eligible for certain exemptions or must possess extraordinary talent/skill/education/acclaim to qualify for an employment sponsorship green card; no Americans must be capable of taking the job and available to assume the open position. Similarly, family sponsorship options are only available for particularly “close” relatives.
Finally, investors can take a roundabout way to obtaining a green card by creating a foreign company of significant size, working within the company in a managerial capacity for a one-year minimum period of time and then transferring to an eligible satellite in the United States as a permanent inter-corporate transferee. The United States government is eager to accommodate serious investors eager to contribute significantly to the American economy. Chances are there is an immigration option that will allow you to pursue permanent residence status if you’re interested in investing in American enterprise.
Legal Guidance Is Available
Consider scheduling a consultation if you’re interested in securing a green card or you represent a company that is interested in sponsoring a green card applicant. Our immigration attorneys have experience assisting investors, employers, and employees with U.S. immigration processes, both temporary and permanent in nature. Once we understand more about your ultimate immigration-related goals, we can assist you in exploring all relevant options.