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The ultimate guide to the E-1 Visa

An E-1 visa might also allow you to reside on an ongoing basis to continue trading on behalf of your sponsoring employer or your U.S. business. Here is a guide to the E-1 visa and what you should know about it.

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International traders who are from countries that have treaties with the U.S. for trade and navigation might be eligible for E-1 visas. These visas are also known as treaty trader visas and allow treaty traders to enter the U.S. to perform trades and to move freely about the country while they are present. An E-1 visa might also allow you to reside on an ongoing basis to continue trading on behalf of your sponsoring employer or your U.S. business. Here is a guide to the E-1 visa and what you should know about it.

What is an E-1 visa?

An E-1 visa is among the three types of visas under the E category. This visa is meant for traders who originate from countries that have treaties with the U.S. for trade and navigation. The treaty trader visa is a type of nonimmigrant visa. It allows international traders from treaty countries to enter the U.S. To qualify for an E-1 visa, a treaty trader must come from a country that has a bilateral treaty with the U.S. for trade. The trade includes commercial transactions involving goods. In the area of technology and services, trade includes such things as banking, advertising, transportation, communication, design, engineering, insurance, technology transfer, accounting, data processing, and management consulting, among others. The U.S. Department of State maintains a current list of treaty countries that you can check to see whether your country qualifies under this visa category.

What is a treaty trader?

An E-1 visa is only granted to qualifying treaty traders. To qualify for a treaty trader E-1 visa, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Must be a citizen of a treaty country with the U.S. for trade and navigation

  • Must carry out substantial international trade

  • Principal trade must be with the U.S., which means that 50% or more of the company's international trade must be with the U.S.

  • Title of the traded goods must pass from one party to the other

  • Qualifying employees must be essential to the firm's operations

The spouses and minor, unmarried children who are younger than 21 of E-1 treaty trader visa holders may qualify for derivative E-1 visas to travel to the U.S.

How the E-1 visa works

If you are approved for an E-1 visa, you can enter the U.S. to engage in trade as an individual trader or on behalf of a trading company. The treaty trader visa does not require you to engage in trade for specific industries. If you engage in trade for a legal company in the U.S., you might qualify for an E-1 treaty trader visa. One of the primary requirements for securing an E-1 visa is that you or your company must engage in trade with the U.S. that is substantial. The USCIS states that substantial trade means that there is an ongoing flow of large international trade items that involves many trades over time. The USCIS does not assign a dollar amount for trading to meet the requirements for an E-1 visa.

Employees of treaty traders and E-1 visa requirements

If you are the employee of a treaty trader, you might qualify for an E-1 visa if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • Be a citizen of the same treaty country as the principal international employer

  • Be an employee as defined by the law

  • Have an executive or supervisory role or possess special qualifications that are essential to the company's operations

  • The employing organization must be a minimum of 50% owned by people who are citizens of the treaty country

If you are not an executive or supervisor of the trading organization for which you work, you will need to be able to prove that you offer unique skills that are essential to the efficient operation of the company. If other employees also possess your skills, you might not qualify for an E-1 visa.

Advantages of an E-1 visa

An E-1 visa offers several advantages for international traders who qualify. If you are approved for an E-1 treaty trader visa, you will be allowed to legally work in the U.S. for a company. The company will need to have more than 50% of its international trade with the U.S. and your home country. An E-1 visa will also allow you to freely travel within the U.S. and to freely travel in and out of the country. You will also be able to remain in the U.S. continuously as long as you continue to meet the visa requirements and extend your E-1 visa every two years. Finally, an E-1 visa will also allow your minor, unmarried children and your spouse to travel with you, and your spouse might be able to work in the U.S.

Disadvantages of an E-1 visa

An E-1 visa also carries some restrictions, including the following:

  • You will only be allowed to work for the employer or the company that you own which served as your E-1 visa sponsor in the U.S.

  • You will need to apply to extend your visa every two years.

  • You can only qualify for the E-1 visa if you are a citizen of a treaty country with the U.S.

How to apply for an E-1 visa

The process for applying for an E-1 visa will depend on whether you are legally in the U.S. on a different nonimmigrant visa status or are outside of the country. Applications from within the U.S. are filed through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS. If you are outside of the U.S., your application will go through the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country.

Applying for an E-1 visa from within the U.S.

If you are already legally present in the U.S. on a different type of nonimmigrant visa status, you can apply for an E-1 visa as an individual trader by filing Form I-129. If you are employed as a supervisor, an executive, or an employee possessing unique skills that are essential for your employer's business operations, the employer that is sponsoring you for an E-1 treaty trader visa from within the U.S. will need to file the Form I-129 on your behalf. The filing fee of $460 must be paid by you as an individual trader or by your sponsoring employer if you are applying as a sponsored employee. You will also have to pay an $85 biometric services fee.

After the USCIS receives the Form I-129, it will send a notice of receipt. It will then process the petition and send a notice of approval or denial. If the Form I-129 is approved, Form I-797 will be sent to you as an individual trader or your sponsoring employer.

Applying for an E-1 visa from outside of the U.S.

If you are applying for an E-1 visa from outside of the U.S., your sponsoring employer will need to file Form I-129 and pay the filing fees. If the petition is approved, your employer will be sent Form I-797. You will need this document for your visa application.

You will next need to file Form DS-160, which is the visa application for nonimmigrants who want to temporarily enter the U.S. You will need to complete this form online. Once it is submitted, you will receive a receipt confirmation page with a bar code that you should print out and save. You will need to bring your confirmation page with you to your visa interview. The visa application fee will need to be paid, which is $205. Depending on your nationality, you might also have to pay a visa issuance fee after your visa is approved. You can search your home country on the Department of State's website to see whether you will be required to pay the visa issuance fee. In addition to filing Form DS-160, you will also need to complete Form DS-156E as an applicant for an E-1 treaty trader visa.

After you have submitted your visa application, you will need to contact the U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country to schedule an in-person interview. You can find the contact and location information for the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country on the U.S. government's website.

When you are preparing for your interview, you will need to gather all of the required documents to bring with you. In some cases, you might be required to submit some of the documents in advance. The documents that you will need to gather include the following:

  • Passport that will remain valid for at least six months beyond the length of your intended stay

  • Confirmation page from Form DS-160

  • Receipt from the payment of the visa application fee

  • Form DS-156E

  • Two U.S. passport-style photographs that meet the requirements

  • Documents proving the nationality of the company

  • If you are an employee, a letter from the company describing your position and your essential role

  • Documents proving substantial trade with the U.S.

  • Evidence of your intent to return to your home country

You should check the website of the U.S. consulate or embassy for specific instructions about how to apply for your E-1 visa. Some of the requirements vary from country to country. You may be asked to submit additional documents beyond the ones that are listed here.

As a nonimmigrant visa that is not dual-intent, you are expected to return to your home country after your visa stay ends. This means that you will need to prove to the U.S. consular or embassy official that you intend to return instead of to remain in the U.S. To prove this, you should bring documents that show your substantial ties to your home country, including property deeds, memberships in community organizations, and other similar documents.

When your interview date arrives, you should make certain that you attend your interview and arrive on time. If you do not attend your interview at the scheduled date and time or arrive late, your application will likely be denied. You will then be forced to start the process over if you want to secure an E-1 visa.

During your interview, the embassy or consular official will question you about your application and your duties with your employer's company or as an individual trader. Your interviewer will be trying to determine that you intend to visit the U.S. for legitimate purposes and that you intend to return to your home country once you have accomplished them. Digital fingerprints will be taken at the time of your interview.

The consular or embassy official might decide that your application will require additional administrative processing. If it does, the official will tell you at your interview. If the official determines after further administrative processing that you qualify for an E-1 visa, your application will be approved. If your application does not require further administrative processing, you will be told whether you have been approved or denied. If you are approved, the official will retain your passport for the visa to be stamped in it. Once the process is completed, you will either need to pick it up from the U.S. embassy or consulate or arrange for it to be delivered to you by courier. The method will depend on the embassy or consulate in your home country.

How long does the E-1 visa last?

If you are approved for an E-1 treaty trader visa, your initial validity period will only be for two years. You will have a few options to continue staying in the U.S. after two years, or you can choose to return home.

If you still meet the E-1 visa requirements as an international trader after two years, you might be able to leave the U.S. and reenter the country at a port of entry. Your E-1 visa might be automatically renewed for two more years. Normally, however, you will need to apply for your visa to be extended. As an E-1 visa holder, you are allowed to have unlimited extensions as long as you continue to meet the requirements and can show your intent to return to your home country. To apply for an extension, you will need to file Form I-129 and Form I-539, which is the application to extend your status. You will also need to pay the filing fees. You will need to include a copy of your Form I-94, your passport, your Form I-797, your U.S. tax documents, and proof that your continued stay is essential for continuing the trade.

Adjustment of status from an E-1 visa to a green card

The E-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa and is not meant to establish status as a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. However, there are methods to adjust your status to a green card from an E-1 visa. If you plan to invest $500,000 or more in the U.S., you might be eligible for an immigrant investor visa. Depending on your abilities in your field, you might qualify for an EB-1, EB-2, or EB-3 visa. Finally, if you marry a U.S. citizen, you might be eligible for a marriage-based visa to become a permanent resident of the U.S.

Dependents of E-1 visa holders

If you are approved for an E-1 treaty trader visa, your immediate family members can also apply for derivative E-1 visas based on your status. Your eligible family members include your spouse and your unmarried children who are younger than 21. While you are in the U.S., your spouse will be allowed to apply for employment authorization by filing Form I-765 and paying the fee. Your unmarried children will not be allowed to work in the U.S. Your spouse and unmarried dependent children will be allowed to apply for extensions of their visas by filing Form I-539.

Preparing for life in the U.S.

Moving to the U.S. with an E-1 visa can open a new journey filled with opportunities. Once you have received notice that you have been approved for an E-1 visa, you will need to make travel arrangements and complete other preparations. While you are trying to get everything done so that you can move to the U.S., you should not overlook your credit record. In the U.S., your credit score will be used by banks, lenders, and credit card companies to decide whether to approve your applications for leases, automobiles, and credit cards. Unfortunately, your credit history does not automatically transfer to the U.S.

Nova Credit translates the credit histories of international visa holders into useable credit scores that are accepted by most major banks, lenders, and landlords in the U.S. By getting your Nova Credit score, you might enjoy a smoother transition to your new life in the U.S. You can then concentrate on settling into your new role and familiarizing yourself with the culture in the U.S.

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