I’ve long planned to extend my business interests to the United States. In terms of scope, the market is more than 10 times that of Australia.
After several trips to the USA, I decided the best visa to apply for was an E2. The E2 is an investment visa that requires you either buy an existing business or start a new one.
Our initial trips were done on a B1/B2 visa, which allows for a stay of up to 6 months, with a possible 6 month extension. This visa is rather easy to obtain. The assumption is that you intend to violate the B1 and try to stay in the USA in some way, so the main focus of the application process is providing enough proof that you have ties in your home country and intend to return. It’s a case of assumed guilt and the need to prove your innocence.
The E2 application process is a bit more daunting, so I initially employed the services of a reputable lawyer to handle the paperwork and process. Their fee was around $6,000 USD with half paid upfront.
The amount of documentation required, along with the dire warnings I received, led me to review the entire process. My instinct was telling me, “This seems a bit too complicated.”
I have for over two decades educated investors and business owners through my books and events. One key lesson I convey is focusing on and using facts, not opinions.
I decided to follow my own advice and reviewed the E2 requirements — the actual written law and not someone’s opinion of the law. The law is published in the Foreign Affairs Manual, or FAM for short. The specific section relating to E Visas is called 9 FAM 402.9. For simplicity, let’s just call it FAM. Here’s the link
Ignoring the “warnings” I’d received, I dived in to see what the law stated. Knowing the 3 barriers to learning and having developed the valuable skill of always looking up words I don’t understand (download free ebook on that here), I discovered that the process was:
- Easy to understand (once the words and concepts were grasped)
- Something I could do myself, even though the paperwork is quite extensive.
So, I obtained the visa and came through the process wiser than when I started.
As an analogy, the process appeared like the insurmountable Mt. Everest, prone to failure and setbacks. In the end, it was like an anthill.
With my philosophy of live, learn and share, this article shows how I overcame the obstacles and dispelled common myths.
As a simple and rather obvious disclaimer, I am not a lawyer or immigration professional. This is not advice. It’s information from my own experience.Use at your peril (or benefit).
E2 Visa Requirements — Dispelling the Myths
Let’s dispel some of the myths, as they can appear so formidable that they prevent you from applying.
MYTH 1. You need to invest $100,000 or more.
MYTH 2. You need to have 2 or more employees.
MYTH 3. You need to lease an office space.
MYTH 4. You need to spend all of the money BEFORE you apply. (I learned this one the hard way!)
The following facts dispel the above myths:
FACT 1. There is no specific investment amount required. The term used is “substantial” and it can be made up of small transactions over time. See FAM link.
FACT 2. The FAM states that your business must be “marginal,” which means it is profitable (has a profit margin). Basically, the business needs to do more than just pay your own wage. Yes, you need to employ other people, eventually, but not at the time of application, especially as a startup. The way to demonstrate that your business is marginal is with your business plan. See FAM Link.
FACT 3. If you lease an office, you need to provide proof of lease. If you intend to lease an office, provide proof of your research and costs. Again, you add this to the business plan.
FACT 4. You need to show proof of the funds you intend to invest and show where you got the cash. You do not need to invest all of it, but you do need to demonstrate that you have spent some money in the process. Things such as trips, legal fees, and anything that is related to the expansion or setup of your business in the States. Proof of this is as simple as bank transfers and expenses. (You can buy me a coffee for this tip or I’ll settle for some kudos in the comments.) See FAM Link.
With those myths dispelled, let’s dive into the application process.
The First Step
Before applying, the first step is to find out if your country is eligible for the E2. Check the FAM list here.
Ok, let’s get down to the paperwork.
The paperwork you submit is broken up into these 6 sections, called TABS (in the sense of a tab on paper for easy identification). Let’s define each:
- TAB A — Your introduction letter, here’s my template.
- TAB B — Forms (DS-160 and DS-156E).
- TAB C — Application Form — Your resume, among other things.
- TAB D — Ownership — Proof you own more than 50% of the business.
- TAB E — Investment — Proof of cash and anything already invested.
- TAB F — Real & Operating — Proof you have a real business setup.
- TAB G — Marginality — Your business plan that proves it can, within the next 5 years, pay more than just your own wage.
Full details of the requirements for each TAB are here.
Creating a Startup
I’m creating a new business in the States. It’s my own publication and media company that will publish my books, products and online courses, the first which is Rich Habits.
At time of application this business was an idea. It didn’t exist. I wrote a business plan, with projections and some simple market research of the potential. I demonstrated that I have experience in the industry. And I showed that I had invested some cash. Simple. The business plan was 4 pages long.
You can find a Business Plan Template for both startup and established businesses here
Submitting Your Application Online — A Confusing System
Below you will see mention of a DS-160 Application Form. I assume the “DS” means Department of State and the 160 is the form number.
The online system provides the following 4-step sequence to prepare and submit your application.
- Pay the visa application fee.
- Complete the DS-160 Application form.
- Complete a profile and schedule an appointment.
- Email your application and supporting documents to the U.S. Consulate.
The problem with the above process, is that Step 1 cannot be done until you complete Step 3!
This is the order you actually do them:
Step 1 — Complete the DS-160 Application form (link).
Step 2 — Complete the DS-156E Application form (link).
Step 3 — Have your TABs A to G ready.
Now you are ready to submit the information online.
Step 4 — Complete a profile at www.ustraveldocs.com
Step 5 — Email your application and supporting documents to the U.S. Consulate (you are provided with the email address as part of Step 2).
Step 6 — Pay the visa application fee.
Step 7 — Schedule an appointment (if you have a problem with this step, see below).
Additional warning: The ustraveldocs.com website was either created with the intention of eliminating those without a strong will to get their visa, or it was built by incompetent IT geeks. I’m not sure which but don’t be surprised if the system fails on you 20+ times before it actually works and accepts your data and permits you to book an appointment. My only advice is to keep trying and don’t smash your computer in frustration.
Appointment Booking Problems & Solution
Once you submit the online application process and pay the E2 visa fees, the next step is scheduling your interview.
Unfortunately when I tried this, the system said, “No appointments available.” None. Ever.
I called support and although they did have an appointment available within 3 weeks, the system showed nothing for me. When the lady tried to schedule the appointment, it would not let her, so my problem was escalated as an IT issue.
After a few days, I tried again online and still “No appointments available.” So I called support. The same appointment time was still available. Something was wrong and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
I asked, “ How many appointments are available on that day?”
“Two,” she replied.
“I only need one,” I said.
“You need five appointments: one for each applicant (myself, spouse and three kids),” she said.
So, I explained I only needed two spots because our children were not coming to the interview (only those over 14 need to attend). So she removed them from the application and the booking went through.
I realized there was never going to be 5 appointments available on the same day. It appears that the system doesn’t cater for a family of 4 or more.
Even when we arrived at the security check, the lady said we needed appointments for our children and this may be a problem. But it was not mentioned from that point onwards so I didn’t fret it.
Another hurdle overcome! Now to the next step: the Interview.
The interview process had these 4 stages:
Stage 1: Security
You go through airport-type security, surrounded by guys with guns. Your passport is checked 3 times before you take a seat and look at a wall. Your phone and belongings are confiscated. You are told to sit and wait until you are called. I think the purpose of this stage is to make you feel intimidated. It works.
Stage 2: The Pre-Check before the Pre-Interview
You are escorted by security guards to the interview room. First, you have to hand over your passport (4th time) though a thick plated glass window. Once verified that you are the same person on your passport, you are permitted to go through a security door and join the queue.
Stage 3: Pre-Interview
Behind a thick window sits a person who you converse with via a speaker. You hand over passports again (5th time). I was asked the name of my business, which I remembered without too much trouble. You are digitally fingerprinted, both hands. Then you are told to take a seat and wait for your name to be called.
Stage 4: Interview
Hand over your passports again (6th time). I was asked to verify my business name and “What type of business is it?” “Can I make a go if it in the USA?” “So, you reckon you’ll need $X?” My wife was asked if she likes Florida. That was about it. Although I had a copy of all documentation, even my books, I was not asked for any of it. He told us to go to the cashier and come back when done.
Stage 5: Cashier
It costs $105 USD per person to get the visa added to your passport. We passed over our passports, paid the money and got a receipt.
Stage 6: Complete
I handed over our passports to the interviewer and he said, matter of factly, “Your visas are approved; we’ll courier your passports to you within the week.”
The entire process was perhaps an hour. The actual interview was 5 to 6 minutes.
Once you have obtained an E2 Visa, it can be renewed indefinitely as long as you meet the E2 criteria.
There you have it.
Although it goes without saying, I’ll say it anyway: As long as you have a genuine business that you want to buy or startup, and as long as you provide the necessary documents, the process is fairly straight-forward. Aside from the frustration with the online system and the confusing instructions, the actual law and process are simple.
I hope that helps. Feel free to ask questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to help.
America, here I come!
Update Sep 26, 2017 — How to get your Social Security Number (SSN)
To get your SSN you need to:
- Complete this form
- Visit your local Social Security Office
- Take your passport with you.
I was told I also needed a I-912 Visa Waiver Form, which is a form used at customs when you don’t have a travel visa. Of course, I do have a visa, so this was not needed. However, even the Social Securities Officer got confused on this point and said it wasn’t possible to apply without it. I explained that’s a visa waiver, and I have a visa, so he gave it a shot, entered the data in the system it worked!
Hope that helps.