The E-1 visa allows a national of a "treaty country" (country with which the U.S. maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation) to come to the U.S. to engage in international trade on his/her own behalf. Certain employees of such person or organization may be eligible for an E-1 visa as well.
List of Treaty Countries
Please see the following U.S. Department of State's web page: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/fees/treaty.html.
Requirements for E-1
1. In order to qualify for an E-1 visa as a treaty trader, you must:
----- Be a national of a "treaty country" (country with which the U.S. maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation).
----- Carry on "substantial trade". Substantial trade generally means continuous flow of sizable international trade items, involving numerous transactions over time.
----- Carry on "principal trade" between the U.S. and the treaty country. Principal trade exists between the U.S. and the treaty country, if over 50% of the total volume of international trade is between the U.S. and the treaty country.
2. In order to qualify for an E-1 visa as an employee of a treaty trader, you must:
----- Be the same nationality of the treaty trader. If the principal alien employer is not an individual, it must be an enterprise or organization at least 50% owned by persons in the U.S. who have the nationality of the treaty country. These owners must be maintaining treaty trader status.
----- Meet the definition of “employee” under the relevant law.
----- Either be engaging in duties of an executive or supervisory character, or if employed in a lesser capacity, have special qualifications. Duties of an executive or supervisory character are those that provide the employee ultimate control and responsibility for the organization’s overall operation or a major component of it. Special qualifications are skills that make the employee’s services essential to the efficient operation of the business. Please note that knowledge of a foreign language and culture does not, by itself, constitute special qualifications. Also note that a skill that is essential at one point may become non-essential at a later date.
How to apply
1. If the treaty trader is currently in the U.S. in a lawful status, s/he can file a Form I-129, Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker, along with proper Supplements and supporting documents, with USCIS, to request a change of status to E-1. If the employee is currently in the U.S. in a lawful status, the employer can do the same to request a change of the employee's status to E-1.
2. If the treaty trader is outside the U.S., filing of Form I-129 is not necessary; instead, the treaty trader has to apply for an E-1 visa directly to the U.S. Embassy/Consulate with proper supporting documents.
3. Whenever there is any "substantive change" in the terms/conditions of E-1 status, the treaty trader or enterprise must notify USCIS by filing a new Form I-129 (and may simultaneously request an extension of stay for the treaty trader or employee). A “substantive change” means a fundamental change in the employer’s basic characteristics, such as merger, acquisition, or major event which affects the treaty trader or employee’s previously approved relationship with the organization.
Period of Stay
E-1 treaty traders and employees are allowed a maximum initial stay of 2 years. Requests for extension of stay may be granted in increments of up to 2 years each, with no maximum limit to the number of extensions. Because of this, E-1 status (and E-2 status) is considered closest to permanent residence in terms of possible length of stay in the U.S. Nevertheless, all E-1 status holders must maintain an intention to depart the U.S. when their status expires or is terminated.
Dependents (spouse and unmarried children under 21 years of age) of E-1 treaty traders and employees are entitled to E-1 dependent visas/status. Dependents' nationalities need not be the same as the treaty trader or employee. Once a spouse of the treaty trader or employee is admitted into the U.S. as an E-1 spouse, s/he can apply for work authorization by filing a Form I-765; if approved, there is no specific restriction as to where the E-1 spouse can work.