There are several immigration visa options available for foreign entrepreneurs who want to start their own U.S. business or invest in the U.S. and obtain a green card. Understanding the differences between the various visas and choosing the right one for you is the most important decision to make before taking any other step.

The E-2 Visa: The E-2 Visa for nationals of E-2 Treaty countries is a great immigration visa for foreign investors who want to run their own U.S. company while living and working in the U.S. E-2 Visas are issued inside the U.S. for two years and outside at U.S. Consulates for up to five years, and can be extended virtually forever, as long as the U.S. company continues to operate. Dependants receive E-2 visas and spouses are also issued work permits. E-2 visas require an investment in and ownership of at least 50 percent of a new or existing U.S. company.

A safe minimum investment, with a high likelihood for USCIS approval, would be US$80,000 or higher. Lesser investment amounts are eligible, but it can be more difficult to obtain USCIS and U.S. Consular approval. However, even with its other great benefits, the E-2 visa does not lead to a green card. Investors who can afford the higher investment are often much better off applying for a green card investment.

E-2 visas can be approved in as little as 15 days with premium processing inside the U.S. and approximately 30-60 days at U.S. Consulates abroad.

L-1 Visa: L-1 visas allow foreign companies to open branches in the U.S. and transfer executives, managers and other personnel to work in the U.S. and in many cases, obtain green cards. Once the U.S. company has been fully operational with income and employees for a year, the L-1 executive or manager may then file for residency as a multinational executive. This is one of the quickest routes to getting a green card. L-1 regulations do not require a minimum investment; however, starting a new business can be costly.

The main criteria the USCIS uses when considering eligibility for an L-1 extension is the number of employees. The more employees the company has, the better the chance of approval. So when determining how much investment will be required for an L-1 visa and U.S. residency process, payroll costs and other operational expenses must be calculated.

L-1 visas can be approved in as little as 15 days with premium processing. Dependants are also issued L-2 visas and spouses are issued work permits.

The EB-5 Visa: One of the best immigrant visas for a green card is the investor visa, which allows foreign investors to invest US$500,000 in a USCIS-approved investment center, and receive green cards for themselves, their spouses and all minor children in as little as six months. Investors receive investment income (5-7 percent) like other financial investments (stocks and bonds) and can obtain a return of much of their investment capital after five years. Since this investment visa allows investors to obtain green cards for themselves and family members, it is often the most cost-efficient approach to immigrating to the U.S.,and is used by thousands of investors every year.

The key to success in EB-5 investment is to invest in a safe, established investment center which has a long record of success. There are so many investment centers competing for investor money, choosing the best one requires great care and expert advice from a qualified immigration attorney with experience in EB-5 visas. The great benefit of this investment is that once the investment is made, the investor and his family can live, work, operate their own business, retire and do anything they desire in the U.S., while still obtaining a green card.

For investors desiring to operate their own U.S. business, the EB-5 program also allows foreign investors to invest $500,000 in their own business in certain economic zones and obtain a green card. However, this program can be more risky, since under the program, investors are required to employ 10 U.S. workers for two years in order to obtain a permanent green card. As a result, even though many investors desire to control their own business, in many cases, it is not always the safest choice, except for businesses which typically employ 10 full-time workers or more.

The Chang Law Firm is the largest Chinese speaking law firm in the Washington DC metro area (including Montgomery County and Prince George County, Maryland).  We have attorneys and assistants that are fluent in Chinese and Spanish in the office every single day.  Further, the principal of the firm, Ms. Sandy Chang, is fluent in Chinese. Ms. Chang is one of the few Chinese fluent lawyers that litigate.  Therefore, if your case needs to be litigated, we can take care of the matter for you.

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