E-1 Trader Visa Information

The E-1 Treaty Trader Visa is a nonimmigrant visa which permits an alien to live and work in the U.S. for a limited time.  The visa is usually issued for 2-5 years at first, and can be renewed thereafter in 5 year increments.  There is no limit to the number of renewals that are permitted, as long as the applicant continues to qualify for the visa.

Requirements: To qualify for E-1 Visa, an applicant must meet all of the following:

The U.S. has commerce treaties with most countries in Western Europe, but only some of the countries in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America.  Some treaties have unique rules, such as the treaty with the U.K., which requires visa applicants to be residents of the British Isles, or the treaty with Switzerland, which permits visas to be issues only four years at a time (rather than the usual five years).  We can provide information about your country upon request.

The applicant can be the Trader (owner of at least 50% of the business), an executive or supervisory employee from the same country as the Trader, or an employee with essential skills from the same country as the TraderIn many cases, several workers can come to the U.S. based on a single investment.  For example, the Italian owner of at least 50% of an Italian specialty food store in the U.S. (that imports Italian specialties) can qualify for an E-1 Visa as the Trader.  A prospective employee with essential skills (such as a chef) and/or a supervisor (management-level) employee from Italy could also qualify for E-1 Visas to work in the same Italian specialty food store.  All applicants may bring their spouses and children under 21.  Spouses (not children) can obtain employment authorization cards once they enter the U.S. with their E-1 visa.

Trade is defined as “the existing international exchange of items of trade for consideration between the U.S. and the treaty country.” Domestic trade is not international trade and is therefore not counted when considering what is substantial trade.

Items of trade include but are not limited to goods, services, international banking, insurance monies, transportation, communications, data processing, advertising, accounting, design and engineering, management consulting, tourism, technology and its transfer, and some news-gathering activities.

Goods are tangible commodities or merchandise having extrinsic value.

Services are legitimate economic activities which provide other than tangible goods. Service is interpreted in an expansive fashion.

In order to make a successful application for the E-1 visa, the Applicant must demonstrate that his trade is both principal, in terms of its trading partners, and substantial, in terms of overall volume and frequency.


  1. Trade must be principally between U.S. and treaty country.
  2. More than 50% of total volume of international trade between U.S. and treaty country.
  3. Domestic trade not counted in calculation of “more than 50%.”
  4. If business does more than 50%, each E-l owner does not need more than 50% trade.
  5. If it is only a U.S. branch office, then the foreign company has to have more than 50% of its trade with the U.S. since it is not considered a separate legal entity. However, a U.S. subsidiary is considered independently from its foreign company owner.


  1. “An amount of trade sufficient to insure a continuous flow of international trade between the U.S. and the treaty country.”
  2. Cannot be based on a single transaction, regardless of how protracted or monetarily valuable.
  3. Trade can be binding contracts which call for the immediate exchange of items of trade.
  4. Volume of exchanges is given more weight than the value of the exchanges. No minimum requirement for either.
  5. Smaller businesses. Income derived from the value of numerous transactions which is sufficient to support trader and her family constitutes a favorable factor in assessing existence of substantial trade.
  6. Sources of proof include, but are not limited to, bills of lading, customer receipts, letters of credit, insurance papers documenting commodities imported, purchase orders, carrier inventories, trade brochures, insurance papers documenting commodities imported, purchase orders, courier inventories and sales contracts.

The U.S. business must sell goods or services with the goal of earning a profit.  The company cannot be passive, such as owning vacant land without plans for developing it. 

Applicants have to provide evidence that the business is active, such as: a lease or deed for business premises, photographs, permits, licenses, tax returns or other financial documents, business contracts, and employee tax records.  First-time visa applicants must provide a business plan with financial projections.  The projections should cover five years and should show the business will eventually earn a profit exceeding a minimal living for the applicant.

If the applicant is the Trader, then he or she must show a controlling interest in the U.S. business via ownership interest and management position.  Generally, the applicant must own at least 50% of the business to qualify as the Trader.  He or she must also provide information about management qualifications.

If the applicant is an employee who comes from the same country as the Trader, then the applicant must show that he or she will perform an executive/supervisory (management-level) job or a job that requires essential skills.  The applicant must provide a resume and other documents to show that he or she is qualified to do the job.  The applicant should be paid a salary by the Trader.

If an applicant owns less than 50% of the business, he may qualify as an executive/supervisory employee (rather than as an Trader) if the business is owned at least 50% by investors from the same country.  For example, if three brothers from Germany each own 33.3% of a business, no one qualifies as the Trader, because no one owns 50%.  However, one brother could possibly qualify for an E-1 Visa as an executive/supervisory employee.

All applicants (excluding children under 16) must sign a Statement of Intent to Depart U.S. upon Expiration of Nonimmigrant Status.  This document confirms that the applicant intends to leave the U.S., if his or her E-1 Visa expires or becomes invalid.

If you are interested in applying for an E-1 Visa, we suggest the following:

First, find out whether there is a treaty between the U.S. and your country of citizenship.

Application procedures:

Normally, E-1 Visa applications are made at the U.S. consulate located in the applicant’s home country.  Each consulate has its own rules for submitting the applications.  Processing times usually are between eight and twelve weeks, though some consulates are faster.  Before the visa is issued, the applicant and any family members over the age of 16 will have to attend a brief interview at the consulate for security purposes.  All applicants (including children) must have their own passport, which must be valid for at least six months into the future. 

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