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Buying and operating a business in the United States is one method for securing a residency visa in the United States. Purchasing a qualifying business can enable applicants to apply for certain investor visas but the application process can be extremely complicated.
At VR Business Brokers in Houston, we can help foreign nationals from the UK, Europe, and  Asia in identifying potential business purchases that will qualify for fast-tracking legal immigration status. Typically, this will involve an investment of at least $150,000 in a business that also provides local employment opportunities and has verifiable tax returns.
VR has established relationships with top-rated immigration attorneys that can work with you to create a plan for your immigration to the United States. We are familiar with the difficult task of completing the immigration process and can also provide you with referrals for the selection of housing, financial institutions, schools, business lawyers and accountants prior to your final move to the U.S. We can also help if you are seeking to sell your business to a foreign national. 

The information below has been provided by a Leading Immigration Law firm in Florida and explains the options for a business owner to both live and work in the U.S.

There are two main categories of immigration:

Permanent Residence Visa (also called “green cards” or “immigrant visas” and Temporary Residence Visas which are also called “non-immigrant visas”.  

Permanent Resident Visas (Green Cards)  

Family sponsored green cards: Green Cards will give Permanent Residence in the United States, but need to be applied for with family support. Usually these are for husbands and wives of American citizens as well as immediate family members. For more information regarding this type of visa, click here to be taken to the US.gov website. https://www.uscis.gov/greencard

Employment Based Green Cards : Like Family Sponsored Green Cards, immigrants are given Permanent Residence in the U.S. There are five types of Employment-Based visas:

EB-1: This is for Aliens with extraordinary ability or skills such as outstanding professors, researchers or multinational business managers and executives.

EB-2: This is for aliens with exceptional ability or advanced degrees. Usually requires an Employer-Sponsor.

EB-3: This is for Professional workers (both skilled and unskilled) with university degrees. Also requires an Employer-sponsor.

EB-4: For religious workers.

EB-5: This is for aliens who invest around $1 million into a business that creates at least 10 full-time jobs. In limited situations, less than a $1 Million investment (as low as $500,000) can be made. 

Processing times for Permanent Resident visas can vary widely. Whereas an EB-1 or EB-5 visa can be approved in less than a year, EB-3 visas can take more than 5 years. If an applicant qualifies for an employment-based green card, his or her spouse and children under 21 years of age are automatically eligible as well subject only to the standard background checks.

Business Owners usually apply for the EB-5 category visa as an “immigrant investor” to qualify for a green card.

To qualify for the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Green card, an applicant must provide proof for the following: 
  1. The applicant must invest in a new business for the applicant.
  2. The applicant must actively participate in the management of the enterprise.
  3. The applicant must make the required investment which can include real estate, assets such as equipment, inventory, improvements, fixtures, franchise fees and other start-up expenses.
  4. The investment must create 10 or more full-time positions for U.S. workers. If the investment is in a “troubled” business, then the requirement can be met by preserving the 10 jobs rather than creating 10 new ones.
  5. The applicant must clearly demonstrate the source of the investment funds.
What if I don't have enough money to qualify for the EB-5 Visa?  

Another way that a business owner can live and work in the United States is through the Temporary Visa program E-2. There are approximately 30 different temporary visas, but for business investors, the E-2 visa permits investors from certain (treaty) countries to invest “a substantial amount of money and acquire a controlling interest in an active U.S. business. The visa is good for 5 years and is renewable at the end of each term. Spouses can also qualify for an unrestricted temporary work card and children under the age of 21 can accompany the parents and attend school, however, they cannot work in the United States while on this visa.

The E-2 visa is the most common Temporary Visa for a business person to live and work in the United States.

For more information on various Visas please check the website at https://www.usa.gov/visas

Following is a chart showing the differences between the E-2 Visa and the EB-5 Visa

Item E-2 EB-5 Difference 
Status upon approval An E-2 investor has a non- immigrant (temporary) status in the U.S. The visa has an expiration date and must be renewed (usually every 5 years). The E-2 investor can live in the U.S. full time and work for the E-2 visa company while he or she has E-2 status, but must depart if status expires. 
An EB-5 investor will have conditional permanent residence status in the U.S. for two years with no restrictions on employment or travel. Once the investor removes the conditions in 2 years by showing maintenance of investment and job creation, he or she will have unrestricted permission to live in the U.S. permanently.
Main difference: E-2 is temporary and EB-5 is permanent.
Investment requirement
There is no minimum investment, but often lawyers advise an investment of at least
$100,000 in cash or other capital assets (e.g. equipment or inventory transferred from abroad).
$500,000 investment in cash or other capital assets is required if the business will create jobs in a high unemployment area or agricultural area. Otherwise, $1 million investment is required. If the EB-5 is part of a regional center, the program will often charge an extra fee of around $40,000.
Main difference: EB-5 requires more money.
Validity periods  Usually valid for 5 years, though some embassies give a shorter validity periods for first time investors or because reciprocity rules require it. The visa can be renewed an unlimited number of times.  The conditional green card will be issued for 2 years. Once the conditions are removed, the investor will receive a 10 year green card that can be renewed. The investor is eligible for U.S. citizenship in 5 years.  Main difference: EB-5 requires much less involvement of investor. 
Processing time for applications U.S. consulates abroad generally review and approve E-2 visas and processing times vary among consulates. Usually 4-12 weeks.  The EB-5 has a two-step application process. The first step usually takes 7 months and the second step takes about 6 months.  Main difference: E-2 is faster to get.
Percentage of ownership required in the U.S. business
The E-2 investor must have a controlling interest in the
U.S. business, which is generally defined as a minimum of 50% interest if there are two owners or a minimum or 51% interest or more if there are more than two owners.
The EB-5 investor can own any amount of the company as long as he or she has some ownership percentage and as long as his or her investment is classified as a capital contribution and not a loan.  Main difference: EB-5 requires smaller ownership percentage. 
Classification of financial investment  Generally, the consulates and USCIS want to see the investment classified as a “capital contribution” or “additional paid in capital” in the company balance sheet. They sometimes do not mind if the investment is classified as a “shareholder loan” but this should be avoided.
The investment must be classified as a “capital contribution” or “additional paid in capital” in the company balance sheet.
Participation of the investor  The E-2 investor must be coming to the U.S. to “direct and develop” the E- 2 company. The consulates want to see that the investor will be actively engaged in the management of the company. The investor must show he or she is qualified to manage a company through education or prior work experience. 
The EB-5 investor must be actively involved in the management of the new commercial enterprise (day- to-day or through policy formulation). This requires must less involvement. Even a limited partnership interest is acceptable.

Date of formation of investment company  If the E-2 investment purchases an existing company, it does not matter when that company was formed. The EB-5 investment company must be established after November 29, 1990 (or it must be shown that a business formed before 1990 has been substantially reorganized or the investment results in a 40% increase in net worth or employees).  Main difference: the date an acquired business is formed is important for an EB-5. 
Proving source of investment funds The E-2 investor must document how the investment funds were earned (or capital assets acquired) and transferred to the U.S. to show ownership and control of the investment.  The EB-5 investor must show that the investment funds were obtained through lawful means. This requires much more detailed documentation including 5 years of tax returns from U.S. and/or last country of residence.  Main difference: EB-5 requires more evidence on source of funds. 
Job creation
The E-2 investor must show that the business will not be “marginal.” This can be proven if the business makes a significant economic job contribution through job creation or produces more than a living wage for the investor.
Employees are not required if the business produces more than a living wage for the investor (but they are recommended). Direct or indirect job creation can be considered (though direct employment where employees are on payroll is better). There is no minimum number of employees required (but the more the better).
The EB-5 company must create 10 new full-time positions within 2 years. These must be at least 35 hours per week. Employees must be on payroll. Only U.S. workers and not the investor or his/her family are considered. Exception—In lieu of the creation of 10 new jobs, an EB-5 investor can show the preservation of 10 jobs for at least 2 if the EB-5 company is a “troubled business” (has a loss equal to 20% of its value for 1 out of the past 2 years). Exception 2—If the EB-5 investment is in a regional center, then the job creation requirement can be met by showing the indirect creation of 10 jobs per investor. These do not have to be employees on the payroll of the EB-5 company.
Main difference: EB-5 requires much more job creation. 
Employees from same country  E-2 regulations allow an E- 2 investor to hire employees from the same country if the employee will perform a management level or essential function.  EB-5 regulations do not permit employees from the same country.  Main difference: only E-2 allows employees from same country. 
Inadmissibility (e.g. criminal issues) If an E-2 investor is in admissible due to criminal history or other grounds, it may be possible to get a 212(d)(3) non-immigrant waiver that would permit admission of the otherwise inadmissible investor into the U.S. (note this adds 4-6 months to the processing time). 
If an EB-5 investor is inadmissible due to criminal or other grounds the waivers are more limited. The investor may have to show extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen relative or that the conviction was more than 15 years ago.

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