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How to Change Your Visa Status While Visiting the U.S. and Stay in the Country Legally

The article aims to educate travelers who leave to the U.S. on a visit visa and -- while in the U.S. -- change their intention and decide to stay longer than originally planned.

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The United States visit visa, or B1/B2 visa, provides users with permission to enter the U.S. for tourism and business purposes for a limited period of time. Under this visa category, the visa holder must adhere to the conditions of the visa and cannot work, study or open a business using this visa category. Therefore if a B1/B2 visa holder changes their intentions while in the U.S., it is pivotal for them to know the options they have for staying in the country legally. 

The traveler could apply for an E-2 Treaty visa, which would mean they'd need to invest a minimum amount of $100,000 in a business enterprise. Under the program, the investor would obtain residency for their spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21. Provided that the investor's country of citizenship has a trade treaty with the U.S., they would be eligible to participate in the program; many Middle Eastern countries such as Turkey and Pakistan are eligible. When approved, the applicant would be granted with a renewable two- to five-year residency within three months of application. Usually these visas are granted at consular posts abroad. However, understanding the dynamics of the pandemic, many U.S. consular posts are not processing this form of visa at the time. Thus, it might be prudent to look at this option of filing while within the United States.

Related: Starting a Company in the U.S. and Work Authorization Options

The minimum approximate threshold for obtaining the E-2 visa is about $100,000, and a business plan would be required to show the nature of business the applicant is looking to start in the United States. The only problem with an E-2 Treaty visa is that it is not an immigrant visa and as such would not lead to a Green Card, U.S. citizenship or passport. It does, however, allow investors to stay in the U.S. and operate that specific business. The investor’s residency status is also linked to the business enterprise, therefore should the business fail, the investor would lose their residency status, as would their family. The better alternative would be to obtain an E-2 Treaty visa, and then after six months start the process of applying for the EB-5 immigrant investor visa. 

The EB-5 immigrant investor visa would be the best route for the investor and their immediate family members to obtain U.S Green Card and passport. Under the program policy, an investor must inject $500,000 into a commercial enterprise. Using the regional center investment option — provided that the regional center is reputable and has a positive track record — the investor would not be concerned with the viability of the project and whether it can meet the requirements of job creation or not. Once the investor is approved under the EB-5 program, the investor would adjust their visa status from E-2 Treaty visa to the EB-5 immigrant visa. 

Related: The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Is Suspended. What Happens Now?

Compared to the E-2 Treaty visa the EB-5 immigrant investor visa does have a longer wait period for obtaining approval. However, it provides greater benefits for the investors' multigenerational family. It is thus advisable for prospective investors to start the EB-5 application process abroad prior to making their way to the United States. Some of the benefits of starting the process abroad are that the investor only has to make one capital investment, the investor need not be concerned with whether their country of citizenship has a trade treaty with the U.S. or not, and the investor can use the 16 months needed for approval to efficiently plan for a smooth transition to the United States.

Related: U.S. Immigration Through the International Entrepreneur Parole Program

At this time the EB-5 regional center program is awaiting reauthorization from the U.S. government, which means that prospective investors must wait until reauthorization before they can file their applications. Although industry leaders are confident that the program will be reauthorized in the next 60 days, it is pertinent for investors to start contacting an EB-5 specialist to assist them prepare for the next filing rush.

Shai Zamanian

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Shai Zamanian, a U.S. licensed lawyer and founder and director of the American Legal Center, assists families in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region migrate to the United States through investment immigration programs.