For those interested in immigrating to the United States for commercial reasons, the financial risk and high level of capital needed for an EB-5 Visa can represent a significant barrier. However, other visa options exist, which expose potential immigrants to less economic insecurity and can potentially offer less strenuous pathways to either gaining citizenship or enabling investment or expansion of industry within the United States.

The EB-5 Investor Visa requires holders to make significant financial investments in businesses within the United States. A foreign investor must put at least $1,000,000 into businesses located within the regional centers that have been listed by the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). If an Investor Visa holder decides to make investments in either rural areas or locations that have a high population of unemployed citizens, the minimum investment requirement is lowered to $500,000. As a result, the potential investor must already have a significant amount of capital before deciding to acquire an EB-5 Investor Visa. Additionally, the investor must assume much risk of financial loss. Beyond the risk, the EB-5 also requires an extensive amount of paperwork and collaboration with other professionals, such as accountants, corporate securities lawyers, and business plan specialists led by an immigration attorney. While this option may be feasible for some, other less frequently pursued alternatives exist that can avoid the barriers presented by the EB-5 Investor Visa.

Although the EB-5 Investor Visa is the most common form of employment-based immigration, many other options are available. Employment-based immigration is divided into five different preference categories, EB 1 through 5, which are then further split into sub-categories. Many of the options require a business in the United States to initiate the process by petitioning for a Labor Certificate on the potential immigrant’s behalf. Below, I will discuss in detail the options available to those looking to self-petition. These methods allow for potential immigrants to waive the requirement of obtaining a petition from a U.S. business.

EB-1 Visa

This category of Visa allows for those with extraordinary talents or extensive knowledge in the sciences, arts, education, athletics, or business to self-petition for a Visa. This category of Visa offers a pathway to citizenship that does not require the high-stakes investment necessitated by the EB-5 Investor Visa. Additionally, holders of the EB-1 Visa can still choose to invest in the United States, but can choose the level of investment. Furthermore, unlike the limitations of the EB-5 Investor Visa, the investment can be outside of the regional centers specifically approved by the USCIS. To obtain an EB-1 Visa, one must provide thorough documentation of the extraordinary ability that justifies their qualification. The standards for this proof of ability are quite high.

National Interest Waiver

The next category allowing for self-petition is the National Interest Waiver, which is a subcategory of the EB-2 Visa. This Visa allows for potential immigrants to conduct business or seek employment within the United States if proven that this will greatly benefit the nation. As with the EB-1 Visa, the standards of proof are high because one must demonstrate that their activity will be vital to the interests of the United States. However, this option is beneficial in that it does not require investment and presents a pathway to self-petition and to obtain citizenship without substantial financial burden.

L-1A Intracompany Transferee Executive or Manager

This Visa category is optimal for those who have a foreign business or work for a foreign company with offices within the United States. An L-1 nonimmigrant classification can be obtained if a US business chooses to transfer an executive or manager from a foreign office to a location within the United States. Additionally, an executive or manager of a foreign company can apply for this Visa in order to establish a new office of his/her company within the country. While L-1A Visas present a viable alternative to the EB-5 Investor Visa because of the lower level of financial risk, they only grant temporary residency within the United States. If one is being transferred from a foreign office to a location within the United States, the stay is limited to 3 years while those who are opening a new office are permitted to stay for only 1 year. However, L-1 nonimmigrant Visa holders can apply for extensions in two-year increments for up to a total-residency length of  7 years. During this time period, Visa holders can petition for a Green Card under the EB-1 preference category, and therefore bypass the substantial investment requirement of the EB-5 Investor Visa.

E-1 Trade and E-2 Investor Visas

The last options are the E-1 Trade and E-2 Investor Visas. While these categories will not result in the acquisition of a Green Card, they are viable options that do not involve the large level of risk associated with the EB-5 Investor Visa. Additionally, both of these Visas can be continuously renewed as long as the holder is still conducting business or making investments in the United States.

The E-2 Investor is similar to the the EB-5 Investor Visa, but it is considered to be a “nonimmigrant” Visa because it cannot result in applying for a Green Card. The benefits of the E-2 Visa is that the category only requires “substantial” investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States and does not specify an amount.

The E-1 Trade Visa involves investment in international trade rather than a U.S. company. Again, the Visa holder must engage in a “substantial” level of foreign trade. Additionally, the trade must be principally between the United States and the country designated under the E-1 classification.

In conclusion, many other visa alternatives related to business exist, which can at times be more feasible than the EB-5 Investor Visa. While these visa categories are viable, they all require a significant amount of paperwork and professional assistance is usually required in providing adequate documentation. In order to promote the chances of getting an application approved, it is recommended that one begins planning far in advance.