E1 Visa to Green Card?

Since the E-1 visa allows only temporary periods of stay in the US, many E-1 visa holders want to understand their options to stay on a permanent basis, and perhaps even retire in the US, by applying for a Green Card.

With US lawful permanent residence, you are allowed to live in the US indefinitely, without travel restrictions or limitations on the type of activity you can undertake, such as work, study or retirement. But is it possible to go directly from the E-1 visa to a Green Card?


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E-1 visa to Green Card?

Whether you are considering your options to apply for the E-1 visa or if you are already in the US under the E-1 category and are considering if you can settle permanently in the US, it is important to understand that there is no direct path from E-1 visa to Green Card – irrespective of how long you have held E-1 status in the US.

To remain in the US after your E-1 status has expired or is no longer valid requires planning and professional advice to help ensure you understand your options to stay and that for any application you make, that you are meeting the strict eligibility and process requirements to avoid issues, delays or rejected applications.

E-1 visa extensions

While the E-1 visa is a temporary visa, it can offer long-term residence in the US since there are no limits on the number of times you can apply to extend your visa. However, to qualify for the E-1 extension, you must remain active in the E-1 business, engaged in the relevant trade activities and continue to meet the E-1 visa requirements.

If you cease activities with the E-1 company, for example, if you plan to work for a different company or to retire, you will no longer be able to remain in the US under your current status.

You will either have to leave the US or seek lawful status under a different visa category which could then lead to a US Green Card.

For many E-1 visa holders, opportunities may present which have only been possible while living in the US, whether that is meeting a future spouse or finding employment.

Green Card routes

While E-1 visa holders cannot rely on their existing US status as the basis for an application for lawful permanent residence, the following are alternative, indirect routes to a Green Card which may be available, depending on your circumstances:

Family-based Green Card

The most obvious route is if you are married to a US citizen, you can apply for a Green Card by marriage. As the spouse of a US citizen, you will not automatically attain lawful permanent residence, but you would need to make an application for a Green Card on the basis of being an ‘immediate relative’.

Alternatively, another path to Green Card could be where you have an immediate family member who is able to sponsor you.

Sponsors must meet certain eligibility criteria, including being an immediate family member to you, they must be a US citizen and over the age of 21.

The family Green Card route can, however, be a long process, depending on your relationship to the sponsor and your nationality. For example, applications sponsored by a sibling can take up to ten years, whereas a child sponsoring an application would typically take around a year. Similarly, applications from individuals of certain nationalities may face a longer wait for their application, such as Mexico, due to the high volume of applications emanating from their country.

If you do not have an immediate family member who can sponsor you, but you are married and your non-US spouse works in the US, you could consider whether your spouse is eligible for a Green Card by employment. If they can attain a Green Card through their job, you would then in turn become eligible for a Green Card as their spouse.

Employment-based Green Card

A number of permanent residence routes could become available relating to your employment in the US.

By being in the USA and working in the country, you may find new opportunities open up to you. If you can find an employer willing to employ you and sponsor you, you may be able to apply for an employment-based Green Card, although this route typically takes a number of years to come to fruition.

You may also consider eligibility for the H1-B visa, which is open to individuals with an undergraduate degree or equivalent professional qualification who are sponsored by a qualifying employer. The H1-B route offers a direct path to a Green Card after five years of qualifying employment in the US.

The EB-1 ‘extraordinary ability’ visa is one specific route that could secure you a Green Card. You will not need to be sponsored for this route. If you can show you are at the top of your sector or on your way to it and exceptional in your field of work, you may qualify for the EB-1. To apply, you will need to show how your status has taken you to a level where you would be recognised for extraordinary ability within your profession. You can apply for the EB1-1 while already residing in the US on an E-1 visa.

The EB-2 Green Card, on the other hand, is for ‘exceptional ability’ or Advanced Degree Permanent Residence (Second Preference) for those who are members of professions holding an advanced degree (or equivalent) or those who can otherwise prove ‘exceptional ability’ i.e. expertise that is significantly higher than the norm in their particular field of sciences or arts, medicine, business, or athletics.

Investment-based Green Card

If you have $500,000 or more to invest in a US business, the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Green Card could be open to you.

If you enter the US on an E-1 visa, you may in time become eligible under the E-B5 program if you can show growth of the company with the creation of at least ten new jobs and investment of at least one million dollars into the enterprise.

If you do not yet have a US visa but do have the required investment funds, you would be able to apply for the EB-5 straight away, rather than through the E-1 or other visa first. If you are looking at US investment for US residency, take professional advice to ensure all appropriate routes have been considered for your specific circumstances.

Retiring in the US on an E-1 visa

If you plan to retire and cease working in the E-1 business, it would only be possible to remain it the US indefinitely if you seek out an alternative route to a Green Card. As above, this could include relying on marriage to a US citizen or if your non-US spouse secures a Green Card, for example through employment. This will require advanced planning and in many cases may take a number of years. Taking professional advice will help ensure you have explored all options and are taking the action required to turn your plans into reality.

Need assistance?

While the E-1 visa does not offer a direct path to US permanent residence, for many E-1 visa holders, who perhaps have been accompanied by their spouse and children and who now consider the US as their home, there may be alternative routes to settle in the US.

As specialists in US immigration, NNU’s London-based attorneys can guide you through your options to remain in the US based on your circumstances and eligibility. Taking expert advice will help ensure you compile a robust application and avoid evidentiary or process issues which can result in a delayed or even refused application.

Contact us for guidance on your specific circumstances.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.