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O-1A vs. E-2 Investor Visa

There are many different visas available to foreign entrepreneurs who want to build their businesses in the United States, each with its own unique advantages and disadvantages. Two of the most popular visas for startup founders are the E-2 and O-1, but what are the key differences between them?

Comparing the E-2 Visa for ‘treaty investors’ to the O-1 Visa for 'Aliens of Extraordinary Ability'

The E-2 is a nonimmigrant classification (i.e. temporary work visa) that allows nationals of certain treaty countries to make an investment in a U.S. business and then work for that business.

For startup founders who do not yet qualify as an O-1 “Alien of Extraordinary Ability” or who desire work authorization for their spouse, the E-2  is an alternative option for U.S. work authorization. 

The benefits of the E-2 include:
  • U.S. Work Authorization;
  • The E-2 provides initial status for 2-5 years, and you are then eligible for indefinite extensions;
  • Your spouse  can work in the U.S; children under the age of 21 can accompany you and study in the U.S.;
  • There is no limitation on the types and sizes of businesses eligible for the E-2;
  • The E-2 has historically high approval ratings nationwide (92%); and
  • The E-2 has a relatively short processing time (subject to the availability of appointments at your nearest U.S. consulate).
The limitations of the E-2 include:
  • The E-2 requires you to make a “substantial” investment in a U.S. business (generally interpreted as $100k+); and
  • The E-2 does not offer a direct path to permanent residency.

Generally, if you are a strong candidate for the O-1 and your spouse does not require U.S. work authorization, the O-1 allows you more flexibility and a number of additional benefits. 

Benefits of the O-1 include:
  • U.S. Work Authorization;
  • The O-1 provides initial status for up to 3 years, and you are then eligible for indefinite extensions;
  • Under USCIS’ deference policy to prior approvals, there is a strong likelihood that the O-1 extension will be approved if the material facts and parties (i.e. information about you and your company) have not changed;
  • You can hold numerous concurrent O-1 visas. This enables you to work for numerous employers if you have a valid O-1 visa for each employer you plan to work for; and
  • A significant portion of the O-1 petition may be reused in your immigrant petition for the green card process.
The limitations of the O-1 include:
  • The O-1 dependent visa, the O-3, does not enable a spouse to apply for work authorization in the United States.

Requirements for the E-2 and the O-1

What are the requirements of the E-2?

To be eligible for the E-2 visa, you must:

  • Be a citizen of a country with which the U.S. has an E-2 Treaty;
  • Invest a substantial amount of your own money into your business (generally $100k+); and
  • Be the owner, executive/manager, or otherwise essential to the successful operation of your business.

Your business must:

  • Be real and operating; and
  • Be 50% or more owned by citizens of your country of citizenship, which in turn must have an E-2 Treaty with the U.S.
What are the requirements of the O-1?

You received a major, internationally-recognized award, such as a Nobel Prize, or you meet at least 3 of the following: 

  • Receipt of nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence in the field of endeavor;
  • Membership in associations in the field which require outstanding achievements;
  • Published material in professional or major trade publications, newspapers or other major media about you or your work;
  • Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance in the field;
  • Authorship of scholarly articles in professional journals or other major media in the field;
  • A high salary or other remuneration for services;
  • Participation on a panel, or individually, as a judge of the work of others in the field; and, 
  • Employment in a critical or essential capacity for organizations that have a distinguished reputation.

Get a deep dive into the O-1 requirements.

Comparing the E-2 to the O-1

How long is the initial stay of the E-2 and the O-1?

E-2

Initial E-2 status is valid for 2-5 years.

O-1

Initial O-1 status is valid for up to 3 years.

How long is the extension of the E-2 and O-1?

E-2

E-2 status can be extended in 2-year increments indefinitely assuming you continue to qualify for the visa. Additionally, your E-2 status is automatically renewed every time you leave and re-enter the U.S., assuming your status remains valid and you continue to qualify for the visa.

O-1

O-1 status can be extended in 1 or 3-year increments indefinitely assuming you continue to qualify for the visa.

What is the maximum stay of the E-2 and O-1?

E-2

Indefinite extensions.

O-1

Indefinite extensions.

Can I file premium processing for the E-2 and O-1?

E-2

Yes, if you’re applying from within the U.S. Otherwise it is not necessary because you don’t need to file any paperwork aside from requesting an appointment with the U.S. consulate.

O-1

Yes.

What is the approval data for the E-2 and the O-1?

E-2

Based on information provided by USCIS, between 2014 and 2018, the E-2 has had an approval rate between 89 to 93%.

O-1

The O-1 is granted to Aliens of Extraordinary Ability. Based on information provided by USCIS, in 2020, the O-1 had an approval rate of 89.7% nationally. Legalpad’s O-1 approval rate for startup founders is over 95%.

Who can you work for in the U.S. with E-2 and O-1 Status?

For both the E-2 and O-1, you may only work for the sponsoring company. However, you may hold numerous E-2’s sand O-1’s, and therefore, are capable of working for numerous companies so long as you hold valid visas for each separate company.

How many people within the same startup can apply for the E-2 and the O-1?

Unlimited for both the O-1 and E-2.

Can dependents come to the U.S. on the E-2 or the O-1?

E-2

Yes.

O-1

Yes.

Can a dependent spouse work on the E-2 or the O-1?

E-2

Yes, your spouse can seek status as a dependent and work.

O-1

No, your spouses can seek status as a dependent but cannot work.

Can dependent children work on the E-2 or the O-1?

E-2

No, your children can seek status as a dependent but cannot work.

O-1

No, your children can seek status as a dependent but cannot work.