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Real Estate Investment Visa for the USA

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

Table of Contents

Real Estate Investment Visa for the USA

With an E-2 visa, you will be able to live and work in the US to further your business investment. Buying real estate in the US may qualify you for the E2 treaty investor visa.

In this guide for foreign national investors, we look at how property investments can be relied on to apply for a US E2 visa.

Can you invest in US real estate as a non-US national?

There are no restrictions on investing in US property, where non-US nationals are able to buy property in much the same way as US nationals, including residential property to be used as their own home or as a holiday home, or to rent out or to use as a holiday let. It is also open to non-US nationals to buy commercial premises for business purposes, either from which to run their own business or to rent out to another US-based business, or to buy a number of residential and/or commercial properties as a form of business investment.

However, buying property in the USA does not automatically give the overseas owner the right to a US visa to be able to live in or otherwise use or benefit from their property in person, where they may still need to apply for a suitable visa to be able to come to the United States. Alternatively, having recently acquired US real estate, it would be open to the new overseas property owner to appoint a US-based agent or representative to manage any property portfolio or business on their behalf. As such, no visa would be needed.


Do you need a visa to invest in US real estate?

Strictly speaking, you do not need a visa for the purposes of investing in US real estate. You can buy residential or commercial property without having to apply for a visa. It is even possible, depending on your nationality, to visit the United States for up to 90 days for the purposes of viewing US real estate options without applying for a visa in advance.

You may be eligible to visit the USA without a visa if you meet the requirements for the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows citizens of multiple countries around the world to travel to the United States without a visa for the purposes of either business or tourism. If eligible under the VWP, you would simply need to obtain an ESTA, also known as an Electronic System for Travel Authorization, at least 72 hours prior to your departure.

For non-US nationals who are not eligible to travel visa-free, you would need to apply for a visitor visa in advance of travelling to the United States with a view to investing in US property. Equally, if you are looking to stay longer in the US, or you are looking to come to the US to develop and direct a new or newly-acquired US business, you would first need to apply for a suitable visa from the US Embassy or Consulate to be able to do so.

It is worth noting that even if you are a citizen of a VWP country wanting to visit the US for only a short stay, you may be denied visa-free travel if you have been arrested for certain crimes, or if you have previously overstayed on the VWP or have been denied entry to the US. In these cases, to be able to visit the US, you would need to apply for a visitor visa.


What is the E2 visa and what does it allow?

The E2 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for nationals of a country with which the United States maintains a qualifying treaty or an international agreement — or which has been deemed a qualifying country by legislation — and who are coming to develop and direct the operations of an enterprise in which the non-US national has invested or is actively in the process of investing a substantial amount of capital. The Department of State maintains a list of countries with qualifying treaties to see whether you may qualify for an E2 visa.

If your application for an E2 visa is successful, this will enable you to come to the United States, or switch status from within the US, to run your own US-based business. There are no restrictions on the type or size of business that you are looking to invest in and manage. You can also invest in an existing US enterprise or start a brand new business of your own.

Your E2 visa will initially allow you to develop and direct your US-based business for a period of up to 2 years. However, provided your business is a success and you continue to meet the requirements for E2 classification, you can renew your visa any number of times.

Under E2 classification, an employee of a treaty investor who possesses the same nationality as the E2 employer may also apply for an E2 visa. To qualify, the employee must principally and primarily perform either executive or supervisory duties, or possess special qualifications that are essential to the successful or efficient operation of the enterprise.


E2 visa requirements for property investors

The rental market in the US has continued to grow as real estate investors are buying more and more residential properties, making the United States an obvious choice for property investment. However, to be able to develop and direct a US-based property investment business, you would need to meet the following requirements for E2 classification:

  • you must be a national of a country with which the US maintains a treaty of commerce and navigation or another qualifying international agreement, or one which has been deemed a qualifying country by legislation
  • you must be coming to solely develop and direct the day-to-day operations of an existing bona fide or brand new enterprise in which you have invested, or are actively in the process of investing, a substantial amount of capital using only lawfully obtained funds
  • the business must be more than marginal, or one that has the capacity to be more than marginal, so one not solely for the purpose of earning a living for you and your family.

There are no fixed capital thresholds when applying for an E2 visa although, to satisfy the ‘substantial capital’ requirement, your investment in real estate must be sufficient to ensure both the successful operation and development of your business, measured in a proportional sense. Capital in the process of being invested or that has already been invested must be placed at risk and irrevocably committed to the US business. You must also be able to show at least 50% ownership or possession of operational control.


Can you use property investment USA to qualify for an E2 visa?

Depending on how the property investment is structured, as well as the management necessary to administer the properties, real estate investments can qualify for an E2 visa.

However, given that any investment must be proportional to the type of business and that the business must be more than marginal, your US enterprise must be, or have the potential to become, both profitable and capable of job creation. This means that the real estate option for E2 visa purposes would necessitate a significant cash investment from the outset, probably of several hundred thousand dollars to facilitate the purchase of numerous residential properties based in the United States or at least one large commercial property.

Your involvement in the business must also be more than simply a passive investment, such as buying and renting out property for profit, where an E2 treaty investor must be actively involved in the management and day-to-day operations of their US enterprise. It is therefore possible to use ‘property investment USA’ to qualify for an E2 visa, provided the business also incorporates a sizeable property management side, one which you will be actively involved in and will create a number of employment opportunities for others.

Alternatively, you could consider entering the real estate business in the US via property management alone, where you would be selling your services to other real estate owners and investors. This would involve finding and screening tenants, processing rental payments, providing a property inspection service, providing a maintenance and repair service, and processing any tenant evictions, when necessary. In this context, the initial capital investment for E2 classification would be far less than for a real estate investment and property management business combined, and is likely to create far more job opportunities for US workers, one of the key factors that will be taken into account.

The property management industry has become one of the fastest growing industries in the US where, due to a reluctance to be overburdened by mortgages and loans since the housing crisis in 2008, many American families prefer to rent, rather than owning their own homes.

Additionally, many young people, who in past years would have bought their first property are instead electing to rent due to student loans and the flexibility that renting offers. Over one-third of all residential households in the US are rentals, with as little as an average of 20% of those rentals being managed by a professional property management service. Accordingly, there is plenty of scope to buy into or build a property management business and for that business to be both highly profitable and scalable.


How do you apply for an E2 visa for a property investment business?

When applying for an E2 visa to run a property investment and/or property management business, the process to do this will depend on whether you are applying for an E2 visa from overseas or making an in-country application to switch to E2 status from the US.


Apply for an E2 visa from overseas

To apply for an E2 visa from overseas, you will need to submit an application through the US Department of State at a US Embassy or Consulate in the country where you live.

You will first need to register your business with the E-visa unit using Form DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application) and pay the relevant visa application fee. You will also need to submit a number of documents in support of your E2 visa. These will include documents to prove your nationality, as well as ownership of the US-based enterprise in which you have invested or are in the process of investing a substantial amount of capital. You will also need a business plan, and evidence of both the investment and marginality requirements.

Once your application has been reviewed, you will be asked to schedule an in-person interview, where you will be required to attend with a number of biographical documents, such as copies of current and expired passports, as well as your application confirmation sheet and a copy of the fee payment receipt. You may also be asked to provide a number of additional substantive documents to help satisfy the E2 requirements. At this interview, you can expect to answer several questions surrounding the circumstances of your E2 visa application, including your experience in property investment and how you propose to make this type of business one which you and US workers will be actively involved in.

The process of applying for an E2 visa can be complex, not least in demonstrating a viable business capable of generating sufficient revenue and job creation to qualify for E2 status. As such, it is strongly advised to seek expert advice and assistance from an immigration specialist to help you satisfy the evidential requirements and navigate the potential pitfalls, in this way maximising the prospects of a successful outcome. Your legal adviser can also help you to prepare for the E2 interview and the types of questions that you will be asked.


Apply to switch to E2 status from the US

To apply to switch to E2 nonimmigrant status from within the United States, you will need to file Form I-129 (Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) with USCIS, together with the E-1/E-2 Classification Supplement and your supporting documentation, and pay a fee. However, as with the application for an E2 visa from abroad, the process of applying to switch to E2 status is again complex, where seeking expert advice and assistance is strongly advised.


Need assistance?

NNU Immigration specialize in applications for foreign investors engaging in business in the US, with specific expertise in E-2 visa applications. If you have questions about applying for a visa to make real estate investments in the US, or any other US immigration-related matter, contact us for advice.


US visa for real estate investments FAQs

How much investment is needed for E2?

E2 visa applicants must show that they have invested or are actively in the process of investing a ‘substantial amount of capital’. To be ‘substantial’, the investment must be enough for the business to be both profitable and scalable.


Do you get visa if you buy property in USA?

If you buy property in the USA, this does not automatically give you the right to a US visa, including an E2 treaty investor visa. Further, to be eligible for E2 nonimmigrant status, a passive investment will not qualify.


What is suitable for E2 visa?

There are a whole host of different types of businesses in which a non-US national can invest in, where they may be looking to buy an existing US business or to start a brand new business of their own.


How to get green card investing in real estate?

If you are looking to get a green card through investing in real estate, the commercial enterprise would need to be structured in such a way so as to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified US workers.

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


Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law (AILA) and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with both US and UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

Nita successfully acts for corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and athletes from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications, and talent mobility to the USA.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

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For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.

For specialist advice on a US immigration or nationality matter for your business, contact our US immigration attorneys.