Entrepreneurship in the USA: The E2 visa amid the Covid-pandemic

Expat stories
  • Miami, Florida
Published on 2021-12-07 at 14:00
As the year 2021 comes to an end, we're hoping for this very stressful period for expatriates all over the world to be over. Expats living in the USA on an E2 visa have been faced with a particularly complicated situation. In addition to the pandemic's impact on their businesses, they will also have administrative difficulties obtaining visas or even their renewal.

Indeed, the E2 visa allows foreigners to live in the United States by either starting or taking over a business that will contribute to the American economy. For entrepreneurs, this includes the creation of jobs and generating income. However, according to law, the business must not be "marginal", that is to say, generate only a minimum income to support its owner.

These visas have a limited duration (for example, 2 years for the French, 4 years for the Swiss, 5 years for the Canadians, etc.) and must therefore be renewed periodically. They are issued at United States embassies abroad. Often, before the initial application, there is a long period of preparation:

  • Finding the premises to operate or a company to buy.
  • Writing a business plan.
  • Preparing the case with an immigration lawyer (strongly recommended).

All these steps generally go smoothly, except in times of crisis. In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic was a significant obstacle that, it seems, won't be overcome anytime soon. 

In the spring of 2020, like many other public establishments, most embassies closed their doors, cancelling all visa appointments, regardless of their nature, which made things even more complicated. Business transfers were dependent on visa approvals. Expats in the United States suddenly found themselves in a fix for their visa renewal. Some found transitional solutions via USCIS, but trying to stay in the country in that way was too costly and stressful. Entrepreneurs travelling in Europe got stranded there, and some have only managed to return very recently.

A new acronym was subsequently created: NIE (National Interest Exception). This status made it possible to obtain a visa despite the US travel ban. At first, this authorisation was issued rather "easily", but things started to get tricky in 2021. 

Luckily, at the end of November 2021, things were slowly getting back to normal. Today, it is possible to obtain an appointment for an initial visa or for a renewal. While the waiting time can still be long sometimes, the good thing is that transactions are no longer blocked for months. We hope the situation becomes even more fluid and that the waiting period gets back to the usual 30 to 45 days.

Still, the Covid-19 had a significant impact on the US economy, and especially on the holders of E2 visas who are expected to take over US companies. The impact is double:

First, many businesses have closed outright, so they are no longer for sale.

Second, others with a poor performance in 2020 are now off the market because sellers may not find the expected price.

Therefore, there has been a strong impact on the number of businesses for sale. Business Brokers of Florida's shared file of businesses for sale in Florida currently has 2,500 listings compared to 4,500 two years ago. The choice is therefore limited, and the good deals go quickly.

Logically, in the spring of 2022, the number of businesses for sale will rise again. Indeed, companies will be filing their tax returns by mid-March, so this will help us understand whether companies have recovered from this crisis. Some activities, such as shopping malls, have been affected in the long run as the pandemic has literally boosted online sales. Restaurants serving lunches in office areas have also been severely affected. Consumption habits have definitely changed and are unlikely to return to the same pre-Covid level.

My business has been supporting mainly E2 visa holders for 10 years. Obviously, our activities were strongly impacted by the situation, and many cases were postponed or even cancelled. But since we don't like sitting idle, we seized the opportunity to publish a book on entrepreneurship in the United States. This book of more than 300 pages deals with all aspects of this type of project and is intended as a guide. It also includes five testimonials from people who have started or taken over a US business in different conditions. We wish to make sure that anyone with such plans gets the right information on the E2 visa through this book.