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Immigrating to the U.S. on a Limited Budget

Each week, we receive multiple inquiries about immigrating to the U.S. on investor or business visas. Most of these types of visas require business plans, and that is where we come in. We help entrepreneurs prepare the business plan portion of their immigration applications (also called petitions).

Immigrating to the U.S. on a Limited Budget

Moving from one country to another is almost always going to be an expensive undertaking. Add to that the cost of investing in an existing business or launching a new business, and the capital requirement adds up very quickly. This post will address the question: “Can an entrepreneur immigrate to the U.S. on an investor visa affordably?”

Let us begin by setting aside for the moment the amount to be invested in a business and briefly focus on the other costs involved in the immigration process. Let’s agree that moving from one town to another requires capital. Moving from one country to another, especially with a family, will require an even more significant financial commitment. In developing a budget for your move, what are the essential costs to plan for? Here are the two big ones.

  • Relocation Expenses – Relocation expenses include the cost of airfare for you and the family, as well as the costs of shipping personal possessions. Another important relocation expense is the cost of temporary living until you have settled the family. Those costs include the cost of staying in a hotel until you have established your residence; renting a car until you have purchased or leased a vehicle, paying security deposits to landlords for your residence, office, or factory space, deposits to utility companies, and other temporary or one-time living expenses.
  • Professional Fees – Professional fees can be a significant expense. Professional fees include the fees paid to your immigration attorney as well as the fees paid to a firm such as ours for assistance in preparing your business plan. Of course, you may avoid the payment of these fees by preparing your own visa petition and your own business plan. This can be a risky proposition as the immigration authorities will want your submission to be complete, well written, and well documented. Hiring experienced professionals is usually the best way to prepare a properly structured visa petition and business plan.

The most common investor visas for U.S. immigration are the E-2 and L-1 visas. We will not spend a great deal of time here discussing these visas, as this information is readily available on the following pages:

Instead, we will spend our time here discussing the way to invest in a business in the U.S. that might require less capital than, say, building a factory or a distribution center.

Remember that for an L-1 visa, the immigrant intends to open an office of an existing foreign business. As an example, we recently completed an L-1 visa business plan for a successful European software developer that wanted to open an office in the U.S. so that the company could increase its U.S. sales. The owner of the business was going to immigrate to the U.S. and run both the European and U.S. operations from the new U.S. office. His investment was quite modest as his only significant expenses were the opening of an office and the hiring of a small number of sales personnel.

For E-2 investor visa applicants, the capital requirement for investing in an existing or new business is a bit trickier. To begin, USCIS does not explicitly specify what a “substantial” investment must be. Rather, the requirement defines substantial capital as follows:

  • Substantial in relationship to the total cost of either purchasing an established enterprise or establishing a new one.
  • Sufficient to ensure the treaty investor’s financial commitment to the successful operation of the enterprise.
  • Of a magnitude to support the likelihood that the treaty investor will successfully develop and direct the enterprise. The lower the cost of the enterprise, the higher, proportionately, the investment must be to be considered substantial.

So, what is substantial? In our experience, E-2 applicants can justify well under $100,000 in capital investment in many different types of businesses. Here are some examples of real, successful E-2 petitions:

  • Specialized accounting firm – $30,000 investment
  • Financial consulting – $25,000 investment
  • IP Solutions – $90,000 investment

One of the best ways to start a business with a low-cost investment is to acquire a franchise. If you decide to buy a franchise, you can often find one that is in an industry in which you can apply your skills and is in the city in which you wish to live. Moreover, by buying a franchise, you get the training, tools, and support you need to make your transition an easy one. Purchasing a franchise such as a retail brand or a fast food brand is an excellent way to go if you know you want to come to the U.S. but are not sure what you want to do.

If you are an entrepreneur and want to come to the U.S. on a budget, it is entirely possible. Please do your research, and, when you are ready, contact us for help with a business plan or a referral to an immigration attorney. Good luck with your journey!

Jimmy Lewin

Jimmy's background includes over 40 years in international, commercial, and investment banking, and nearly a decade as the principal shareholder and CEO of a rapidly growing manufacturing and distribution business in California. Today, Jimmy spends his time advising and consulting with entrepreneurs on matters related to business planning, as well as capital markets and funding strategies. Jimmy works with clients throughout the world in industries that include financial services, real estate, manufacturing and hospitality. View details.

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