Our staff from the Consular Section of the Consulate General of the United States in Toronto recently visited the MaRS Centre in Toronto and met with several dynamic business owners in the MaRS Incubator.

We realized that although many Canadian business owners and entrepreneurs are keenly interested in tapping into the US market, they may not know how to go about doing so. One tool that Canadian business owners may be able to use to facilitate travel to the US for executive, supervisory and specialized skill workers is the E visa.

If you’re unfamiliar with the E visa program, read on! I’ve summarized below the basic information about what it is and how to apply.

What is an E visa?

An E visa is one way to make cross-border travel and investment easier for Canadian business owners or future entrepreneurs. E visas are for nationals of certain treaty countries, such as Canada, who are coming to the US to carry out substantial trade between their country and the US, or to develop and direct the operations of an enterprise in which they have invested or are investing a substantial amount of capital.

If your business is engaged in trade (of goods, services or technology) primarily with US customers, a Treaty Trader (E-1) Visa may be appropriate for your company’s executives and managers, as well as for employees with specialized skills. If your business expands its operations into the US, where you will be investing and hiring, consider applying for a Treaty Investor (E-2) Visa.

E visa holders can work and live in the United States if they wish, and their dependents (spouse and children under age 21) can accompany them. Spouses are also allowed to work in the US. Most E visas are issued for a period of five years and are renewable.

Many companies use H, L and TN visas to bring employees to work at US-based operations. The E visa provides another avenue for Canadian companies to send qualified employees to the US. Unlike H and L visas, an E visa does not require a labour certificate or an approved petition. The visa can be processed directly through the US Consulates General in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.

Who can qualify for an E visa?

E visas can be issued to individuals who are in supervisory or executive capacities in qualifying companies or who possess specialized skills essential to the operation of the firm.

How long does it take to get an E visa?

We have streamlined procedures to facilitate the E visa application process at the US Consulate General in Toronto, making cross-border travel easier and faster for qualifying employees who are travelling to the US.

A first-time E visa generally takes about three weeks to be processed from the date the appointment is scheduled to the time the visa is ready for pick up. Once a company demonstrates that it qualifies for an E visa through issuance to one of its employees, the company is registered with the Consulate. Cases of qualifying applicants of registered businesses or dependents of current E visa holders are handled through an expedited process that requires significantly less documentation. Appointments can be scheduled as soon as the next business day and visas can be printed and returned to applicants in as little as one day in emergency cases. Current fees and scheduling information are available here.

What kinds of Canadian-owned businesses have received E visas?

Canadian-owned companies receiving E visas run the gamut from large industry giants to smaller operations, such as restaurant franchises. One recent company that benefited from the E visa is Flo Cycling LLC, a small Canadian-owned US company that designs and produces aerodynamic cycling wheels. The company owners—twin brothers who are both mechanical engineers—recently told us:

“The E visa has opened many doors for Flo Cycling. Las Vegas has been an excellent place to operate our business. We are close to Los Angeles, which makes importing product easy, and the tax benefits in Nevada are incredible for our startup. The US also provides access to leading edge technology. We use CD-adapco’s computational fluid dynamics software and test in the A2 Wind Tunnel in North Carolina, one of the best low-speed wind tunnels in the world. All of these opportunities are made possible by the E2 visas we were issued.”

For business owners who prefer to live in Canada, the E visa can make cross-border travel easier. Syd Abrahams is the owner of Boca Scientific, Inc., a company located in Boca Raton, Florida. He said:

“As a Canadian scientist and entrepreneur, the E visa program has allowed me to establish this US-based company and to travel freely between my home in Toronto and my business in Florida. This unique program has allowed me to understand the subtle differences in business practices between the US and Canada, and to focus my attention on building this company and utilizing my expertise in the field of biotechnology.”

Where can I get more information about E visas?

We want to help you invest in the United States and grow your business. Additional information about E visas can be found at the website of the US Consulate General in Toronto and the US Department of State’s website. You can also contact us by email at evisatoronto@state.gov with questions. The US Department of Commerce’s SelectUSA program is also an excellent resource for information about municipal, county, state and federal government incentives available to investors in the United States.

Note: The inclusion of specific companies in this blog post does not constitute a US government endorsement of their products or services.

Eugenia Davis

Eugenia Davis is a US foreign service officer at the US Consulate General in Toronto. She is currently assigned as chief of the E Visa Unit. See more…