Immigration law is confusing, and this is one area where it is especially confusing. E-2 visas that are issued at U.S. Consulates can be given for a number of years which depends on your country of nationality, and at times, how viable the Consulate thinks that your business is. For example, nationals of the U.K. can be issued E-2 visas for 5 years, but in some cases, the Consulate may issue approved visas for 2 or 3 years instead, because the enterprise is a start-up and the Consulate is unsure the business will thrive for all 5 years.
No matter how long your visa is issued for, when you enter the United States, you are given a maximum of 2 years in E-2 status which is on your I-94 (a record that now has to be accessed electronically) and usually, it is also written on your passport by your entry stamp. What this means is that even if your E-2 visa is valid for 5 years, you can only lawfully stay in the United States for 2 years. You can (and should) leave the United States before the two years is over in order to obtain another 2 years of status when you reenter the United States. However, if you stay in the United States beyond the 2 years, even though your visa says your E-2 status is good for 5 years, you will be out of status because the I-94 controls your lawful status.
Visas permit someone to enter the United States—but, they don’t control how long you can stay in the United States. Another example is the 10-year B1/B2 tourist visas—when you enter the United States, you are usually given 6 months to stay in lawful status even though the visa is good for 10 years. The same applies to the E-2 visa. However, unlike the B1/B2 visa that can be extended by filing Form I-539, you cannot do this with an E-2 visa.
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