What Is a Commercial Visa?

A commercial or business visa is a government-issued document that allows non-citizens to enter a foreign country temporarily for business purposes. A country may issue commercial visas for different types of business visits. The United States, for example, issues B-1 visas to professional athletes, investors, business-event attendees, lecturers and speakers, researchers, salespeople, commercial and industrial service engineers, and training program participants. Individuals wishing to visit a country on a commercial visa must meet certain requirements related to the purpose of their visit, the earning of income and their length of stay.

Understanding Commercial Visas

In addition to visa requirements, travelers should be aware of passport, immunization and other requirements to enter the country they intend to visit. In getting approved for a business or commercial visa, an individual might also need a letter from the foreign company inviting the individual abroad. Individuals who earn income in a foreign country while traveling on a commercial visa should be aware that they may generate a tax liability to the government of the country they are visiting.

Business and Commercial Visa Rules

An individual can start and own a company in the United States without a business or commercial visa, and without even visiting the United States. However, that individual may not be permitted within the United States without a valid work visa. An individual can be a director or a shareholder of a U.S. company without holding any type of visa, but that person could not act as an officer or perform duties within the United States without a valid visa.

If an individual does work for their own company or a company belonging to someone else without the proper visa, that individual could be deported without any right to return, and the company could be fined for hiring an illegal alien.

Types of U.S. Business Visas

A B-1 visa is a short-term visa of up to six months that allows an individual to negotiate, but that individual cannot perform work or sign contracts.

A B-2 visa is a short-term tourist visa of up to six months that gives the individual the same rights as the B-1 visa — to negotiate, but not to work or sign contracts.

An E-1 visa is a treaty trader visa, which is temporary in nature but can be renewed while the business is still in operation. This visa is useful for individuals who are starting a business that will trade with their home country. However, that visa holder's home country must have a trade treaty with the United States.

An E-2 visa is a treaty investor visa. This is a temporary visa but can be renewed, and it allows the visa holder of a treaty country to start a business in the United States.

An EB-5 visa is part of the investor green card program. An individual can invest between $500k ad $1 million and must hire at least 10 U.S. residents within two years. The company must survive between two and five years. The investor can apply for permanent residency after a probationary period. 

An L-1 visa is an intercompany transfer visa. This visa allows the holder to transfer from a foreign company to a U.S. company subject to restrictions. The visa can last up to one year and can be extended up to three times. The employee must have worked for the foreign, related company for more than a year in the last three years.

An H-1B visa is a specialized labor visa. This visa can last up to three years and can be extendable. There is a quota restricting the number of visas available. This visa cannot be used for self-employment.

An O-1 visa is an extraordinary ability visa. The holder must demonstrate that they have skills that cannot be found easily in the United States. The visa can last for up to three years and is extendable.

A TN visa is a NAFTA temporary work visa. It can last for up to three years, is extendable but cannot be used for self-employment.