The E-1 visa, also known as a treaty trader visa or trade visa, is based on bilateral agreements between the United States and countries that drive trade to the U.S. ("treaty countries"). Currently, there are about 50 nations that maintain such relations with the United States. The trading and shipping treaty that is relevant for Germans was concluded between the U.S. and Germany in 1956.
The E-1 visa is tied to the particular company and allows the U.S. company that submits the application to hire employees. The official applicant is always the U.S. company for the future employee/trader.
The visa enshrined in U.S. law under "treaty trader status" is available to companies that conduct substantial trade between the treaty country and the U.S.
In order to obtain a treaty trader visa/commerce visa, the applicant must demonstrate the following and satisfy other requirements:
The E-1 visa is granted usually for five years. However, the consular office is also able to place time restrictions on the visa.
Theoretically, the company can request 5-year extensions of the visa an infinite number of times as long as the company continues to successfully conduct business in the U.S. and is able to satisfy all of the other entry requirements.
Residence status can be granted by immigration officers at the border for a maximum of two years at a time. These periods are reset when exiting and reentering the country until the visa has expired and must be re-applied for.
The company must complete its initial application for E-1 registration and submit it to the relevant U.S. Consulate General of the treaty country. For example, German companies should contact the U.S. Consulate General in Frankfurt/Main.
The application process requires U.S. companies and company groups to submit extensive documentation about their trade activities as well as that of their employees and traders in order to obtain the visa. After the appropriate U.S. consulate reviews the documents, the applicant will receive an invitation to a personal interview. During the appointment the consular officials will ask questions about the records and decide whether to approve the application. If the applicant’s initial E-1 visa application is approved, then the U.S. company will also automatically receive an E-1 registration.
This registration allows the company to send other nationals of the treaty country to the U.S. site or to employ them according to a very simplified procedure. See also: E visa (based on registration)
Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age receive a derivative E-1 Visa lasting the same period as the principal applicant’s E-1 Visa. Once children reach the American age of majority, they must change their non-immigrant visa status or leave the country.
A spouse can apply for his or her own work permit (Employment Authorization Document EAD) that is not tied to the specific location or company of the principal applicant. Family members who receive E-1 status can attend public/private educational institutions.
The most important information about this visa category can also be found here, briefly summarized and free to download in PDF format.