A new visa to bridge the silicon wadi

The E2 could usher in an era of Israeli-American cooperation and investment

Over the course of the last 30 years, Israel has positioned itself as a leader in the development of some of the world’s most promising technological advancements. Yet despite boasting a pool of talented programmers, engineers, and data scientists, Israeli entrepreneurs in the tech industry have been limited in the scope and nature of the work they could perform in the United States due to limited access to employment visas.

With the introduction of the E2 investor visa between Israel and the United States in May of 2019, however, things are about to change.

The E-2 visa is reserved for citizens of select foreign countries who have invested, or are actively in the process of investing, a substantial amount of capital in a bona fide enterprise in the United States. Certain employees of such companies also are potentially eligible, if they can show they are executives or supervisors, or that they have certain special qualifications.

The E-2 visa is a great one to have, and the options to renew it generally are easier than for many other visas. Applicants should be prepared to prove that the business is at least 50 percent owned, directly or indirectly, by Israeli citizens. Given the complexity of many holding structures, this requirement sometimes can get tricky.

In addition, the reviewer will have to be satisfied that the investment is substantial. What “substantial” means in this context is highly dependent on the particular business in question, and the calculus will be very different for technology startups as opposed to capital-intensive factories, for instance.

So far, the news has been quick to spread among Israelis. My office has been inundated with calls from people excited to take advantage of this new visa option, and to bring their talents and families to America’s shores. With processing times for many types of visas being delayed and much uncertainty about President Trump’s approach toward immigration, this new opening is sure to become a hot ticket.

As both an immigration attorney and the mayor of a dynamic city that is just across the Hudson River from New York City, I am particularly intrigued by how Israeli technology promises to modernize infrastructure. At a recent “smart cities” conference I attended, it was clear that innovations that emphasize interconnected data technologies and the internet of things are fueling growth in Israel; there’s little doubt that these advances can be enormously beneficial to the next generation of development in the United States. The challenge, however, is in bringing talented engineers and developers into the country.

Traditional nonimmigrant visas such as the H-1B, the O-1, and the employment-based green card categories often are not viable options for many extremely qualified Israelis working in the tech sector. One reason is because many of these visas, such as the H-1B, require degrees. Israel’s national service program often sees some of its best tech minds opting out of traditional educational paths, leveraging skills they honed while in the military to find jobs in the private sector.

This is particularly true for elite programmers and security experts who worked on cutting-edge intelligence and cybersecurity projects for the famed Unit 81, an incubator for some of Israel’s most successful hi-tech innovators and entrepreneurs. Similarly, the O-1 and employment-based extraordinary and exceptional ability visas require compelling evidence of an applicant’s elite credentials in multiple categories, such as coverage in major media or membership in selective professional groups, that often is uncommon for the majority of even the most talented workers in the tech sector.

The E-2 visa offers a real opportunity for the United States and Israel to make the most of technological advances that will directly benefit citizens of both countries. What’s more, it represents one of the few areas in immigration where there is true bipartisan support. The seeds for this important development were sown by the prior administration, while the move to finally adopt the E-2, long stalled while negotiators in the United States and Israel hammered out a reciprocal agreement that would benefit American investors seeking to do business in Israel, seems to have been motivated by the current president’s avowed dedication to deal-making.

Regardless of who gets the credit for the implementation of the E-2 visa, the benefits will be widespread.

2019 marks the beginning of an exciting new step in the relationship between the United States and Israel. Through shared investment and innovation, both countries will be able to take advantage of new technologies that promise to improve efficiency across a wide range of industries and raise the quality of life for millions. The E-2 visa marks the first step on this exciting journey toward an exciting future.

Michael Wildes is the Mayor of Englewood, New Jersey and the author “Safe Haven in America: Battles to Open the Golden Door”. He is an Immigration Lawyer, former Federal Prosecutor and an Adjunct Professor of Immigration Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

About the Author
Michael Wildes is Managing Partner of Wildes & Weinberg, a leading immigration law firm in the U.S. Wildes is a former Federal Prosecutor with the US Attorney's Office who has testified on Capitol Hill in connection with anti-terrorism legislation. He is Adjunct Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, where he teaches immigration law and serves as personal immigration lawyer to Melania Trump, Pele and Jean-Georges.
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