E visas treaty would aid both Israel and U.S.

Despite some recent changes to the U.S. employment-based immigration system, there have been some visa categories that the administration has yet to address.

One such category is the E visa. Although the United States has E-2 visa agreements with more than 70 countries, including Azerbaijan, Congo, Iran, Pakistan, and Suriname, we do not yet have one with Israel. That is puzzling, considering our longstanding political and strategic alliances with Israel.

The E visa category includes treaty traders (E-1) and treaty investors (E-2), who come to the United States either under a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation, or a bilateral investment treaty between the United States and foreign nation of which the treaty trader or investor is a citizen or national.

Since 1815, the United States has entered into these bilateral trade agreements, which allow citizens from 80 nations to secure visas based on the establishment of businesses in the U.S. The E-1 visa allows a treaty national who already has established a thriving business in his or her home country, which engages in substantial trade with the United States, to travel here to further facilitate trade between the U.S. and his or her business abroad. The E-1 does not require the treaty national to make a substantial investment and long-term economic commitment to the United States, but to engage in trade. The E-2 visa, on the other hand, requires the treaty national to invest a substantial amount of his or her money into the United States to buy an existing business or create a new business.

Both the E-1 and E-2 visas play essential roles in our economy, because they foster substantial and reciprocal trade between the United States and another country, or enable substantial investment by foreign nationals into the U.S. economy. More than 52,000 E visas were issued in 2016, enabling these investors and traders to serve as drivers of the economy and overall job growth. But in spite of the visas’ success and ever-growing popularity, both members of Congress and foreign governments are resistant to expanding the E-1 and E-2 visa categories to other countries.

One such example of this reluctance is the long-awaited E-2 visa for Israeli citizens.

While Israel and the United States have a bilateral treaty that allows Israeli citizens to enter the U.S. with E-1 treaty trader status, since 1954, Israel still does not have a treaty authorizing E-2 investor visas. In 2012, President Obama signed legislation to pass the E-2 investor visa for Israel, but issues arose about reciprocity.

For reciprocity to exist between Israel and the United States, Israel had to create its own parallel visa program, so U.S. citizens would have equal access to invest in Israel. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of State suggested that the E-2 program would be available for Israelis by October 2017. Yet when it came time to implement the program, the United States was unsatisfied with Israel’s latest version of the B-5 visa program, which is the (E-1) treaty trader visa equivalent for U.S. citizens. The U.S. returned the regulations to the Knesset — the legislative branch of the Israeli government — with comments to be considered before the bilateral agreement can be implemented.

One likely reason why Israel has delayed implementing the B-5 is a fear that its wealthy citizens might abandon the country, investing funds and creating jobs in the United States to the detriment of Israel and its citizens. The facts, however, do not support this.

Between 2010 and 2015, Israel invested more than $150 billion in the United States According to AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — Israel consistently is among the top 20 suppliers of direct investments into the U.S., and invested more than $25.1 billion in 2015 alone. Alongside the substantial monetary investments, the cultural exchange between the United States and Israel has led to the expansion of businesses in both countries. Components critical to leading American high-tech products often are invented and designed in Israel, making these American companies competitive and more profitable globally. Cisco, Intel, Motorola, Applied Materials, and HP are just a few examples of U.S. companies that benefit from these strong ties between the U.S. and Israel. United States companies have established two-thirds of the more than 300 foreign-invested research and development centers in Israel, while Israel represents the second-largest source of foreign listings on the NASDAQ — more than Indian, Japanese, and South Korean firms combined.

In terms of job growth, the New England Israel Business Council shows that Israeli-founded businesses have generated an estimated 9,000 jobs in Massachusetts alone, and indirectly supported an additional 18,000 jobs. These Israeli companies represent nearly 4 percent of the state’s entire GDP.

Even without the E-2, both Israel and the United States benefit from each other’s financial influences. We can only imagine the substantial benefits both countries would experience if a reciprocal bilateral investment treaty were formalized. E-2 visas represent a mechanism by which new companies are created in the United States, and in order for those companies to function and prosper, there must be job creation for Americans. Even a small business, such as an ice cream shop or fitness center, must prove it will create benefit to the local economy by creating jobs.

Given that the spirit of these visas is to generate and increase economic prosperity between the two countries, and the end result of the visas being the generation of new jobs, the E treaties are extremely beneficial to both national and international markets. As the months continue, our hope is the administrations of both countries will recognize the substantial benefits that bilateral investments offer, and formalize such a treaty, which will enable U.S. and Israeli citizens to invest in each other’s countries.

Michael J. Wildes, a Democratic former mayor of Englewood, will be on the ballot for that position in November He is the managing partner of Wildes and Weinberg, PC, specializing in immigration law, and a former federal prosecutor. The firm’s website is www.wildeslaw.com.

About the Author
Michael Wildes is the mayor of Englewood, a member of Congregation Ahavath Torah there, and the author of 'Safe Haven in America: Battles to Open the Golden Door.' He is a former federal prosecutor and an adjunct professor of immigration law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
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