This op-ed originally appeared on JPost.com.
Citizens of over 70 nations, from Albania to the United Kingdom, are eligible for E-2 visas, but Israelis are not.
On far too many issues, the US Congress is divided by partisan bickering. Yet when it comes to Israel, Congress speaks with a single voice that spans the political spectrum.
Congress stands with Israel and its right to self-defense. Congress supports enhancing Israeli national security by funding the Iron Dome missile defense system, ensuring Israel’s qualitative military edge, fostering bilateral trade ties and defending the Jewish state in the face of efforts to delegitimize Israel in international organizations.
That bipartisan spirit of pursuing legislation that benefits both the US and Israel was recently demonstrated by granting Israeli citizens non-immigrant investor visas.
The E-2 investor visa is a special category of temporary visa available to foreign nationals and renewable every two years. The criteria are straightforward: According to US immigration rules, the eligible investor must “develop or direct the operations of an enterprise in which he has invested, or is in the process of investing a substantial amount of capital.” While there is no explicit definition of a “significant amount of capital,” a degree of investment risk must be assumed.
Citizens of over 70 nations, from Albania to the United Kingdom, are eligible for this visa, but Israelis are not.
Investors and business leaders from a nation with a per capita gross income that rivals Italy, that ranks third in companies listed on the NASDAQ, and is a hi-tech incubator operating on the cutting edge of scientific and technological advancement face unnecessary hurdles if they want to develop or direct the operations of their business in the United States.
Israel serves as an important US trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching $36.9 billion in 2011, with Israeli exports to the US totaling $23b. and US exports to Israel totaling $13.9b.
Israel is among the US’s 10 largest export markets per capita. Despite a population of only eight million people Israel is among the US’s 24 largest export markets by value, ahead of countries such as Russia, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and Argentina.
Between 2000 and 2010 Israeli Direct Investment in the US totaled $58.5b. and in 2010 Israel was the largest supplier of Foreign Direct Investment to the US from the Middle East. In fact, Israel supplied nearly as much FDI to the US as China. These investments have created and support tens of thousands of jobs in both countries.
This bill sends enterprising Israeli investors a clear and unambiguous message: The United States is open for business and we welcome the expansion of Israeli enterprises here that will result in job creation for American workers.
Between 2001 and 2010, the State Department issued 27,000 E-2 visas per year. None were for Israelis, but that will soon change.
The district that elects me to Congress in the San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles includes a vibrant Jewish and Israeli community that is very much attuned to events transpiring in Israel and the Jewish world.
Armed with an E-2 visa, Israeli investors have a natural home in the San Fernando Valley and Southern California to expand their businesses, hire American workers, and strengthen the economy. Organizations like The Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization encouraging trade and investment opportunities are well positioned to seize on this opportunity.
Other American cities with significant Jewish communities such as Chicago, New York and Miami are also poised to take advantage of this change in immigration rules.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington cites a few examples of how the E-2 visa can benefit Israeli investors, and help create American jobs.
One example involves a self-educated Israeli hi-tech innovator who created a technology-based method for analyzing real-time user actions within “Software as a Service” applications. The Israeli innovator’s business advisors have insisted that he transfer to California to open and run a company in the primary business market for this new technology. An E-2 visa would allow the innovator to transfer this technology to California, open the new office and create local jobs.
In another case, an Israeli company designed an online communications network and made a substantial investment in a Colorado-based corporation which develops complimentary applications. They now need to send one of its employees to Denver to facilitate integration of the local company’s development efforts with the Israeli company’s network.
The employee chosen for this assignment is a new hire who joined the company straight out of Israeli military service, during which he acquired substantial on-point experience in an elite communications unit.
The congressional legislative process can be winding and slow moving, but on this issue, a bill granting Israel E-2 visa status has moved forward expeditiously.
When I offered this legislation in Congress months ago, it was sponsored by my congressional colleagues representing both political parties. It was championed immediately by the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a great friend of Israel, who agreed with me that this bill should not be held up by legislative wrangling. We worked together to help pass this through his committee and then the House of Representatives by a vote of 371-0.
In the Senate, the bill introduced by Senators Charles Schumer (D-New York), Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) and Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) moved forward equally fast and was approved without any objection. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) played a vital role in expediting this legislation forward.
In support of this effort, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren noted, “this bill is an important step in advancing the close economic ties between our two countries and expanding investment opportunity for both business communities. Measures like these bring Israeli innovation and entrepreneurship to American shores, creating jobs and generating increased investment in the US.”
Now it is ready for the president’s signature and will soon become law.
While Americans and Israelis are separated by a significant geographical distance, we are bound by shared values and principles, and granting Israel E-2 visa status will bring us even closer together.
Expanding Israeli investment in the United States is good for business – for the Israeli entrepreneur and the American worker.
The writer, a US Representative (D-California), is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
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