Terry McLaughlin: Supporting immigrants who follow the law
An E-2 Treaty Investor Visa allows citizens of countries with which the United States maintains treaties of commerce and navigation to be admitted to the U.S. when investing a substantial amount of capital in an American business.
Across the country there are somewhere between 100,000 and 115,000 small E-2 foreign-owned businesses emanating from 70 countries that participate in this reciprocal treaty agreement, New Zealand being the most recent addition.
The E-2 Visa program has many benefits for migrants, as it allows businessmen and women, their families, and often their employees to enter the United States legally. The program also has many benefits for our country as these businesses directly employ about a million Americans, with indirect employment estimated at an additional million.
This economic impact is not limited to the day-to-day operation of the business, as these E-2 business owners also had to finance the purchase of the business and provide operating capital with funds from their native country.
An E-2 Visa can be renewed and extended indefinitely, as long as the business continues in the U.S. The State Department monitors this program, and the business owner must submit comprehensive and heavily scrutinized information on the business dynamics for each renewal of the visa. But an E-2 Visa is a non-immigrant visa, and regardless of their level of success or longevity, E-2 business owners have no pathway to licensed permanent resident status.
Having been brought to the United States legally, once the children of E-2 Visa holders reach the age of 21, their options of remaining legally in the country are quite limited. The children of undocumented immigrants may actually be in a better position than E-2 Visa migrants, as under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) they may have a route to legal status. Even though many of the E-2 Visa children have been completely educated in the United States and know no other home, DACA does not have the capability to embrace these children within its program precisely because they have always had legal status.
Since the inception of the E-2 Visa program in 1952, no administration has successfully addressed this inequity in immigration law and status. Could attention to this smallest of immigration issues be a starting point for a more collaborative immigration debate? A bipartisan group of Congressional Representatives hopes so.
Congressman John Rutherford, a Florida Republican, and Congresswoman Ann Kuster, a New Hampshire Democrat, have introduced HR 2124, the E-2 Visa Improvement Act of 2019. Since its introduction on April 8, five Congressmen have joined as co-sponsors – Collin Peterson (D-MN), Michael Waltz (R-FL), Paul Cook (R-CA), Ross Spano (R-Fl), and Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ). Little about HR 2124 has been reported since its introduction, as news coverage relating to immigration has been widely dominated by controversy and debate about the border crisis, illegal immigrants, unaccompanied minors, criminal aliens, and more.
For many E-2 Visa families, passage of this bipartisan bill would be incredibly significant. HR 2124 would allow E-2 Visa holders a legal route to permanent resident status after being in the United States for 10 years. For the E-2 business owner, this would provide greater security and an incentive to grow their business with the confidence that they and their business would be protected.
Children of the E-2 Visa holders, many of whom have spent most of their lives in the United States, are often striving for academic success plagued by uncertainty for their future. HR 2124 would allow these children to legally remain in the U.S. until the age of 26 years, which would provide them the time needed to apply for and obtain legal status as an adult. Under the terms of HR 2124, these children would also be able to obtain legal work authorization at the age of 18, something not currently available to them.
The United States has a relatively restrictive legal immigration system. There are not many visa options for those who wish to come to our country legally and live and work without fear of deportation. Several of the visa options are simply too expensive for many potential migrants, such as the EB-5 Immigrant Visa which requires a business investment of at least $500,000 and the creation of employment for a minimum of ten people. Many visa options have quotas that are usually heavily oversubscribed, making it even more difficult for potential immigrants to enter the United States legally.
We should be giving priority to those immigrants who abide by our laws, devoting the time and resources to arrive and live in our country legally, especially those who are contributing to our economy and our communities. The number of migrants applying for the E-2 Treaty Investor Visa is small, relative to the number of immigrants in our country, both legal and illegal.
The State Department has the ability to properly manage the comprehensive oversight of the renewal process for these 100,000 or so business owners, assuring us that the E-2 visa holders are maintaining a legitimate business within our country.
HR 2124 was referred to the Congressional Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship on May 15. Its passage would be a win-win proposition for both the migrant families and the United States. It provides a clear plan for the entrepreneurial E-2 holder and their family, while offering the economic benefits to our country of investment, employment, revenue and tax generation.
Let’s hope Congress sees it the same way.
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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