On June 11, 2012, President Obama signed legislation that would add Israel to the list of countries eligible for nonimmigrant E-2 treaty investor visas. This is a substantial positive development in the creation of stronger commercial ties between the United States and Israel. The E-2 investor visa classification permits a qualified investor to live and work in the U.S. Placing a substantial amount of capital into a business at-risk and creating jobs are core elements of the E-2 program. Many E-2 investors spend several years in the United States to grow and manage their businesses. The E-2 visa creates jobs, impacts local economies, and allows investors to be closer to their U.S. businesses.  

The E-2 visa is treaty-based and requires a bilateral agreement for implementation. This means that Israel and the United States both need to authorize reciprocal rules for the issuance of investor visas. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv will issue a press release as soon as the United States and Israel have agreed to the precise terms and conditions for issuing E-2 visas. The Israeli government needs to activate and authorize a process for a comparable investor visa for American citizens under Israeli law. Israel must agree to give U.S investors the kind of legal status and benefits the United States is giving to Israelis. Both countries have an interest in acting now to make this happen. 

What kinds of businesses are started by E-2 visa investors?  Restaurants, technology companies, manufacturing arms of large businesses abroad, management consulting firms and retail stores are a few examples of E-2 businesses. Israeli entrepreneurs who build companies across various sectors (e.g., clean tech, engineering, life sciences and bio-pharmaceutical sectors) will be some of many to enjoy the benefits of the E-2 visa. Large or mid-sized Israeli corporations that are established and investing in bringing a U.S. office onto an operational footing will also benefit from the E-2 visa.

E-2 visas have other benefits. For example, spouses of E-2 investors may secure employment authorization when they join a spouse in the United States. The E-2 visa is also not numerically limited by a cap. Unlike H-1B visas, which are currently unavailable until October 2013 because of the H-1B cap, E-2 visas are obtained directly by application to a United States Consulate or Embassy and are not numerically limited. There is also no express limitation or ceiling on the number of times that an investor may renew an E-2 visa.

Adding Israel to the list of eligible E-2 visa countries is a very positive development. Mintz Levin will continue to monitor news on this important front.