In the U.S. Congress, partisan bickering often trumps sensible public policy. Democrats and Republicans too often retreat to their separate corners, rather than meet in the middle. 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 http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/iron-dome-israeli-necessity-american-priority-strategic-imperative-1.428982 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.
And that bipartisan spirit of pursuing legislation that benefits both the U.S. and Israel was recently demonstrated by the passage of a bipartisan bill I authored http://www.haaretz.com/business/u-s-bill-aims-to-open-door-wider-for-israeli-investors-1.412028, which President Obama signed into law earlier this month, a bill that grants Israeli citizens non-immigrant investor visas.
This bill provides significant economic benefits to both Israelis and Americans.
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 U.S. 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.”
Citizens of over 70 nations, from Albania to the United Kingdom, are eligible for this visa, but, until my bill was signed into law, Israelis were not.
Investors and business leaders from a nation, Israel, with a per capita gross income that rivals Italy, that ranks third in companies listed on the NASDAQ, and is a high-tech incubator operating on the cutting edge of scientific and technological advancement have faced unnecessary hurdles if they want to develop or direct the operations of their business in the United States.
Israel serves as an important U.S. trading partner: Bilateral trade reached $36.9 billion in 2011. In 2010 Israel was the largest supplier of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to the U.S. from the Middle East. In fact, in terms of FDI, Israel invested nearly as much to the U.S. as China did. 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. 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 now change.
The district that elects me to Congress in the San Fernando Valley, a part 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 non-profit NGO, encourage trade and investment opportunities.
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 congressional legislative process can be winding and slow moving, but on this issue, a bill granting Israel E-2 visa status has move forward expeditiously. Due to bipartisan sponsorship, the legislation went through the House of Representatives by a vote of 371-0.
After President Obama signed this legislation into law, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren correctly noted: “This bill reflects the deep friendship between Israel and the United States and will stimulate mutual economic growth and increase investment opportunities…strengthen[ing] the U.S.-Israel alliance and the economies of both nations."
The White House captured the dual benefits of granting Israelis E-2 visas, noting that Israel is one of the U.S.’s top per capita export markets, stating: “Israel is a world leader in security and defense technologies, medicine, agriculture and clean energy. As we work to build an America Built to Last, and get our economy back on track, the Obama Administration is focused on supporting and generating investment in these and other critical industries.”
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 for the American worker.
U.S. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-California) is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Berman will be contesting the 30th District seat in Congress against Rep. Sherman (D-California) in November 2012.
Rep. Berman's H.R. 3992 Bill to allow Israeli nationals to receive E–2 nonimmigrant visas was actively supported by Lamar Smith (R-TX) in Congress and was introduced in the Senate by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ).
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