Extending E-2 Program to New Zealand — a Great Place — Is a Terrible Idea

By David North on July 5, 2018

The U.S. Senate recently passed a bill that would add New Zealand to the list of countries that can send us nonimmigrant treaty investors in the numerically unlimited E-2 program, according to this partially pay-wall blocked Law360 article.

E-2, which does not lead to a green card, or at least not directly, is not to be confused with the EB-5 (immigrant investor) program that gets much more attention, and which carries with it a 10,000-a year-limit on new visas. If the EB-5 investment stays in place, and all goes well, the alien and his family (under 21) all get green cards.

Much as I adore New Zealand — where I spent a glorious year as a Fulbright grad student — this would set a terrible precedent. As we reported two years ago, the E-2 program is run by the U.S. State Department without any state-side decision-making and without any rules about the size of the minimum investment — sometimes as little as $100,000 — that is needed to qualify. The decision to grant these easily renewable visas is made solely by consular officials overseas.

When we last wrote about it, the latest data were for FY 2014, when there were 36,825 E-2 visa issuances and the approval percentage was 89.8 percent; since then, both the total number of visas issued annually and the approval ratings have gone up. In FY 2017, there were 43,673 issuances and the approval rate was 91.9 percent. We will not know for a while if things have changed under the new administration.

The main reason why the number of E-2 visas has not increased more rapidly is that the list of nations with these privileges has not budged since 2008, when Denmark was added. China and India, both major players in U.S. immigration statistics, are not on the list.

Keeping this list at its current size is thus important if one wants to keep migration rates to the United States down to the current dull roar; adding any nation, even nice and lightly populated New Zealand, might open the door to pressures from other, much more populous nations. (There is very little migration to the United States from New Zealand.)

Fortunately the Senate does not make the decisions on this issue; the signing of treaties is up to the Executive and we have seen no movement, under either this, or the Obama administration, to add new countries to the E-2 visa program.

That vote in the Senate reminded me of two matters, one current and one not.

New Zealand Rules on Minimum Investment. The minimum requirement in the United States for an EB-5 investment is $500,000, and there is no lower limit to the investment needed for an E-2, though the sum is supposed to be enough to support the start of a business here. We have no upper age limits or English-language requirements for either program. How do these rules compare with New Zealand's requirements?

You would think that the two nations were not in the same business. There are two classes of investment visas in New Zealand, garden variety "investor" and the deluxe "investor plus" visas.

The admissions price, at the lower level, is NZ$3 million, or about US$2.04 million. The alien investor must be under the age of 65, and the investor and the immediate family must speak English well, or agree to pay, in advance, for "ESOL tuition", a requirement I have not seen before.

At the higher level, NZ$10 million (US$6.8 million), the Kiwis don't care about your age or what language you speak, they simply require more than 13 times as much money as America asks.

Over the last eight years, New Zealand has accepted 1,314 investor visa applications, but only 45 of the investor plus ones. So the average for the lesser one is about 164 a year. Given that the United States has about 72 times as many people as New Zealand, this would project out to 11,808 a year, which is a bit above our 10,000 ceiling.

So New Zealand is getting a lot more than we are per investor visa.

Assisted Migration. When I was in New Zealand (in 1954-1955) the country was not accepting money to gain migrants, it was paying to secure them. This was in a period when Europe was still recovering from WWII, and New Zealand at the time was providing immigrants free passage from several nations there.

I was not paying much attention to immigration at the time, but my three Fulbright colleagues and I had rented a flat on the steep hills overlooking the beautiful Wellington Harbor, and every couple of months one of my chums, who had a good set of binoculars, would sing out "There's the Dutch ship again" with its load of migrants. It was a sturdy but modest passenger ship and was visibly distinct in a way that I have long since forgotten.

Speaking of that spacious apartment, I fear that we, as foreign students in New Zealand, must have set off some of the same vibrations in Wellington that some in American colleges are sensing today vis-a-vis the wealthiest of the Chinese students: a bit of envy.

We did not have to work as did many of our grad student peers. The Fulbright program paid the tuition and a living allowance, and the latter was good enough (at 55 UK pounds a month per student) for us to rent a three-level flat that had formerly been occupied by the number two or three officer in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (assigned to London when we used his place). And we were renting it from a knight of the realm. Downstairs, using a separate entrance, were Sir Carl and Lady Berendsen, the then newly retired Kiwi Minister to the United States and his wife, who were very tolerant of the four brash Americans. It was a great year.

So, it is with very mixed feelings that I say we should not add another nation to the E-2 list, not even New Zealand.