Treaty Traders and Investors: Migrant Flows that Have Not Expanded

By David North on June 13, 2019

So many migrant flows to the United States keep expanding (or building larger backlogs) that it is newsworthy to find some that are not.

I was reminded of the joined classes of Treaty Traders (E-1) and Treaty Investors (E-2) by an announcement from the Department of Homeland Security saying that, on or after June 10, New Zealanders can now qualify for these visas, a subject to which I will return. The handful of Kiwis will provide a tiny addition to a slowly diminishing group of nonimmigrants.

The treaty traders and investors programs, run primarily by the Department of State, are among the smaller foreign worker programs, and both are designed to bring what might be regarded as a group of narrowly defined middle-class aliens to the States. E-1 visa holders are usually representatives of big international corporations (think Japanese car makers) while those on E-2 visas typically run their own, often small companies (such as Korean dry-cleaning establishments).

Some E-2 visas are held by employees of the principal E-2 nonimmigrants and some of these workers are badly exploited.

Spouses and under 21 children of both E-1s and E-2s can work legally, as can the principals.

There is a list of nations with which the United States has made treaties that allow these flows; India and China, among others, are not on this list. In recent years, Israel and, more recently, New Zealand have been added, but such decisions happen only infrequently.

The State Department decides who qualifies overseas, but there is no stateside supervision of the program. The visas are subject to an unlimited number of extensions, but there is no path to green card status in the program. For more on the structure, and potential problems with this program, see here and here.

The current news is that the number of new arrivals in these programs has dropped by about 10 percent from 2016 through 2018, as can be seen in Table 1.

Table 1. E-1 and E-2 Visas Issued, 2009-2018

Year E-1 E-2 Total
2009 6,432 24,033 30,465
2010 6,279 25,500 31,779
2011 6,807 28,245 35,052
2012 6,907 31,942 38,849
2013 7,283 35,272 42,555
2014 7,330 36,825 44,155
2015 7,425 41,162 48,587
2016 8,085 44,243 52,328
2017 7,063 43,673 50,736
2018 6,542 41,181 47,723

Source: Visa Office, U.S. Department of State.

The decline has been sharper within the E-1 category than among the E-2s, and I cannot offer any reason other than that both programs are narrowly defined, and neither is available in the countries of mass migration to the United States, with the exception of Mexico, where there also have been reductions in recent years.

As Tables 2 and 3 show, both of these programs are heavily used by people from Japan, a group that does not dominate any other class of migration flows, as the Chinese do in the student category, as India does in the H-1B program, and as Mexico does in several categories, including the H-2A and H-2B unskilled worker programs and in green card migration.

Table 2. Twenty Largest Users of E-1
(Treaty Trader) Visas, 2013 and 2018

Sending Nation 2013 2018
Japan 1,625 1,684
Mexico 1,198 1,097
Canada 363 759
Taiwan 744 685
Germany 1,317 583
Israel 340 407
Italy 245 247
Great Britain and Northern Ireland 219 206
South Korea 287 175
France 172 146
Spain 112 82
Turkey 33 73
Colombia 70 68
Argentina 33 38
Ireland 33 35
The Netherlands 25 24
Austria 17 23
Belgium 6 21
Australia 40 18
Chile 11 16
Total of Top 20 6,890 6,387

Source: Visa Office, U.S. Department of State.
List is arranged in descending order based on 2018 numbers.

Table 3. Twenty Largest Users of E-2
(Treaty Investor) Visas, 2013 and 2018

Sending Nation 2013 2018
Japan 11,333 13,399
Germany 3,811 3,807
Canada 2,609 3,254
France 2,218 3,081
Great Britain and Northern Ireland 2,488 2,740
South Korea 2,425 2,361
Italy 1,173 1,799
Mexico 3,001 1,578
Spain 1,299 1,312
Taiwan 391 585
Turkey 244 524
Sweden 446 508
Argentina 310 484
Australia 313 403
Thailand 320 399
The Netherlands 439 395
Colombia 220 369
Brazil 46 351
Ireland 264 302
Switzerland 147 276
Total of Top 20 33,497 37,927

Source: Visa Office, U.S. Department of State.
List is arranged in descending order based on 2018 numbers.

With the exception of the heavy use of the E-1 program by people from Mexico, the two treaty programs are more likely to be used by aliens from wealthy nations than those with heavier migration flows to the United States, generally.

New Zealand. I might have missed the low-key USCIS announcement about the (small) expansion of these programs had not the nation of interest been New Zealand, which plays only the tiniest of impacts on migration to the United States, generally. (All of 798 people from New Zealand secured green cards in 2017, or less than 0.1 percent of that year's influx.)

I had a glorious year in that country as a Fulbright graduate student, more than 50 years ago, and can see why most Kiwis don't want to migrate anywhere, even on one of those brand-new E-1 or E-2 visas.

Topics: Guestworkers