Entrepreneurs, businesses and New Zealand companies with a global focus rejoice. While Australian investors and traders have been able to benefit from the E-1/E-2 visa for almost three decades (since December 1991), New Zealanders have been left out, until now. On August 3rd, 2018, President Trump signed the aptly named KIWI Act (the Knowledgeable Innovators and Worthy Investors Act) into law allowing eligible New Zealand nationals to join the 80+ countries that benefit from the American E-1/E-2 Treaty Trader/Investment visas. The U.S. still has the largest economy in the world and opening the door to more trade and business with the U.S., is a huge step forward.
But what does this mean for New Zealanders? Here are seven things to know about the new KIWI Act:
- The E-1 visa specifically reduces the barriers for trading companies looking to establish in the United States to import and/or export goods between the two countries, thus helping ensure New Zealand businesses have success in the growing U.S. economy. This is long overdue. For example, the U.S. is currently New Zealand’s second biggest trade partner and the largest market for beef;
- The E-2 visa is an excellent option for individual investors who want to be buy or open a business in the U.S. It allows entrepreneurs who qualify to manage their investment in the United States and it allows multinational New Zealand companies looking to expand operations to the United States to do so quickly and effectively and it even allows New Zealand citizen employees in an executive or supervisory position or staff who possesses skills essential to the firm’s operations in the United States to be transferred to the U.S.
- Also while there is no statutory minimum investment amount nor is there a requirement to create a certain number of jobs, as a practical matter a stronger case will include a higher investment amount and proof that jobs are created or will be created for U.S. workers. In practice depending on the business this usually means about $150,000-$200,000 must be invested, although it may be possible to show a substantial investment if the business is not capital intensive and likely to succeed. The business plan is critical.
- In the past, we have discussed the increasingly restrictive steps being taken by USCIS to clamp down on many of the visa categories. As an alternative to USCIS based petitions, the E-1/E-2 visa options, which can be applied for directly with the U.S. embassy or consulate abroad, have been an increasingly welcome relief for entrepreneurs and businesses looking to invest in setting up a new company/office in the United States;
- Once a company is registered as a New Zealand E-1/E-2 treaty enterprise, it becomes much easier to transfer qualifying New Zealand national executive or managerial or specialized knowledge employees to the U.S. company. As an added benefit, spouses of E-1/E-2 visa holders can apply for unrestricted work authorization and dependent children can enroll in school. The E-1 & E-2 are one of the few visa categories that allow spouses to work anywhere;
- The E-1/E-2 visas is arguably the best option for nonimmigrant visa holders who wish to establish a business, or open a business in the U.S. This new law provides excellent new opportunities to New Zealand citizens and represents one of the few actions taken by this Administration to open the door to trade and investment by allies.
- While the E-2 is not a green card, in many instances it can be extended almost indefinitely if the bearer continues to operate the business. However, children who turn 21 will “age-out” so in some instance investors may have to look at green card possibilities for their children. We have previously discussed how certain E-1/E-2 visa holders can investigate options to convert their temporary visas into green cards.