House Passes AMIGOS Act
By Preston Huennekens | FAIR Take | December 2019
On December 4th, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 565, the AMIGOS Act, by a voice vote. If signed into law, the AMIGOS Act would add Portugal to a list of countries whose nationals can enter the United States under the E-1 and E-2 visa program.
The E-1/2 visa programs are obscure. They are for temporary nonimmigrant treaty traders (E-1) and treaty investors (E-2), with treaty investors being more popular. These countries permit Americans to enter and do business in their countries under similar arrangements. Hence, why it is a “treaty” visa. In FY 2018, the State Department issued 6,542 E-1 visas and 41,181 E-2 visas.
E-2 visas require a financial investment in the United States. It faces considerable criticism. It is numerically uncapped and faces far fewer restrictions and regulations than the EB-5 visa. The EB-5 is similar in that it requires an investment and proof of American job creation, but is subject to caps and long backlogs because it leads to a green card. E-2 visa holders have no path to citizenship without adjusting their status, which many do.
The controversy arises from the fact that many Chinese investors, eager to avoid the EB-5 backlog, eye the E-2 as a path to residency in the United States. China is not a country permitted to use E-1/2 visas. However, some the countries on the list allow for foreigners to “purchase” citizenship – similar to our own EB-5 program. These “golden visas” – citizenship by investment – allow Chinese nationals to buy citizenship somewhere, and then petition as a national of that country to enter the United States.
Immigration lawyers actually advertise Grenada – an E-2 partner – as a destination for Chinese investors who want to enter the United States. They encourage Chinese investors to buy Grenadian citizenship, only to turn around and use it to enter the U.S., bypassing their fellow Chinese waiting in backlogs.
Herein lies the problem with the AMIGOS Act. Portugal has a robust golden visa program. Chinese investors can transfer €1 million into Portugal and become Portuguese citizens. Stunningly, this visa is also available for a €250,000 investment in “Portuguese arts, culture and heritage.” It is highly likely that wealthy international investors excluded from the E-1/2 lists would abuse Portugal’s golden visa program were the AMIGOS Act to pass.
The AMIGOS Act now goes to the Senate for consideration. It is unclear if it will receive a vote. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced S. 2863, the E Visa Integrity Act, in November. This bill would restrict “investment aliens” from using their newly purchased citizenship to apply for American E visas unless they had lived continuously for three years in their new country.
The Senate must pass the E Visa Integrity Act before adding any additional countries with golden visas, such as Portugal, to the list.