Conflicts Between United States Immigration
Law and the General Agreement on Trade in
Services: Most-Favored-Nation Obligation
WILLIAM THOMAS WORSTER†
I. INTRODUCTION .....................................................................................................57
A. Overview of the General Agreement on Trade in Services........................57
B. Overview of United States Immigration Law .............................................59
II. THE GENERAL AGREEMENT ON TRADE IN SERVICES .....................................61
A. Measures Covered by GATS........................................................................61
B. Affecting Trade in Services...........................................................................62
C. Services Covered by GATS ..........................................................................62
D. Modes of Supply............................................................................................63
E. GATS Application to Immigration Law.....................................................64
F. Exceptions to GATS Coverage ....................................................................66
1. Exceptions for Certain Persons ............................................................66
2. Exceptions for Border Control Regulations .......................................68
3. Exception for Labor Markets Integration Agreements.....................69
4. Exception for Economic Integration Agreements .............................69
5. General Exemptions and Security Exemptions ..................................72
G. Obligation to Provide Most-Favored-Nation Treatment ...........................73
1. Tests for Violations of MFN .................................................................74
2. Treatment of Inherent Competitive Disadvantages...........................75
3. Exclusion from MFN for Visas .............................................................76
i. Distinction Between Visa and Status............................................76
ii. Definition of Visa ............................................................................77
iii. Visa Application Procedure and Adjudication............................80
4. Exclusions from MFN for Country-Specific Scheduled MFN
5. Country-Specific MFN Exemption Scheduled by the United
† LL.M. (Adv.) candidate in Public International Law, Faculty of Law, Leiden University, Leiden, the
Netherlands; J.D. 2002, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Illinois;
B.A., History, 1996, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.
56 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
III. ANALYSIS OF UNITED STATES IMMIGRATION MEASURES AGAINST
GATS MFN ...........................................................................................................87
A. H-1B, Worker in a Specialty Occupation....................................................87
1. Specialty Occupation .............................................................................87
2. Alien’s Qualifications.............................................................................88
3. Licensure .................................................................................................90
4. Prevailing Wage......................................................................................90
B. H-1B1, Professionals under the Chile/Singapore Free Trade
1. H-1B1 Requirements .............................................................................92
2. Labor Markets or Economic Integration Agreements
i. Labor Markets Integration Agreement........................................93
ii. Economic Integration Agreement ................................................94
3. Scheduled MFN Exemption..................................................................94
C. E-1 or E-2, Treaty Trader or Investor .........................................................95
1. Qualifying Treaty ...................................................................................96
2. Scheduled MFN Exemption..................................................................98
i. Applicability of the Exemption .....................................................99
ii. Interpreting Discrepancies Between Immigration Law and
the Exemption .................................................................................99
iii. Grant, Extension, and Change of Status ....................................100
iv. Expiration and Justification of the Exemption..........................101
3. Employer and Employer’s Activities .................................................101
i. Trade Under the Exemption........................................................103
ii. Investment Under the Exemption...............................................103
4. Executive, Supervisory, or Essential Skills Position.........................103
5. Alien’s Qualifications...........................................................................104
6. Labor Markets or Economic Integration Agreements
D. E-3, Australian National Worker in a Profession ....................................105
1. E-3 Requirements.................................................................................106
2. Labor Markets and Economic Integration Agreements
3. Scheduled MFN Exemption................................................................107
E. TN, North American Free Trade Agreement............................................108
1. Professional Position ............................................................................108
2. Alien’s Qualifications...........................................................................108
3. Labor Markets and Economic Integration Agreements
4. Scheduled MFN Exemption................................................................109
F. L-1, Intra-Company Transferee.................................................................109
1. Employer ...............................................................................................110
2. Executive, Managerial, or Specialized Knowledge Position ...........111
3. “Blanket” L Program...........................................................................111
G. B-1, Business Visitors, and Admission Under the Visa Waiver
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 57
1. Parties ....................................................................................................113
2. Alien’s Activities ..................................................................................113
3. Visa Waiver Program...........................................................................114
IV. CONCLUSION .......................................................................................................116
United States laws establishing qualifications for temporary, nonimmigrant
classifications are potentially in violation of the United States’ obligations under the
World Trade Organization’s (WTO)1 General Agreement on Trade in Services
(GATS).2 These violations, if ever the subject of a WTO dispute, may force the
United States to choose between accepting trade sanctions and changing existing
immigration policy under external pressure. In either case, by consenting to the
GATS at the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations
(Uruguay Round) and not necessarily complying with it, the United States has
incurred potential WTO liabilities. If a dispute over immigration law was successful,
the United States would be forced by the coercive trade power of its international
obligations to change what is normally considered one of the most sovereign of
attributes of statehood, the very power to determine which aliens are qualified to
enter and remain in the country.
A. Overview of the General Agreement on Trade in Services
The GATS is a sister agreement to the more well-known General Agreement
on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).3 While the GATT seeks to eliminate unnecessary or
burdensome barriers to trade in goods, GATS seeks to eliminate unnecessary or
burdensome barriers to trade in services. The GATS comprises the Agreement
itself, its Annexes integrated into the Agreement, and various Schedules that
indicate each member country’s specific obligations under the GATS, which are also
1. See Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization, Apr. 15, 1994, Legal
Instruments – Results of the Uruguay Round, 1867 U.N.T.S. 154, reprinted in 33 I.L.M. 1125 (1994)
[hereinafter WTO Agreement], available at http://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/04-wto.pdf
(implemented by Uruguay Round Agreements Act, Pub. L. No. 103-465, 108 Stat. 4809 (1994) (codified at
19 U.S.C. § 3511 (2006)).
2. See General Agreement on Trade in Services, Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade
Organization, Annex 1B, 1869 U.N.T.S. 183, reprinted in 33 I.L.M. 1167 (1994) [hereinafter GATS],
available at http://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/26-gats.pdf.
3. See General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, Oct. 30, 1947, 61 Stat. A-11, 55 U.N.T.S. 194
[hereinafter GATT 1947], available at http://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/gatt47_e.pdf; Protocol of
Provisional Application of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, Oct. 30, 1947, General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, Annex 1, T.I.A.S. 1700, 55 U.N.T.S. 308, available at
http://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/gatt47_e.pdf; General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, Apr. 15,
1994, Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization, Annex 1A, Legal Instruments –
Results of the Uruguay Round, 1867 U.N.T.S. 187 [hereinafter GATT 1994], available at
58 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
integrated into the Agreement. At the Uruguay Round negotiations, member states
agreed on certain universal principles for international trade in services, which
became applicable at the entry into force on January 1, 1995.4 These provisions are
called “General Obligations” and apply to all national trade measures unless
exempted.5 For those obligations that the member nations could not agree to make
immediately applicable, the members had the option of listing country-specific
commitments under the obligation, with the understanding that the commitment
might be increased in future negotiations. These provisions are called “Specific
Commitments.”6 In this Article, we will focus on one of the General Obligations,
specifically, the obligation to provide “Most-Favoured-Nation [MFN] Treatment.”7
Any member of the WTO has the right to challenge the measures of another
member when the member “considers that any benefits accruing to it directly or
indirectly under the [GATS] are being impaired.”8 Although a “losing” member
may be required to provide compensation or suffer trade sanctions, “the first
objective of the dispute settlement mechanism is usually to secure the withdrawal of
the measures concerned.”9 Of course, the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB)
will determine if a conflict exists between GATS and national immigration laws, not
United States courts.10 National courts may interpret the GATS obligations in
reviewing domestic legislation,11 but the GATS does not create enforceable
individual rights,12 only state’s rights on an international level; thus, how United
4. WTO Agreement, supra note 1.
5. See GATS, supra note 2, arts. II-XV.
6. See id. arts. XVI-XVIII.
7. Id. art. II.
8. Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes art. 3(3), Apr. 15,
1994, Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization, Annex 2, Legal Instruments—
Results of the Uruguay Round, 1869 U.N.T.S. 401, 33 I.L.M. 1125 [hereinafter Dispute Settlement
Understanding or DSU], available at http://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/28-dsu.pdf (providing for
the Dispute Settlement Body).
9. Id. art. 3(7).
10. See id. art. 2(1).
11. See, e.g., Fed. Mogul Corp. v. United States., 63 F.3d 1572, 1581-82 (Fed. Cir. 1995) (considering
U.S. obligations under the GATT as informing interpretation of municipal law). But see Reid v. Covert,
354 U.S. 1, 15-18 (1957) (holding that Congress is only limited by the Constitution, not international law, in
legislating); Suramerica de Aleaciones Laminadas, C.A. v. U.S., 966 F.2d 660, 667-68 (Fed. Cir. 1992)
(holding that “[t]he GATT does not trump domestic legislation;” that it is a matter for Congress, not the
court, to decide whether a domestic statute conflicts with the GATT; and that a DSB interpretation of the
GATT is not controlling in a United States court). Caterpillar Inc. v United States., 941 F. Supp. 1241,
1247 (Ct. Int’l Trade 1996) (holding that “[t]he GATT, does not trump domestic legislation; if the statutory
provisions at issue here are inconsistent with the GATT, it is a matter for Congress and not this court to
decide and remedy”).
12. See 19 U.S.C. §§ 3511-3512 (2006) (enacted under the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, Pub. L.
No. 103-465, 108 Stat. 4815 (1994)) (although adopting the WTO Agreement and its Annexes by domestic
statute rather than through the treaty procedure, the Act specifies that any treaty provisions that conflict
with existing United States law are not adopted and that a purely domestic cause of action cannot exist);
Footwear Distribs. & Retailers of Amer. v. U.S., 18 Ct. Int’l Trade 391, 414 (1994) (rejecting the argument
that GATT provides enforceable domestic right derived from the treaty); Jeanne J. Grimmett & Todd B.
Tatelman, Free Trade Agreements and the WTO Exceptions (Sept. 22, 2004) (CRS Report for Congress),
available at http://www.opencrs.com/rpts/RS22154_20050524.pdf; Michael F. Williams, Charming Betsy,
Chevron, and the World Trade Organization: Thoughts on the Interpretative Effect of International Trade
Law, 32 LAW & POL’Y INT’L BUS., Spr. 2001, at 677, 682; cf. Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties
arts. 26-27, opened for signature May 23, 1969, 1155 U.N.T.S. 331 [hereinafter Vienna Treaty Conv.]
(stating customary international legal principle of pacta sunt servanda that a “treaty in force is binding
upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith” and that a party to a treaty “may not
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 59
States courts will interpret the GATS is not relevant here. This Article will address
the likely outcomes of a DSB dispute over the conflicts between the MFN obligation
and the United States temporary immigration, or “nonimmigrant,” classifications.
B. Overview of United States Immigration Law
In general, employment-based immigration laws are designed to, and have the
effect of, insulating national labor markets from free market pressures on a global
scale, contrary to the free trade in services spirit of the GATS. The rules governing
employment-based nonimmigrant status establish who qualifies to work in the
United States. These rules establish criteria that are seen not to have an adverse
effect on the United States labor market such as certain education, skills and duties,
period of employment, and often, nationality. The understanding is that allowing
certain types of jobs to be filled by foreign labor increases the competitiveness and
hiring capacity of United States businesses, whereas other types of jobs take away
existing jobs from United States workers. Therefore, we can say that the
employment-based nonimmigrant regime is protectionist and designed to minimize
the effect of foreign labor availability on the United States labor market.
In order to test United States immigration law against the GATS, which are
essentially two foreign bodies of law, we cannot rely on seemingly comparable
terminology. The GATS has its own language and employment classifications that
are not based on any state’s particular system. Unlike types of goods which may be
indexed to universal classifications, each nation has a highly individualized
immigration regime, often with unique terms and concepts that may not translate.
On the other hand, the United States was one of the principal architects of the
WTO, the GATS, and its predecessor, the GATT 1947. The United States is also
the author of its own schedule of Specific Commitments and GATS exemptions.
The United States-authored sections are therefore particularly amenable to a literal
reading using the usual definitions under United States law. The DSB will look to
the precise language and its usual meaning under United States law, not any
subjective meaning.13 Because United States immigration law and the GATS
establish different obligations, we will compare them as functions of international
migration, taking into consideration that different sections may be read more or less
By way of introduction, there are several bases on which an alien may qualify
for employment authorization in the United States.14 The alien may qualify for
unlimited, unrestricted authorization; limited duration, unrestricted authorization; or
limited, temporary employment authorization, restricted to a petitioning employer.15
This last category includes most of the temporary, nonimmigrant categories, and will
invoke . . . its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty” obligation).
13. See, e.g., Panel Report, United States – Measures Affecting the Cross-Border Supply of Gambling
and Betting Services, paras. 6.54-6.64, 6.134, WT/DS285/R (Nov. 10, 2004) [hereinafter U.S.-Gambling
Panel Report] (finding that the United States’s specific commitment included gambling based on the
precise language used and the usual interpretation of the language regardless of the United States’s
14. See generally 8 C.F.R. §§ 274a.12-a.14 (2006).
15. See generally id.
60 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
form the basis of this discussion since the other categories of employment
authorization are not clearly covered by the GATS.16
When an employer petitions for an alien in a particular nonimmigrant
classification, the adjudicator assesses the duties the alien will perform, the
employer’s qualifications, the alien’s qualifications, and other factors to determine if
the alien, employer, and position qualify. On many occasions, an alien may qualify
for any one of several alternate nonimmigrant categories, so the employer may
petition for classification under any one of them, but the adjudicator will confine the
inquiry to the category requested.17 The choice of the category is therefore a crucial
strategic decision. If qualified, the petition will be approved, the alien may be issued
a visa to travel to the United States, and the alien may be admitted to the United
States in the particular category. When admitted, the alien receives restricted
authorization for the purpose of working for the petitioning employer, in the
petitioned position, and sometimes only at a particular salary and location for a
limited duration of time.18 The alien’s authorization to remain in the United States is
also for the same duration.19 Since the alien receives authorization based on a
petition by a particular employer, the alien’s status will end prematurely if the
employment ends either by quitting or termination.20
This process of acquiring employment-authorized nonimmigrant status is
administered by a variety of executive agencies. The U.S. Department of Labor
(USDOL) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)21 adjudicate
aspects of the alien’s qualifications and affect on the labor market. The U.S.
Department of State (USDOS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP)22
regulate aspects of admission by adjudicating visa applications, inspecting arriving
aliens, and sometimes adjudicating qualifications.23 USDOL and U.S. Immigration
and Customs Enforcement (USICE)24 enforce aspects of the terms of the alien’s stay
and employer’s sponsorship, remove non-complying aliens, and penalize non-
16. See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2 (specifically including persons in E-1, E-2, H-1B, I, L-1, L-2, O-1, O-2, P-1, P-
2, P-3, Q, and R statuses; status pursuant to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); and
crewmen in C status while in transit).
17. See Visas, 9 FOREIGN AFF. MANUAL § 41.11 Notes 3.1-3.2 [hereinafter Visas, F.A.M.].
18. See, e.g., Immigration and Nationality Act § 212(n)(1)(A), 8 U.S.C. § 1182(n)(1)(A) (2006); 20
C.F.R. § 655.730-.731 (2005) (discussing the H-1B prevailing wage requirement and its specificity to a
particular geographic area, necessitating prior authorization from the U.S. Department of Labor to change
either wage or location); Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.11 Notes 1.1-1.2.
19. See generally 8 C.F.R. § 274a.12-a.14.
20. See Letter from Thomas W. Simmons, Branch Chief, Bus. & Trade Branch., INS, to Harry J. Joe,
Attorney (1999), reprinted in INS Discusses Status of H-1B and L-1 Nonimmigrants Who Are Terminated,
76 INTERPRETER RELEASES 378, 386-87 app. III. (1999).
21. See Homeland Security Act of 2002, 6 U.S.C. §§ 271, 291 (abolishing the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS) and granting its benefits adjudication functions to United States Citizenship
and Immigration Services (USCIS) within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (USDHS)).
22. See 6 U.S.C. §§ 211, 291, 542 (abolishing the INS and granting its border control and adjudication
functions to U.S. Customs Service, subsequently renamed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP),
within the USDHS).
23. For example, USDOS will adjudicate petitions filed on behalf of aliens to be classified in H-1B1
status or L-1 status under a “blanket” L-1 program, see Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.53, notes 28.2,
28.8, and USCBP will adjudicate petitions filed on behalf of Canadians for classification in TN or L-1
status. See id. § 41.54, note 14.4-2.
24. See 6 U.S.C. §§ 252, 291 (abolishing the INS and granting its enforcement functions to U.S. Border
Security, subsequently renamed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE), within the
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 61
complying employers. A variety of other government agencies may be involved as
necessary, such as for assessing security risks or monitoring the export of controlled
technology. In this Article, we will only address the function of designating who is
qualified to work in the United States as it involves the USDOL, USCIS, USDOS,
II. THE GENERAL AGREEMENT ON TRADE IN SERVICES
Turning from this general overview of United States immigration law, we now
begin our inquiry into the GATS, the MFN obligation, and the effect on United
States immigration law. The GATS applies to “measures . . . affecting trade in
services”25 among the members of the WTO26 through one of the four “modes of
A. Measures Covered by GATS
“Measures” are defined as any “act or omission”28 “by a Member, whether in
the form of a law, regulation, rule, procedure, decision, administrative action, or any
[T]he ordinary meaning of the term “affecting”, in Article I:1 of GATS,
does not convey any notion of limiting the scope of the GATS to certain
types of measures or to a certain regulatory domain. On the contrary,
Article I:1 refers to measures in terms of their effect, which means they
could be of any type or relate to any domain of regulation.30
In fact, “no measures are a priori excluded from the scope of application of the
25. GATS, supra note 2, art. I(1) (emphasis added).
26. See id. art. XXVII.
27. Id. arts. I(2), XVI(1).
28. Appellate Body Report, United States – Sunset Review of Anti-Dumping Duties on Corrosion-
Resistant Carbon Steel Flat Products from Japan, para. 81, WT/DS244/AB/R (Dec. 15, 2003).
29. GATS, supra note 2, art. XXVIII(a).
30. Panel Report, European Communities – Regime for the Importation, Sale and Distribution of
Bananas, para. 7.280, WT/DS27/R/ECU (May 22, 1997) [hereinafter EC–Bananas III Panel Report]
31. Appellate Body Report, Canada – Certain Measures Affecting the Automotive Industry, para. 149,
WT/DS139, 142/AB/R (May 31, 2000), [hereinafter Can.–Autos AB Report] (citing Panel Report, Canada
– Certain Measures Affecting the Automotive Industry, para. 10.231, WT/DS139/R, WT/DS142/R (Feb. 11,
2000) [hereinafter Can.–Autos Panel Report]); Appellate Body Report, European Communities – Regime
for the Import, Sales and Distribution of Bananas, para. 217, WT/DS27/AB/R (Sept. 9, 1997) [hereinafter
EC–Bananas III AB Report] (citing EC–Bananas III Panel Report, supra note 30, para. 7.285).
62 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
B. Affecting Trade in Services
The measures must, however, have an effect on the conditions of competition.32
The definition of “affecting” is given “a broad scope of application,” based on the
ordinary meaning of that word.33 “[T]he scope of the GATS encompasses any
measure of a Member to the extent it affects the supply of a service regardless of
whether such measure directly governs the supply of a service or whether it regulates
other matters but nevertheless affects trade in services.”34 Additionally, the effect
need only be minimal or even hypothetical, since the scope of the GATS is to
“protect competitive opportunities, not actual trade flows.”35 Under the DSU, “an
infringement of the obligations assumed under [GATS] . . . is considered prima facie
to constitute a case of nullification or impairment . . . [such that] there is normally a
presumption that a breach of the rules has an adverse impact.”36 Therefore, the
complaining party need not even show harm to have standing, only a violation that
has the potential for hypothetical harm.37
C. Services Covered by GATS
All services are covered except services “supplied in the exercise of
governmental authority.”38 For the GATS, government services are only services
“supplied neither on a commercial basis nor in competition with one or more service
It is unclear to what degree the application for nonimmigrant admission must
be for the provision of services in order to qualify for GATS coverage or if it may
cover the mere incidental provision of services. Under United States law, the
appropriate type of nonimmigrant category is that which is consistent with the
principal purpose of the admission, even though admission may serve many
functions.40 The GATS has no such similar statement. In addition, the GATS does
not contemplate an entry that combines goods and services or an admission for
which the purpose changes after entry from services to provision of goods or vice
versa.41 The DSB has found that the same measure can be subjected to scrutiny
under both the GATT and the GATS governing both goods and the service of
32. See GATS, supra note 2, art. I(1); EC–Bananas III Panel Report, supra note 30, para. 7.280.
33. Can.–Autos AB Report, supra note 31, para. 149 (citing Can.–Autos Panel Report, supra note 31,
para. 10.231); EC–Bananas III AB Report, supra note 31, para. 220.
34. EC–Bananas III AB Report, supra note 31, para. 220 (citing EC–Bananas III Panel Report, supra
note 30, para. 7.285).
35. Can.–Autos Panel Report, supra note 31, para. 10.303; See also Can.–Autos AB Report, supra
note 31, para. 162 (citing Can.–Autos Panel Report, supra note 31, para. 10.239).
36. DSU, supra note 8, art. 3(8).
37. See Can.–Autos Panel Report, supra note 32, para. 10.303.
38. GATS, supra note 2, art. I(3).
40. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, §§ 41.11 Note 3.1, 41.31 Note 6.1.
41. See, e.g., Howard R. Dobson, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, The Regulators’ View (2002) (Movement of
Natural Persons (Mode 4) Under the GATS Joint WTO-World Bank Symposium, Geneva, Apr. 11-12,
2002) [hereinafter Dobson Report], available at
http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/serv_e/symp_apr_02_dobson_e.doc (stating that “GATS does not
contain an overall definition of trade in services. Many activities undertaken by aliens in our country may
involve production of both goods and services”).
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 63
supplying or distributing those goods, so presumably these purposes would be
covered by the GATS even if services provision was a minor aspect of the overall
D. Modes of Supply
The trade must be through one of the four possible Modes of Supply.43 These
modes encompass most, if not all, forms of international services supply; however, as
a threshold inquiry, the form of trade must be identified. Mode One involves
services supplied “from the territory of one Member into the territory of any other
Member;”44 Mode Two involves services supplied “in the territory of one Member to
the service consumer of any other Member;”45 Mode Three involves services
supplied “by a service supplier of one Member, through commercial presence in the
territory of any other Member;”46 and Mode Four involves services supplied “by a
service supplier of one Member, through presence of natural persons of a Member in
the territory of any other Member” (for example, construction projects or
consultancies).47 Mode Four is clearly the most applicable for this discussion of
immigration law; however, Mode Three has also been suggested as potentially
invoking immigration policy since a service provider may need to establish a local
physical presence. For purposes of this Article, only Mode Four will be discussed.
The classification of services provision under Mode Four is not a simple matter.
The Council on Trade in Services (Council),48 the WTO body charged with
overseeing the operation of the GATS, stated that in order to qualify for Mode Four
the natural person must be linked to a corporate commercial presence, excluding
self-employment.49 Not only does this interpretation go beyond the narrow terms of
the GATS, but it runs contrary to the parties’ understanding. As an example, when
the United States and other nations became members of the WTO, one of the
various types of nonimmigrant classifications presumed to be covered was the
“business visitor” classification,50 which under United States immigration law, does
not necessarily require a corporate presence.51 If the Council’s interpretation is
43. GATS, supra note 2, art. I(2).
44. Id. art. I(2)(a).
45. Id. art. I(2)(b).
46. Id. art. I(2)(c).
47. Id. art. I(2)(d).
48. See generally id. art. XXIV.
49. See Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services, Report of the Meeting Held on 3-6
December 2001, Note by the Secretariat, S/CSS/M/13 (Feb. 26, 2002) [hereinafter Council Dec. 3-6, 2001
Report], available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/S/CSS/M13.doc.
50. See GATS, supra note 2, Annex, United States – Schedule of Specific Commitments [Annex, U.S.–
Specific Commitments], GATS/SC/90, at 1, available at
http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/SCHD/GATS-SC/SC90.WPF; Special Session of the Council
for Trade in Services, United States – Revised Services Offer, TN/S/O/USA/Rev.1 (May 31, 2005)
[hereinafter U.S.–Revised Services Offer], available at
7760.pdf (presenting a non-binding offer to increase liberalization in Mode 4 movement of persons).
51. See generally Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(15)(B), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(B) (2006);
22 C.F.R. § 41.31 (2006); Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.31.
64 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
correct, a number of commitments made by the United States under the GATS will
escape coverage, contrary to the parties’ understanding.
In addition, it is not settled whether the employment must be with a foreign
employer or if it may be with a United States employer (or a United States employer
wholly-owned by a foreign employer). The benefits of the GATS must be extended
to “natural persons of a Member in the territory of any other Member,”52 suggesting
that United States employers cannot benefit from it, but this may not be the case.53
Looking at other GATS commitments, we see that the United States and other
WTO nations presumed that the GATS would apply to United States nonimmigrant
categories54 that specifically require a United States-incorporated employer.55 There
is a presumption that provisions of the GATS are not in conflict,56 so one possible
resolution may be that the only United States employers who would be covered
would be those that were wholly-owned by foreign entities.
E. GATS Application to Immigration Law
Beginning with such an unsettled definition, one might wonder if immigration
law was already exempted. In fact, the answer is clear; the GATS specifically covers
visas and nonimmigrant policy.57 The Annex on Movement of Natural Persons
Supplying Services Under the Agreement, an additional agreement integrated into
the GATS, eliminates any doubt.58 The Annex only exempts from GATS coverage
those “measures affecting natural persons seeking access to the employment market
of a Member”59 as well as “measures regarding citizenship, residence or employment
on a permanent basis.”60 In addition, WTO member nations have been very vocal in
their desire to have temporary immigration regulations eased under the GATS,
especially for the benefit of developing countries.61
Based on the Annex, the Council initially stated that “general immigration
legislation (visa requirements, etc.)” are therefore “beyond the scope of the
52. GATS, supra note 2, art. I(2)(d) (emphasis added).
53. See, e.g., Julia Nielson & Olivier Cattaneo, Trade Comm., Org. for Econ. Co-operation & Dev.
[OECD], Current Regimes for Temporary Movement of Service Providers, Case Study: The United States of
America, OECD Doc. TD/TC/WP(2002)23/FINAL, at 4 (Feb. 6, 2003) [hereinafter OECD Case Study
Report], available at http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/serv_e/symp_apr_02_nielson3_e.doc.
54. See GATS, supra note 2, Annex, U.S.–Specific Commitments, at 2-3, 5-7.
55. See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(2)(i), (4)(ii).
56. See Panel Report, Turkey – Restrictions on Imports of Textile and Clothing Products, paras. 9.92-
9.95 WT/DS34/R (May 31, 1999), available at http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dispu_e/1229d.pdf
(finding that GATS is interpreted according to customary international law and, as a single understanding,
there is a presumption against conflicts); Panel Report, Indonesia – Certain Measures Affecting the
Automobile Industry, para. 14.28, WT/DS54/R, WT/DS55/R, WT/DS59/R, WT/DS64/R (July 2, 1998)
(finding that “since all WTO agreements . . . were negotiated at the same time, by the same Members and
in the same forum . . . we recall the principle of effective interpretation pursuant to which all provisions of
a treaty (and in the WTO system all agreements) must be given meaning, using the ordinary meaning of
words” (footnote omitted)).
57. See GATS, supra note 2, Annex on Movement of Natural Persons Supplying Services Under the
Agreement [Annex on Movement of Natural Persons], reprinted in 33 I.L.M. 1127.
58. See id; GATS, supra note 2, art. XXIX (stating that the “Annexes to this Agreement are an
integral part of this Agreement”).
59. GATS, supra note 2, Annex on Movement of Natural Persons, para. 2.
61. See Council Dec. 3-6, 2001 Report, supra note 49, para. 143.
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 65
GATS.”62 However, this statement does not distinguish between permanent
immigration and temporary immigration and the related visas. Both types of
immigration include provisions of general application and both require visas. The
language of the Annex clearly excludes permanent immigration from GATS
coverage, but, by implication, temporary immigration must be covered. Despite
some discussion,63 no specific period of stay has been defined as “temporary,”64
leaving the distinction somewhat unclear.
Notwithstanding the Council’s remarks, the DSB has already addressed the
issue of applicability in the one DSB dispute involving United States immigration
and visa policy.65 This dispute involved the United States’s refusal of visas to aliens
who have trafficked in confiscated property in Cuba under the terms of the Cuban
Liberty and Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (Helms-Burton Act).66 The EU
challenged the Helms-Burton Act at the DSB under the GATS.67 Although the
United States initially stated that it would refuse to recognize any WTO ruling,68 it
eventually reached an understanding with the EU outside of the DSB.69 This
understanding called for the United States to waive the application of a different
title of the Act70 and the EU agreed to encourage the transition to democracy in
Cuba.71 The EU appears to be satisfied with the understanding. Although the
62. Council for Trade in Services, Presence of Natural Persons (Mode 4): Background Note by the
Secretariat, para. 31, S/C/W/75 (Dec. 8, 1998) [hereinafter Council Mode 4 Note], available at
63. See, e.g., U.S.–Revised Services Offer, supra note 50, at 2 n.1 (offering a revised schedule of
Specific Commitments, defining “temporary entry” as “entry without intent to establish permanent
residence under immigration laws of the US and confers no rights with respect to citizenship.”).
64. See Council Dec. 3-6, 2001 Report, supra note 49, para. 144 (quoting Morocco).
65. See Request for Consultations by the European Communities, United States – The Cuban Liberty
and Democratic Solidarity Act, WT/DS38/1 (May 13, 1996) [hereinafter U.S.–Helms-Burton Consultations
Request], available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/G/L/71.WPF; Request for the
Establishment of a Panel by the European Communities, United States – The Cuban Liberty and
Democratic Solidarity Act, WT/DS38/2 (Oct. 8, 1996) [hereinafter U.S.–Helms-Burton Panel Request],
available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/WT/DS/38-2.WPF; Communication by the DSB
Chairman, Constitution of the Panel Established at the Request of the European Communities, United
States – The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, WT/DS38/3 (Feb. 20, 1997), available at
http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/WT/DS/38-3.WPF; Communication from the Chairman of the
Panel, United States – The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, WT/DS38/5 (Apr. 25, 1997),
available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/WT/DS/38-5.WPF; Secretariat, Lapse of the
Authority for Establishment of the Panel, United States – The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity
Act, WT/DS38/6 (Apr. 24, 1998), available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/WT/DS/38-
66. See Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 [Helms-Burton Act],
Pub. L. No. 104-114, § 401, 110 Stat. 785 (1996) (codified at 22 U.S.C. § 6091(a) (2006)).
67. See U.S.–Helms-Burton Consultations Request, supra note 65.
68. See Paul Blustein & Anne Swardson, U.S. Vows to Boycott WTO Panel, WASH. POST, Feb. 21,
1997, at A1.
69. See Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the U.S. Helms-Burton Act and the U.S. Iran
and Libya Sanctions Act, Apr. 11, 1997, U.S.-EU, 36 I.L.M. 529 (1997) [hereinafter U.S.-EU
Understanding], available at http://www.eurunion.org/partner/summit/summit9712/understd.htm; EU
Agrees Helms-Burton Deal, FIN. TIMES UK, Apr. 19, 1997, at A2.
70. See U.S.-EU Understanding, supra note 69; Steven Lee Myers, One Key Element in Anti-Cuba
Law Postponed Again, N.Y. TIMES, Jan. 4, 1997, at A1 (reporting that the waiver would be indefinite).
71. See U.S.-EU Understanding, supra note 69; European Union: Council of Ministers Common
Position on Cuba, EU Bull. 12-1996, Dec. 2, 1996, 1996 O.J. (L 322), 36 I.L.M. 213 (1997) [hereinafter EU
Common Position] (stating EU position to encourage development of democracy in Cuba); European
66 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
immigration provisions were never reviewed by the DSB and remain in force, the
DSB demonstrated that it will entertain disputes over immigration and visa issuance
Despite this inconclusive dispute, the United States has already conceded
GATS applicability. The United States included nonimmigrant categories, but not
permanent categories, within its GATS commitments and exemptions. In fact, of the
various nonimmigrant categories available under United States law, a number have
been subjected to the GATS.72 Applicability, therefore, need not necessarily be
argued, since the United States has deliberately committed certain nonimmigrant
F. Exceptions to GATS Coverage
In addition to specific exemptions for certain measures, the GATS also has
significant general exceptions from coverage. Given the broad and ambitious scope
of the GATS, the negotiating countries demanded general exemptions for measures
that affect trade in services and potentially violate the agreement, but are
1. Exceptions for Certain Persons
Although it may appear that only WTO member nationals may receive GATS
treatment, this interpretation may not be correct. In order to dispute a measure, a
WTO member must show that benefits accruing to it have been impaired. A member
may deny the benefits of the GATS to a service supplier only if the member can
establish that the supplier is not a supplier of a WTO member.73 This rule alone,
however, may not serve to limit the GATS to nationals of WTO members, since
under United States immigration law there are several parties involved in services
Under the GATS, a service supplier is any natural or juridical person74 that
supplies a service.75 A natural person is an individual who is either a national of a
WTO member76 or has been granted the right of permanent residence in a WTO
member,77 if that member does not grant status as a “national”78 or provides
“substantially the same treatment to its permanent residents as it does to its
Union Council Conclusions on the 12 Evaluation of the EU Common Position on Cuba, E.U. Bull. 12-
2002 (Dec. 10, 2002), available at http://europa.eu.int/abc/doc/off/bull/en/200212/p106113.htm (extending
the Common Position after its twelfth evaluation due to lack of Cuban progress towards democracy).
72. See OECD Case Study Report, supra note 53, at 6 (citing specifically as covering the
nonimmigrant categories: temporary visitors for business; treaty traders and investors; temporary workers
and trainees; representatives of foreign information media; exchange visitors; intracompany transferees;
and NAFTA professional workers).
73. GATS, supra note 2, art. XXVII(c).
74. Id. art. XXVIII(j).
75. Id. art. XXVIII(g).
76. Id. art. XVIII(k)(i).
77. Id. art. XVIII(k)(ii).
78. Id. art. XVIII(k)(ii)(1).
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 67
nationals.”79 In addition, the individual must reside in the territory of a WTO
member.80 A juridical person is “any legal entity duly constituted or otherwise
organized under applicable law, whether for profit or otherwise, and whether
privately-owned or governmentally-owned, including any corporation, trust,
partnership, joint venture, sole proprietorship or association”81 that is either
“organized under the law of that other Member, and is engaged in substantive
business operations in the territory of that Member or any other Member”82 or
“owned or controlled by . . . natural persons of that Member; or . . . juridical persons
of that other Member.”83 Generally, under international law, a state may not
espouse the claim of a national who merely owns or has an interest in the juridical
person harmed, since it is the nation in which the juridical person is incorporated or
has its principal place of business that makes that political choice.84 However, under
the GATS, the DSB may assign the nationality of the juridical person based on the
nationality of the individuals with ownership or control. A juridical person is
“‘owned’ by persons of a Member if more than 50 per cent of the equity interest in it
is beneficially owned by persons of that Member.”85 A juridical person is
“‘controlled’ by persons of a Member if such persons have the power to name a
majority of its directors or otherwise to legally direct its actions.”86 Lastly, a juridical
person is “‘affiliated’ with another person when it controls, or is controlled by, that
other person; or when it and the other person are both controlled by the same
Whether the employer is a foreign entity or a United States entity should not
matter. GATS treatment must be accorded regardless of whether the service is
supplied directly by a natural or juridical person88 or through a commercial presence
inside the WTO member’s territory.89 The United States has already committed
nonimmigrant categories that require a United States-incorporated employer.90
Since many foreign service suppliers establish wholly-owned subsidiaries within the
United States, the United States may be required to provide GATS treatment to a
United States-incorporated entity when it is owned or controlled by a foreign entity
with WTO member nationality.
The employer and employee should not both need to have WTO nationality.
The benefits of the GATS accrue to WTO members, not to particular individuals or
companies. Under the immigration laws of the United States and many other
countries, there are several persons involved in a nonimmigrant admission: the
employee, the employer, and, in some cases, the foreign owner(s) of the employer.
79. GATS, supra note 2, art. XVIII(k)(ii)(2).
80. Id. art. XVIII(k).
81. Id. art. XXVIII(l).
82. Id. art. XXVIII(m)(i).
83. Id. art. XXVIII(m)(ii).
84. See, e.g., Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Co. (Second Phase) (Belg. v. Spain), 1970 I.C.J. 3,
35, 44 (Feb. 5); DSU, supra note 8, art. 3(2) (stating that the GATS is to be governed by general principles
of international law).
85. GATS, supra note 2, art. XXVIII(n)(i).
86. Id. art. XXVIII(n)(ii).
87. Id. art. XXVIII(n)(iii).
88. See id. art. XXVIII(j).
89. See id. art. XXVIII, n.12.
90. See GATS, supra note 2, Annex, U.S.–Specific Commitments.
68 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
If an employee is a national of a WTO member and an employer is a United States
corporation which is wholly-owned by a corporation that is a national of a WTO
member, then all demand GATS treatment and any impairment of the supply would
impair the GATS benefits to the WTO member(s).
However, if the employee was not a national of a WTO member, but the
foreign owner of the employer was, then the problem of disparate nationalities
arises. On the one hand, if the employee did not receive GATS treatment, then the
foreign owner’s ability to supply its service through the employee has been affected.
On the other hand, extending GATS treatment to an employee who is not a WTO
member national merely because the foreign owner has WTO member nationality
essentially extends GATS treatment to any nationality, provided the individual was
employed by the right employer. It is interesting to note that in the Helms-Burton
Act dispute, the measure at issue was directed at the employees of corporations,
although the complaining companies had WTO member nationality.91 We can
reverse the hypothetical and consider an employee who was a national of a WTO
member, but a foreign owner who was not, and again find the same arguments on
Theoretically, the GATS might also cover cases where an employer, who was
not a WTO member national, hired an employee, who was also not a WTO member
national, but was a WTO member permanent resident. A natural person under
GATS includes permanent residents of WTO members.92 This definition means that
an employer would not be limited to citizens of WTO member nations, but also
permanent residents; although in order to be covered, the individual must reside in
the territory of a WTO member nation.93 Whether the employee might abandon his
permanent residence in the WTO member nation by taking temporary employment
in the United States, and thus lose the very basis for his qualification for the GATS,
treatment is unclear.
2. Exceptions for Border Control Regulations
Despite applying to nonimmigrant policy and visas, the GATS specifically
exempts “measures to regulate the entry of natural persons into, or their temporary
stay in, its territory, including those measures necessary to protect the integrity of,
and to ensure the orderly movement of natural persons across, its borders.”94
However, that language is not a blanket exemption of border control rules because
the GATS only exempts them if “such measures are not applied in such a manner as
to nullify or impair the benefits accruing to any Member under the terms of a
specific commitment.”95 Therefore, even border control could be the subject of a
GATS dispute if the United States was abusing its rights. Unfortunately, the GATS
does not establish what standard would be used to determine if a measure was
applied in a “manner” to nullify benefits. The strict GATS language could support
91. See U.S.–Helms-Burton Consultations Request, supra note 65; U.S.–Helms-Burton Panel
Request, supra note 65.
92. GATS, supra note 2, art. XVIII(k)(ii).
93. Id. art. XVIII(k).
94. GATS, supra note 2, Annex on Movement of Natural Persons para. 4.
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 69
the conclusion that unintentional effects alone might be considered impairment of
benefits because they affect the conditions of competition.96
3. Exception for Labor Markets Integration Agreements
The GATS also exempts labor markets integration agreements and economic
integration agreements.97 A labor markets integration agreement is the agreement
of two or more countries to fully integrate their labor markets by exempting each
other’s citizens from “requirements concerning residency and work permits.”98 This
provision appears to be designed for the EU free movement of persons99 and similar
labor markets unions since, in a footnote to the Article, the GATS states that
“[t]ypically, such integration provides citizens of the parties concerned with a right of
free entry to the employment markets of the parties and includes measures
concerning conditions of pay, other conditions of employment and social benefits.”100
4. Exception for Economic Integration Agreements
Similarly, economic integration agreements are also exempted.101 Economic
integration agreements are agreements to liberalize trade between two or more
countries.102 An economic integration agreement will be exempted if the agreement
“has substantial sectoral coverage, and . . . provides for the absence or elimination of
substantially all discrimination . . . between or among the parties . . . through . . .
elimination of existing discriminatory measures, and/or . . . prohibition of new or
more discriminatory measures.”103 Whether an agreement has substantial sectoral
coverage will be judged by the “number of sectors, volume of trade affected and
modes of supply,”104 and an agreement will not qualify if it “provide[s] for the a priori
exclusion of any mode of supply.”105 In addition, the agreement may not have the
effect of raising the barriers to trade for any WTO members outside of the
agreement.106 Discrimination will be judged against the standard in the GATS article
96. See EC–Bananas III AB Report, supra note 31, para. 220 (stating that “affecting trade in
services . . . [has a] broad scope of application”); id. para. 234 (stating that discrimination will be
interpreted to include de jure and de facto discrimination, based on the measure’s effects); EC–Bananas III
Panel Report, supra note 30, paras. 7.280, 7.320.
97. GATS, supra note 2, arts. V, V bis.
98. Id. art. V bis(a).
99. See Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community [Treaty of Rome], Mar. 25, 1957, 298
U.N.T.S. 11; Single European Act, July 1, 1987, 1987 O.J. (L 169) 1 (1987); Treaty on European Union
[Maastricht Treaty], Feb. 7, 1992, 1992 O.J. (C 191) 1; Treaty of Amsterdam Amending the Treaty on
European Union, the Treaties Establishing the European Communities and Certain Related Acts, Oct. 2,
1997, 1997 O.J. (C 340) 1; Treaty of Nice, Feb. 26, 2001, 2001 O.J. (C 80) 1 (amending the Treaty on
European Union, the Treaties Establishing the European Communities and certain related acts), available
100. GATS, supra note 2, art. V. bis, n.1.
101. Id. art V.
103. Id. art. V(1) (footnote omitted).
104. Id. art. V, n.1.
106. GATS, supra note 2, art. V(4).
70 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
on National Treatment,107 which requires that a relevant WTO member “accord to
services and service suppliers . . . treatment no less favourable than that it accords to
its own like services and service suppliers.”108 The treatment may be “either formally
identical treatment or formally different”109 but will be considered “less favourable if
it modifies the conditions of competition in favour of services or service suppliers of
the Member.”110 However, the agreement may provide for the elimination of
discrimination on the basis of a reasonable time-frame111 and the DSB will consider
the “wider process of economic integration or trade liberalization among the
countries concerned.”112 The only exceptions to the rule of non-discrimination113 are
for restrictions on “international transfers and payments”;114 “payments or transfers”
undertaken “[i]n the event of serious . . . external financial difficulties”;115 and
General and Security Exceptions discussed below.
Ever since the GATS came into force, there has been an on-going debate
regarding the applicability of the GATS to regional Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)
and their compatibility.116 By way of comparison, under the GATT, there is an
exception from coverage for customs unions and FTAs.117 Clearly, the parties to the
Uruguay Round knew how to write an obligation that specifically exempted FTAs
but neglected to do so under the GATS. Since FTAs are specifically exempted
under GATT, they are, by silent implication, specifically covered by the GATS. The
WTO Committee on Regional Trade Agreements was founded shortly after the
implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to
examine whether or not that agreement complied with the GATS. The Committee
has yet to make a determination.118 In a surprising admission, the Congressional
Research Service has, however, already determined that FTAs are facially
inconsistent with GATS obligations, despite the fact that the FTAs themselves claim
that they are exempt.119 Regardless of the Committee’s ability to reach an
agreement, the DSB has already decided in favor of applying the GATS to FTAs.120
In Canada – Certain Measures Affecting the Automotive Industry, Canada defended
its trade measures by claiming that they were part of NAFTA, and, since NAFTA
was exempted from the GATS as an economic integration agreement, so were the
trade measures.121 The DSB Panel found that the measures were not part of
107. Id. arts. V(1)(b), XVII.
108. Id. art. XVII(1) (footnote omitted).
109. Id. art. XVII(2).
110. Id. art. XVII(3).
111. Id. art. V(1).
112. GATS, supra note 2, art. V(2).
113. Id. art. V(1).
114. Id. art. XI(1).
115. Id. art. XII(1).
116. See William H. Cooper, Free Trade Agreements: Impact on U.S. Trade and Implications for U.S.
Trade Policy, at 11-12 (Aug. 1, 2006) (CRS Report for Congress), available at
http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/crs/rl31356.pdf (discussing the relationship between FTAs and
117. GATT 1947, supra note 3, art. XXIV.
118. See Cooper, supra note 116, at 11-12.
119. See Grimmett & Tatelman, supra note 13.
120. See Can.–Autos Panel Report, supra note 31.
121. Id. para. 10.265. See generally North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S.-Can.-Mex., Dec. 17,
1992, 32 I.L.M. 289 (1993); North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act, Pub. L. 103-182,
§ 341, 107 Stat. 2057 (1992) (codified at 19 U.S.C. § 3401 (2006)).
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 71
NAFTA, and, even if they were, the particular provisions did not qualify since they
did not provide for the absence or elimination of substantially all discrimination.122
The Panel stated: “[T]he purpose of Article V is to allow for ambitious liberalization
to take place at a regional level, while at the same time guarding against
undermining the MFN obligation by engaging in minor preferential
arrangements.”123 The Panel report was reversed on appeal to the DSB Appellate
Body, but it was not reversed on the grounds stated above.124 Having reversed the
Panel on other grounds, the Appellate Body did not rule on the question, so the
finding of the Panel is potentially still correct. Therefore, the DSB may still find in
the future that NAFTA is subject to the GATS and that some NAFTA measures are
not exempted. Even if the DSB eventually finds that NAFTA is exempted, the DSB
has shown a willingness to look below the surface of FTAs and similar agreements to
determine if they truly qualify for the exemption rather than deferring to a nation’s
self-judging assertions of compliance.
An additional question in the area of immigration is whether the economic
integration exemption is an alternative to the more clearly applicable labor markets
integration provision. The WTO has found that measures may be governed by
GATS and GATT concurrently,125 and that measures may be also governed by two
separate GATS provisions.126 On the other hand, in the context of Specific
Commitments, the DSB has found that sectoral classifications are “mutually
exclusive.”127 It is unclear whether these exemptions for economic and labor markets
integration, being treaty reservations, are overlapping or mutually exclusive. If
movement of persons provisions were intended to be alternatively exempted under
the more liberal economic integration provision, then it should not have been
necessary to create a labor markets exemption at all. Surely the WTO would not
have separate exemption provisions with different requirements without the
inherent requirement of mutual exclusivity. The purpose of having a separate, more
rigorous, labor markets exemption would be superfluous if a labor market measure
could qualify for exemption through an alternative. The parties to the Uruguay
Round must have perceived that the movement of labor involves different issues
that could not be grouped with other economic relations and thus the exemptions
are mutually exclusive. Therefore, it is unlikely that a measure regarding labor
markets and movement of persons could be alternatively exempted under the
economic integration agreement exemption.
122. See Can.–Autos Panel Report, supra note 31, para. 10.269.
123. Id. para. 10.271.
124. Can.–Autos AB Report, supra note 31.
125. See Appellate Body Report, Canada – Certain Measures Concerning Periodicals, at 14,
WT/DS31/AB/R (June 30, 1997) [hereinafter Can.–Periodicals AB Report]; EC–Bananas III AB Report,
supra note 31, paras. 219-22 (finding that although the EC had successfully received a waiver of GATT for
its trade legislation, that legislation was also covered by GATS MFN).
126. See generally Can.–Autos AB Report, supra note 31; Can.–Autos Panel Report, supra note 31
(the DSB heard claims against Canada under both GATS arts. II and XVII).
127. Appellate Body Report, United States – Measures Affecting the Cross-Border Supply of
Gambling and Betting Services, para. 180, WT/DS285/AB/R (Apr. 7, 2005) [hereinafter U.S.–Gambling AB
Report] (citing U.S.–Gambling Panel Report, supra note 13, paras. 6.63, 6.101, 6.119).
72 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
5. General Exemptions and Security Exemptions
There are also two broad provisions that exempt a number of matters from
GATS consideration. These exemptions fall under two types: “General
Exemptions” and “Security Exemptions.” Notwithstanding any rules in GATS to
the contrary, the General Exemptions allow:
Measures . . . (a) necessary to protect public morals or to maintain public
order; (b) necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health; (c)
necessary to secure compliance with laws or regulations which are not
inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement including those related
to: the prevention of deceptive and fraudulent practices or to deal with the
effects of a default on services contracts; the protection of the privacy of
individuals [and]; . . . safety [and]; (d) [measures] . . . aimed at ensuring the
equitable or effective imposition or collection of direct taxes . . . .128
In order to qualify, the measure must fall into one of the above-listed types of
measures, not violate the conditions of the exemption,129 and be “necessary” to
achieve that end.130 The DSB considers a measure “necessary” when it is “located
significantly closer to the pole of ‘indispensable’ than to the opposite pole of simply
‘making a contribution to.’”131 The DSB will consider “whether a less WTO-
inconsistent measure is ‘reasonably available.’”132 Additionally, the measure must
not be “applied in a manner which would constitute a means of arbitrary or
unjustifiable discrimination between countries where like conditions prevail, or a
disguised restriction on trade in services.”133 Unfortunately, this provision fails to
give guidance on the standard for assessing the manner of application.
The second broad class of exemptions is Security Exemptions. These
exemptions also allow countries to resist GATS rules that would:
(a) require any Member to furnish any information, the disclosure of
which it considers contrary to its essential security interests; or (b) to
prevent any Member from taking any action which it considers necessary
for the protection of its essential security interests . . . relating to . . .
provisioning a military establishment; . . . fissionable and fusionable
materials; . . . taken in time of war or other emergency in international
relations; or (c) to prevent any Member from taking any action in
128. GATS, supra note 2, art. XIV(a)-(d) (footnote omitted).
129. See U.S.–Gambling Panel Report, supra note 13, para. 6.449.
130. See id. para. 6.475 (citing Appellate Body Report, Korea – Measures Affecting Imports of Fresh,
Chilled and Frozen Beef, para. 161, WT/DS161/AB/R, WT/DS/169/AB/R (Dec. 11, 2000) [hereinafter
Korea–Beef AB Report]).
131. U.S.–Gambling Panel Report, supra note 13, para. 6.475 (citing Korea–Beef AB Report, supra
note 130, para. 161).
132. U.S.–Gambling AB Report, supra note 127, paras. 305-09 (citing Korea–Beef AB Report, supra
note 130, para. 166); see also Appellate Body Report, European Communities – Measures Affecting
Asbestos and Asbestos-Containing Products, paras. 170-74, WT/DS135/AB/R (Mar. 12, 2001).
133. GATS, supra note 2, art. XIV.
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 73
pursuance of its obligations under the United Nations Charter for the
maintenance of international peace and security.134
Although these are extraordinary situations, the GATS still establishes the
same requirement of necessity as above135 and that “[t]he Council for Trade in
Services . . . be informed to the fullest extent possible of measures taken under [the
exemption] and of their termination.”136 It is unclear if a Member can claim an
exemption if it failed to inform the Council and whether the Council can review a
Member’s self-judgment of necessity.137
As mentioned previously, the immigration provisions of the Helms-Burton
Act138 were disputed. The United States claimed that the Act was outside the WTO’s
jurisdiction, and even if reviewable, the Act was justified under the Security
Exemption.139 Since the EU withdrew the dispute, the DSB never determined if it
could review a member state’s self-judgment of necessity. However, during the
initial stages of the challenge, many nations and international organizations doubted
that Cuba presented any real security threat to the United States140 and argued that
the Act was contrary to international law.141 Since the United States agreed to
negotiate under pressure, the United States may have thought that there was a risk
that it might lose. Although not definitively establishing reviewability, this event
shows that even immigration provisions that exclude aliens on national security
grounds may be subject to review by the DSB, and that the standard of review might
be based to some degree on world opinion of the defending member’s security
G. Obligation to Provide Most-Favored-Nation Treatment
Within the General Obligations of the GATS is the MFN obligation.142 Under
MFN, all WTO member nations “shall accord immediately and unconditionally to
134. Id. art. XIV bis (1)(a)-(c).
135. See id. art. XIV(1)(b).
136. Id. art. XIV bis (2).
137. Cf. Peter Lindsay, Note, The Ambiguity of GATT Article XXI: Subtle Success or Rampant
Failure?, 52 DUKE L.J. 1277 (2003) (discussing the self-judging nature of the comparable security provision
in GATT 1947, art. XXI).
138. See 22 U.S.C. § 6091(a) (2006).
139. See GATS, supra note 2, art. XIV bis (1)(a)-(c); David E. Sanger, U.S. Won’t OfferTrade
Testimony on Cuba Embargo, N.Y. TIMES, Feb. 21, 1997, at A1.
140. See, e.g., David E. Sanger, Europeans to Fight U.S. Sanctions Against Cuba in Trade Court, N.Y.
TIMES, Oct. 2, 1996, at A9 (discussing European Union’s challenge to the American law imposing
“sanctions on foreign companies doing business in Cuba”).
141. See, e.g., Press Release, General Assembly, Assembly Again Calls for End of United States-
Imposed Embargo Against Cuba, by 137-3-25 Vote, Urges Repeal of Laws such as Helms-Burton Act,
U.N. DOC. GA/9164 (Nov. 12, 1996) (announcing U.N. General Assembly Resolution 51/17 condemning
Helms-Burton Act in which voting against the Resolution included only United States, Israel, and
Uzbekistan); Inter-American Juridical Comm., Org. of Am. States, Resolution on the Opinion of the Inter-
American Juridical Committee in Fulfillment of Resolution AG/DOC. 3375/96 of the General Assembly of
the Organization of American States, Entitled “Freedom of Trade and Investment in the Hemisphere,”
O.A.S. Doc. CJI/RES.II-14/96, 35 I.L.M. 1322, 1334 (Aug. 23, 1996) (finding that the Helms-Burton Act
violates international law).
142. See generally GATS, supra note 2, art. II.
74 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
services and service suppliers of any other Member treatment no less favourable
than that it accords to like services and service suppliers of any other country.”143
This provision is an unconditional end to discrimination among WTO member
nations and establishes a common denominator of trade policy without regard to
Although some commentators have stated that immigration and visa policy
would only be covered by Specific Commitments and not General Obligations such
as MFN, this is without basis.145 First, there is nothing in the text of the GATS to
support such an assertion since MFN does not distinguish between the two, whereas
other obligations do.146 Second, the DSB has found that measures may be covered by
one or more GATS or GATT provisions, so immigration provisions covered by
Specific Commitments may still be covered by MFN.147 Third, in the Helms-Burton
Act dispute, the EU specifically complained that the immigration measure conflicted
with MFN, and this assertion was not contested by the United States.148 Lastly, the
United States and several other countries took steps to list exemptions that insulate
some of their immigration laws from MFN and would not have done so if MFN did
not cover immigration laws.
1. Tests for Violations of MFN
One of the most significant aspects of MFN is that the standard for
discrimination is both de jure and de facto.149 The DSB will examine either
intentionally discriminatory regulations or regulations that have discriminatory
effects, regardless of intent. This requires United States immigration law to satisfy a
standard foreign to United States law. Failure to appreciate this standard is partly
why many may not perceive the potential for conflicts between United States
immigration law and MFN.
There are several tests for violations of MFN.150 De jure discrimination occurs
when the nationality of the service provider is specifically noted as a criterion in
143. Id. art. II(1).
144. Cf. World Trade Organization, Press Pack, 4th Ministerial Conference, Doha (Nov. 9-13, 2001)
[hereinafter Doha Press Pack], available at
http://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/minist_e/min01_e/brief_e/doha_presspack_e.pdf; Council Mode 4
Note, supra note 62.
145. See OECD Case Study Report, supra note 53, at 6 (stating that “obligations regarding mode 4
entry are governed solely by their schedules of specific commitments.”).
146. See, e.g., GATS, supra note 2, art. VI (providing for the General Obligation of “Domestic
Regulation” which specifically states that it only applies “[i]n sectors where specific commitments are
147. See EC–Bananas III AB Report, supra note 31, paras. 219-22 (finding that although the EC had
successful received a waiver of GATT 1994 for its trade legislation, that legislation was also covered by
GATS MFN); Can.–Periodicals AB Report, supra note 125 (finding that measures may be governed by
both GATT 1994 and GATS).
148. See U.S.–Helms-Burton Consultations Request, supra note 65; U.S.–Helms-Burton Panel
Request, supra note 65.
149. EC–Bananas III AB Report, supra note 31, para. 234.
150. See generally Lothar Ehring, De Facto Discrimination in WTO Law: National and Most-Favored-
Nation Treatment – or Equal Treatment?, 36 J. WORLD TRADE 921 (2002), available at
http://www.jeanmonnetprogram.org/papers/01/013201.html (describing the diagonal test and the
asymmetric impact test).
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 75
qualifying for admission, regardless of the scope of applicability.151 De facto
discrimination exists when a measure operates in such a way as to create a
discriminatory effect against a particular nationality compared to other nationalities,
again, regardless of intent.152 The three potential tests for de facto discrimination are
the “diagonal” test, the “subcategory” test, and the “asymmetric impact” test.153 The
diagonal test examines all service suppliers from WTO members to determine if any
one nationality is receiving less favorable treatment.154 The subcategory test
examines services supplied by type of service to determine if any one nationality
within that subcategory receives less favorable treatment.155 The asymmetric impact
test examines all service suppliers, comparing the proportion of service suppliers
with each nationality receiving less favorable treatment, looking for disproportionate
effect. This test is the one most commonly applied by the DSB, and is the only test
that has been applied in an MFN dispute to date.156 It is also the test that appears to
be favored by the Council when it notes “measures having a disproportionate
2. Treatment of Inherent Competitive Disadvantages
WTO members must take the level of development of other nations into
consideration in applying MFN.158 As a basis of comparison, let us consider the
application of the Specific Commitment of National Treatment. National Treatment
will not be discussed in detail in this Article because the United States has not
consented to its application; however, the comparison is instructive.159 While MFN is
the obligation to refrain from discriminating on the basis of nationality among
foreign service suppliers, National Treatment is the obligation to refrain from
discriminating between domestic and foreign service suppliers.160 The National
Treatment obligation specifically states that the obligation “shall not be construed to
151. See Report of the Panel, United States – Measures Affecting Alcoholic and Malt Beverages, paras.
5.5-5.6, 5.14-5.15, 5.17, 5.33, DS23/R (June 19, 1992), GATT B.I.S.D. (39th Supp.) at 206 (1993).
152. See Ehring, supra note 150 (identifying, naming, and discussing the application of the tests).
154. See id.
155. See id.
156. See EC–Bananas III AB Report, supra note 31, paras. 229-34; EC–Bananas III Panel Report,
supra note 30, paras. 7.349, 7.384, 7.396 (finding facially neutral measure based on historic trading patterns
affected the conditions of competition resulting in a disproportionate impact on complainant’s
157. Council Mode 4 Note, supra note 62, para. 36 (emphasis added) (applying the asymmetric impact
test in the context of discriminating in favor of domestic service providers).
158. See GATS, supra note 2, pmbl. (stating generally that the WTO members desire to facilitate “the
increasing participation of developing countries in trade in services” and take “particular account of the
serious difficulty of the least-developed countries in view of their special economic situation and their
development, trade and financial needs”); id. art. IV (stating the obligation to make “specific
commitments” favoring less developed countries); DSU, supra note 8, art. 24(1) (stating that in bringing
and maintaining a dispute, members must give “particular consideration . . . to the special situation of least-
developed country Members” and “exercise due restraint in raising matters under these procedures
involving a least-developed country Member” or “in asking for compensation or seeking authorization to
suspend the application of concessions or other obligations pursuant to these procedures.”).
159. See GATS, supra note 2, Annex, U.S.–Specific Commitments, at 1.
160. See GATS, supra note 2, art XVII(1).
76 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
require any Member to compensate for any inherent competitive disadvantages
which result from the foreign character of the relevant services or service
suppliers.”161 Since this limitation is specifically listed under National Treatment but
a similar limitation is not listed under MFN, the implication is that MFN is not
similarly conditioned. While National Treatment excuses members from
compensating for the foreign character of the services, the MFN obligation may
require members to compensate for the different foreign characters of the services.
Accordingly, WTO members may not claim that de facto discriminatory effects are
the result of inherent competitive disadvantages.
3. Exclusion from MFN for Visas
In a footnote, the Annex on Movement of Persons states that “the sole fact of
requiring a visa for natural persons of certain Members and not for those of others
shall not be regarded as nullifying or impairing benefits under a specific
commitment.”162 By specifically exempting this type of discrimination from
amounting to a per se violation of Specific Commitments, the Annex implies that it
may be regarded as violating MFN.163 The Council appears to agree.164 This footnote
may have been drafted based on the mistaken belief that immigration law was not
covered by MFN. Although the language of GATS is to be read literally and the
interpreter may not substitute different words, for the sake of argument, we will
entertain the possibility that visas are somehow exempted from MFN.
i. Distinction Between Visa and Status
What is unclear about this footnote referring to “visas” is whether it intends to
refer to the visa document stamped in a passport by an embassy or consulate as a
prerequisite to travel to a country or whether it refers generally to admission in a
particular non-immigrant status. Even seasoned immigration practitioners often
informally say that a person is in the country “on a visa” when in fact that usage is
not correct.165 A visa is merely evidence of the consular officer’s review of the alien’s
qualifications and grant of permission to board transportation, travel to the country,
and apply for admission in a particular status.166 This travel authorization usually
takes the form of a stamp placed in a passport. It is this stamp only that is the “visa.”
The inspecting officer at the port of entry always retains the right to refuse an
applicant entry even if holding a valid visa.167 Provided the alien has applied for
admission during the visa’s validity period and has been admitted, the alien receives
nonimmigrant status for a set period of time and the visa becomes irrelevant since its
161. Id. art XVII(1) n.10.
162. GATS, supra note 2, Annex on Movement of Natural Persons n.1.
163. See id.
164. See Council Mode 4 Note, supra note 62, para. 54.
165. See, e.g., Sheela Murthy, H Nonimmigrants, in 2 IMMIGRATION & NATIONALITY LAW
HANDBOOK 112, 113 (Stephanie L. Browning et al. eds., 2004-05) (observing the common mistake of
confusing a visa and authorized stay).
166. Immigration and Nationality Act § 221(h), 8 U.S.C. § 1201(h) (2006); see also 22 C.F.R. §
41.112(a) (2006); Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.112 Note 2.11.
167. See id.
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 77
sole purpose is over.168 Therefore, an alien is never in a country on a visa, but rather
pursuant to a particular grant of nonimmigrant status.
One of the sources of the confusion may be the fact that some of the more
common visas are issued with validity periods identical to the periods for which
aliens will receive authorized stay. Upon admission, the expiration of status is often
coterminous with the validity of the visa. However, this is not always the case and
many visas are issued with validity either longer or shorter than the proposed stay.169
If the visa is valid longer than the stay, the alien will receive a certain term at
admission and must exit before its expiration, not before the expiration of the visa.
The person may return another day, still during the visa’s validity, to request another
period of stay. On the other hand, if the visa’s validity is shorter than the proposed
stay, then the alien merely has a shorter window of time during which admission
must be requested; however, the period of stay will not be limited to the visa’s
validity and may in fact extend beyond the visa expiration.170 If the alien decides to
leave the country and return after the visa expiration, even if only for a brief trip, the
alien must apply for and receive a new visa from the country’s foreign mission in
order to receive renewed permission to apply for entry.171
ii. Definition of Visa
Based on the above, it is debatable how the DSB will define visa and how the
definition will apply to United States immigration law. Language of the GATS must
be given its “ordinary meaning . . . in [its] context and in the light of its object and
purpose.”172 Initially, we observe that the word “visa” is used in the French version
168. See id.
169. See, e.g., Immigration and Nationality Act § 222(g), 8 U.S.C. § 1202(g) (invalidating the
individual’s remaining validity of his visa if the individual remains in the United States beyond the shorter
period of stay granted upon admission); 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(b) (a business visitor “may be admitted for not
more than one year and may be granted extensions of temporary stay in increments of not more than six
months each”); Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.54 Note 21.2(a) (describing the practice of visa issuance
reciprocity, in which visas are issued for less than the approved period of stay and the consular officer must
annotate the visas to indicate to USCBP the correct period of authorized stay so that it is not confused with
the visa’s validity period).
170. See 22 C.F.R. § 41.112(a); Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.112 Note 2.11; Henry J. Chang, E
Nonimmigrants, in 2 AM. IMMIGR. LAW. ASS’N, IMMIGRATION & NATIONALITY LAW HANDBOOK 186,
201-02 (Stephanie L. Browning et. al. eds., 2004-05) (noting the extreme case of treaty trader or investor
admissions in which the alien may receive a two-year period of stay even if the visa has only one day of
171. See Chang, supra note 170, at 202.
172. Vienna Treaty Conv., supra note 12, art. 31 (requiring “[a] treaty [to] be interpreted in good faith
in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the
light of its object and purpose . . . . A special meaning [is only] given to a term if it is established that the
parties so intended.”); see also DSU, supra note 8, art. 3(2) (stating that WTO agreements are to be
interpreted in accordance with customary rules of interpretation of public international law); U.S.–
Gambling Panel Report, supra note 13, paras. 6.45-6.46 (finding that customary rules of interpretation of
public international law used to interpret GATS include the Vienna Treaty Convention); Panel Report,
United States – Anti-Dumping Duty on Dynamic Random Access Memory Semiconductors (DRAMS) of
One Megabit or Above From Korea, para. 6.13, WT/DS99/R (Jan. 29, 1999), available at
http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dispu_e/99r.pdf (finding that “[t]he rules of treaty interpretation set
forth in Article 31 of the Vienna [Treaty] Convention . . . have ‘attained the status of a rule of customary or
general international law’” (citation omitted)); Appellate Body Report, India – Patent Protection for
78 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
of the GATS173 and the word “visado” is used in the Spanish.174 As both of these
terms are literal translations of visa this question of interpretation does not involve a
word unique to English.175 Since there is no definition of visa in the GATS, we will
examine dictionaries and general international custom to determine its ordinary
The DSB has found that it may use dictionaries to assist in determining the
customary usage of a term.176 In Black’s Law Dictionary, a visa is defined as:
An official endorsement made out on a passport, denoting that it has been
examined and that the bearer is permitted to proceed. A recognition by
the country in which the holder of a passport desires to travel of that
passport’s validity. U.S. v. Vargas, D.C. N.Y., 380 F.Supp. 1162, 1168. A
visa is generally required for the admission of aliens into the United
States. Cf. 8 U.S.C.A. §§ 1181, 1184. . . .177
The court in the cited case of United States v. Vargas found that a visa was
defined in more detail as “an endorsement made on a passport by the proper
authorities (as of the country the bearer wishes to enter) denoting that it has been
examined and that the bearer is permitted to proceed.”178 In the more modern
Webster’s New World College Dictionary, a visa is defined as “an endorsement on a
passport, showing that a person has been granted official entry into or passage
through a country.”179 Similarly, in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, visa is
defined as “an endorsement on a passport which indicates that the holder is allowed
to enter, leave, or stay for a specified period of time in a country.”180 However, in
this context, the etymology provided by the dictionary is also informative: “via
Pharmaceutical and Agricultural Chemical Products, para. 46, WT/DS50/AB/R (Dec. 19, 1997) (finding that
“[b]oth panels and the Appellate Body must be guided by the rules of treaty interpretation set out in the
Vienna [Treaty] Convention . . . .”); Appellate Body Report, Japan – Taxes on Alcoholic Beverages, at 10-12,
WT/DS8/AB/R, WT/DS10/AB/R, WT/DS11/AB/R (Oct. 4, 1996) (holding that “interpretation must be
based above all upon the text of the treaty” but that other rules stated in the Vienna Treaty Convention
are also applicable as evidence of customary international law including treaty interpretation based on
“subsequent practice in the application of the treaty.”) (citations omitted); Appellate Body Report, United
States – Standards for Reformulated and Conventional Gasoline, at 17, WT/DS2/AB/R (Apr. 29, 1996) (finding
that the general rule of interpretation found in the Vienna Treaty Convention “has attained the status of a
rule of customary or general international law”).
173. Accord Général sur le Commerce des Services [General Agreement on Trade in Services],
Annexe sur le Mouvement des Personnes Physiques Fournissant des Services Rélevant de l’Accord
[Annex on Movement of Natural Persons Supplying Services Under the Agreement], Apr. 15, 1994,
Accord instituant l'Organisation mondiale du commerce, Annexe 1B, at 346 n.1, available at
174. Acuerdo General Sobre el Comercio de Servicios [General Agreement on Trade in Services],
Anexo Sobre el Movimento de Personas Físicas Proveedoras de Servicios en el Marco del Acuerdo [Annex
on Movement of Natural Persons Supplying Services Under the Agreement], Apr. 15, 1994, Acuerdo por
el que se establece la Organización Mundial del Comercio, Anexo 1B, at 328 n.13, available at
175. See LAROUSSE’S CONCISE FRENCH-ENGLISH ENGLISH-FRENCH DICTIONARY 552 (Marc
Chabrier ed., 3d ed. 2004); THE OXFORD NEW SPANISH DICTIONARY 167 (1999).
176. See U.S.-Gambling Panel Report, supra note 13, paras. 6.55-6.59.
177. BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 1571 (6th ed. 1990).
178. United States v. Vargas, 380 F. Supp. 1162, 1168-69 (E.D.N.Y. 1974) (citing WEBSTER’S THIRD
INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY (1971)).
179. WEBSTER’S NEW WORLD COLLEGE DICTIONARY 1597 (4th ed. 2001).
180. CONCISE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY 1615 (11th ed. 2004).
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 79
Fr[ench] from L[atin] visa, past part[iciple] of videre ‘to see.’”181 This etymology
suggests that the visa is a product of review, i.e. primarily an evidentiary concern.
Although they do vary to some degree, in all of the dictionary definitions the
relevant authority referred to the visa as being solely an endorsement placed in a
passport as evidence of review. Two of the definitions referred to a grant of
authorization to stay in a country, but the definitions still referred to the visa as
merely evidence of the grant. This distinction is akin to that between citizenship and
a passport, or the substantive right and evidence of the right.
As a multilateral agreement, the DSB will not necessarily judge the MFN
obligation by reference only to United States usage; accordingly, we must also look
to international usage. In the Glossary on Migration, the International Organization
for Migration (IOM) provides proposed universal definitions of common terms used
in discussing international migration to avoid just these types of
misunderstandings.182 While acknowledging that “definitions in this field are often
vague, controversial or contradictory,” and that “the usage of migration terms varies
from country to country,” “care has been taken to provide the international
definition where it exists; in other cases, a general definition is provided and mention
made of alternative definitions.”183 The IOM defines visa as
[a]n endorsement by a consular officer in a passport or a certificate of
identity that indicates that the officer, at the time of issuance, believes the
holder to fall within a category of non-nationals who can be admitted
under the State’s laws. A visa establishes the criteria of admission into a
Since the IOM did not include alternative definitions for visa, the IOM must
have found that the above definition is an international definition without commonly
accepted alternatives. This definition supports the distinction between visa and
status detailed above, specifically, that the visa is evidence that the alien appears to
be eligible and allows the alien to request admission.
Furthermore, we can also look to the usage of individual nations, especially
those nations who were parties to the Uruguay Round. Most nations use the term
visa in a similar manner and employ the dichotomy of visa and status as described
above,185 such as the requirement of many nations for aliens to have both a visa and a
182. See INT’L ORG. FOR MIGRATION, INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION LAW: GLOSSARY ON
MIGRATION (2004), available at
183. Id. at 3.
184. Id. at 69.
185. See, e.g., Ranjit Malhotra, Immigration Under Indian Law: Freedom of Movement for Business
Personnel, in GLOBAL IMMIGRATION GUIDE: CROSSING BORDERS FOR BUSINESS [hereinafter GLOBAL
IMMIGRATION GUIDE] 85 (Scott M. Borene et. al. eds., 2002) (stating that when entering India on a visa
with validity in excess of ninety days, one must also seek authorization from registration authorities for
permission to stay); Marco Giovanazzi, General Principles of Italian Immigration Law, in GLOBAL
IMMIGRATION GUIDE 93 (stating that an Italian visa will indicate the anticipated length of stay although
the individual must also receive a residence permit to remain after admission); Karen Sturtivant, Fast,
Faster, Fastest—Which Work Visas are Quickest in the United Kingdom, in GLOBAL IMMIGRATION GUIDE
109, 109 (stating that a U.K. visa is merely pre-clearance for entry, whereas a work permit is required to
stay and work); Australia: Frequently Asked Questions, in GLOBAL IMMIGRATION GUIDE 233, 233, 235
80 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
work permit. If a visa were the grant of authorized stay, then a separate work permit
should not be necessary. Even for those nations that do not require separate visas
and work permits, they still recognize the legal distinction.186 In fact, many of the
nations that were parties to the Uruguay Round do not issue visas that are
coterminous with the alien’s anticipated stay.187 Accordingly, those negotiating
parties were even more acutely aware of the difference and presumably applied that
understanding when negotiating the GATS. The fact that the GATS may have been
actually negotiated by trade officers of a given country rather than immigration
officers with a more refined understanding of the subtle language distinction is not
relevant since the language is clear and the DSB will not investigate the subjective
intent behind a clearly defined word.188
As it is widely acknowledged that a visa and authorized stay are fundamentally
different concepts, we cannot merely substitute the word status for visa, as written in
the Annex, and must read the word literally.189 Therefore, the footnote in the Annex
must be read as “[t]he sole fact of requiring [documentary evidence of authorization
to travel to the WTO Member nation] for natural persons of certain Members and
not for those of others shall not be regarded as nullifying or impairing benefits under
a specific commitment.”190 Accordingly, only the exemption of some nationalities
from the requirement of receiving a visa stamped in their passport before traveling
to the country may be acceptable discrimination under MFN. Discriminatory
measures that go beyond that documentary requirement, such as differing
qualifications for nonimmigrant status, are subject to MFN.
iii. Visa Application Procedure and Adjudication
In addition, the process for applying for a visa is not entirely insulated from the
GATS. Even if requiring a visa is acceptable discrimination, submitting an
(stating that although an Australian visa may be valid for up to ten years, the individual will be admitted
for a stay of up to three months at each entry); Belgium: Frequently Asked Questions, in GLOBAL
IMMIGRATION GUIDE 239, 240 (stating that a visa and a work permit are separate applications); Japan:
Frequently Asked Questions, in GLOBAL IMMIGRATION GUIDE 255, 255 (noting that the visa and work
permit are separate); Netherlands: Frequently Asked Questions, in GLOBAL IMMIGRATION GUIDE 263,
263-64 (distinguishing entry clearance visa from a work permit); The Republic of South Africa: Frequently
Asked Questions, in GLOBAL IMMIGRATION GUIDE 271, 272 (divorcing concepts of visas and work
permits, although a work permit may function as a visa). But see Argentina: Frequently Asked Questions, in
GLOBAL IMMIGRATION GUIDE 231 (stating that visa and work permit procedure is unified); Hong Kong:
Frequently Asked Questions, in GLOBAL IMMIGRATION GUIDE 249, 249 (stating that an employment visa
also serves as work permit); Switzerland: Frequently Asked Questions, in GLOBAL IMMIGRATION GUIDE
275, 276 (noting that Switzerland does not distinguish between work permits and visas).
186. See, e.g., Argentina: Frequently Asked Questions, supra note 185; Hong Kong: Frequently Asked
Questions, supra note 185; Switzerland: Frequently Asked Questions, supra note 185.
187. See, e.g., Hong Kong: Frequently Asked Questions, supra note 185; Japan: Frequently Asked
Questions, supra note 185; Netherlands: Frequently Asked Questions, supra note 185.
188. See U.S.-Gambling Panel Report, supra note 13, para. 6.54-6.64, 6.134 (finding that the United
States’s specific commitment included gambling based on the precise language used and the usual
interpretation of the language by resort to dictionary definitions regardless of the United States’s
189. See Appellate Body Report, European Communities – Measures Concerning Meat and Meat
Products (Hormones), para. 181, WT/DS26/AB/R, WT/DS48/AB/R (Jan. 16, 1998) (finding that the
interpreter must read and interpret the text actually used, and may not substitute “words which the
interpreter may feel should have been used”).
190. GATS, supra note 2, Annex on Movement of Natural Persons n.1.
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 81
application is only the tip of the iceberg. There are requirements for place of
application, burden of proof, procedures,191 and other requirements that go far
beyond submitting ministerial paperwork.192 Note that the WTO members were free
to state that different visa application treatment will not be a violation, but they did
not. The Members only agreed that “the sole fact of requiring [documentary
evidence] . . . shall not be regarded as [a violation].”193 Accordingly, treatment and
processing of the visa application is also within the scope of the GATS.
Although this Article is not the forum for a detailed assessment of visa
processing procedures, some aspects of the procedures that implicate visa
qualifications are pertinent. A quick survey of the documentary requirements at
United States posts shows that different nationalities are required to present
different documents to evidence qualification.194 Sometimes, these documents are
United States documents or their local equivalent, but in some cases, the documents
are locally unique.195 In these cases, we must wonder why the post requires different
documents for different nationalities to qualify for the same visa. Practitioners
observe that consulates appear to routinely apply differing burdens of proof to
nationals of differerent countries. Many of these standards are established by local
posts based on experience with fraud. These practices are clearly discriminatory and
might be considered “measures” since there are no a priori exclusions from the
definition. These policies could not be justified under the security exception since
any qualifying alien may be refused a visa on valid security grounds. Requiring a
higher burden of proof is not necessary to establish a security barrier.
191. See, e.g., Robert White & Jeptha Evans, Options for Nondegreed Workers, in 2 IMMIGRATION &
NATIONALITY LAW HANDDBOOK 258, 263 (Stephanie L. Browning, et al. eds., 2004-05) (stating that
consular “processing procedures and standards . . . vary by post” in terms of documentation to qualify,
policies about granting limited numbers of visas to individual companies, and interpretations of the
qualifying legal standards).
192. See, e.g., Ellen Ma Lee, B-1 Business Visitors and TN Nonimmigrants, in 2 IMMIGRATION &
NATIONALITY LAW HANDBOOK 239, 240 (Stephanie L. Browning et al. eds., 2004-05) (citing examples of
factors affecting consular practices including “high rate of fraud or overstays, poor economic conditions in
the country, and the unreliability of government issued documents.”); White & Evans, supra note 191, at
263 (stating that consulates “processing procedures and standards . . . vary by post” including required
documentation, policies about granting limited numbers of visas to individual companies, and legal
interpretations of the qualifying legal standards).
193. GATS, supra note 2, Annex on Movement of Natural Persons n.1.
194. See, e.g., Embassy of the United States in Sri Lanka & Maldives, Nonimmigrant Visas: Visa
Interview and Issuance Procedures (requiring most recent pay stub and United States federal income tax
return for visa issuance), http://srilanka.usembassy.gov/visa_interview.html (last visited Dec. 6, 2006);
Embassy of the United States in Seoul, Korea, Nonimmigrant Work Visas, [hereinafter U.S. Embassy–
Seoul] (requiring most recent W-2 form), http://seoul.usembassy.gov/h_documents.html (last visited Dec. 6,
2006); Embassy of the United States in Manila, Nonimmigrant Visa Application Procedures: Temporary
Workers Visas (H and L) (requiring a signed employment contract or letter and proof of current and
previous employment experience with pay slips), http://philippines.usembassy.gov/wwwhni11.html (last
visited Dec. 6, 2006).
195. See, e.g., Embassy of the United States in Stockholm, Nonimmigrant Visa Checklist (specifying
that the visa applicant must provide the Consular Section with the “120-personbevis med alla relationer”
from the Swedish tax authorities in order to receive a nonimmigrant visa), at
http://stockholm.usembassy.gov/Consulate/book.html (last visited Dec. 6, 2006); U.S. Embassy–Seoul,
supra note 194 (requiring a Korean income tax document and Certificate of Entry/Exit record from the
Korean Immigration Bureau for many nonimmigrant visas).
82 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
4. Exclusions from MFN for Country-Specific Scheduled MFN Exemptions
In negotiating the GATS, the member nations realized that MFN was not
immediately feasible. They therefore allowed members a single opportunity to
schedule country-specific exemptions for certain measures that would otherwise
violate MFN.196 These exemptions would allow members to continue discriminatory
measures past the entry into force of the GATS. Many of the exemptions are for
specific historic trading partners or nations with whom bilateral trade agreements
have been entered.197 If the member nation did not schedule the exemption at the
entry into force of the GATS, then the nation is prohibited from doing so without
the consent of the other WTO Members.198 As new nations join the WTO, they are
likewise granted an initial opportunity to schedule and are barred from amending
thereafter without consent. These exemptions are listed in the Annex on Article II
Exemptions, which is considered an integral part of the GATS.199
The WTO member nations were not completely unrestrained in scheduling
exemptions. The exemptions must meet the conditions of the Annex to be
enforceable.200 The Annex includes the condition that exemptions should not, “[i]n
principle,” exist for more than ten years after the entry into force of the GATS.201
This ten-year period was intended to be a transition period to full MFN treatment.202
In the Annex, members were required to enter the date on which the exemption
would expire although many WTO members listed exemptions as “indefinite.”203
196. See GATS, supra note 2, art. II(2); Doha Press Pack, supra note 144, at 15.
197. Martin Roy, Trade Comm., OECD, Trade in Services: A Roadmap to GATS MFN Exemptions,
OECD Doc. TD/TC/WP(2001)25/FINAL, at 22-29 (Oct. 29, 2001), available at
http://www.olis.oecd.org/olis/2001doc.nsf/LinkTo/td-tc-wp(2001)25-final (finding 92% of the exemptions
involve reciprocity and international agreements); See Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services,
Communication from the Republic of Korea, A Thought on the Alternatives to MFN Exemptions in the
Annex on Article II Exemptions, para. 6, S/CSS/W/127 (Nov. 30, 2001) [hereinafter Council,
Communication from Korea], available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/S/CSS/W127.doc
(noting that most exemptions are to secure reciprocal equal trade treatment pursuant to treaties even
though GATS is supposed to already guarantee equal treatment and “seeking MFN exemptions when
equal access or treatment was not secured cannot constitute 'exceptional circumstances'”); Council Mode 4
Note, supra note 62, para. 47.
198. See GATS, supra note 2, Annex on Article II Exemptions [Annex on MFN Exemptions] (stating
that “[a]ny new exemptions applied for after the date of entry into force of the WTO Agreement shall be
dealt with under paragraph 3 of Article IX of that Agreement.”); WTO Agreement, supra note 1, art.
IV(3); Uruguay Round, Trade Negotiations Committee, Addendum to the Final Act Embodying the Result of
the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations, Dec. 15, 1993, MTN/FA/Corr.1 [hereinafter Add. List
of Commits/Exempts] (listing the members making Specific Commitments and MFN Exemptions).
199. GATS, supra note 2, art. XXIX.
200. Id. art. II(2).
201. GATS, supra note 2, Annex on MFN Exemptions, para. 6; Doha Press Pack, supra note 144, at
202. See Council, Communication from Korea, supra note 197, para. 10 (stating that the “10 year
duration should not be viewed as a minimum period of exemptions, but should be viewed as a maximum
period of transition . . . during which Members should actively seek ways to bring these MFN inconsistent
measures in conformity . . . .”).
203. See id. para. 9 (“98% of the exemptions have unspecified duration . . . . Mexico has . . . strongly
argued that 10 year duration should be strictly observed.”); Special Session of the Council for Trade in
Services, Communication from Mexico, Most Favoured Exemptions: Negotiation, S/CSS/W/103 (Sept. 21,
2001) [hereinafter Council, Communication from Mexico], (proposal by Mexico for commitment to end
exemptions and commencement of negotiations to do so by 2007), available at
http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/S/CSS/W103.doc; Council Mode 4 Note, supra note 62, para.
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 83
The consequences of maintaining a measure beyond the ten-year limit are
unclear. The limit has never been the subject of a DSB dispute, although the DSB
has found that other similar expressions of intent are relevant when a member fails
to pursue the goal in good faith.204 This obligation is in addition to the general
principle of pacta sunt servanda in customary international law.205 The ten-year
anniversary from the date of entry into force of GATS for the United States was
January 1, 2005, at which point the United States MFN exemptions should have, in
Although the ten-year expiration is couched in terms of aspiration, the United
States should not interpret this language to mean that exemptions will be tolerated
long-term. The WTO has consistently reaffirmed that the exemptions are
temporary206 and one of the expressed goals of the Doha Round is the elimination of
exemptions.207 In fact, the Council has already issued Procedures for the
Certification of Terminations, Reductions and Rectifications of Article II (MFN)
Exemptions.208 In addition, the United States should not discount the fact that many
nations have been vocal in their complaints that discrimination is still being
practiced.209 Some members, such as Japan,210 did not list any MFN exemptions at the
outset and are increasingly critical of nations that did. Many WTO member states
are adamant that the ten-year period was merely a transition211 and have already
204. See Appellate Body Report, United States – Import Prohibition of Certain Shrimp and Shrimp
Products, para. 158, WT/DS58/AB/R (Oct. 12, 1998) (finding that the chapeau of GATT 1947 Art. XX is
an “expression of the principle of good faith”).
205. See Vienna Treaty Conv., supra note 12, art. 26 (Article 26, Pacta sunt servanda, states that
“[e]very treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith”).
206. See Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services, Report of the Meeting Held on 5, 8 and
12 October 2001, Note by the Secretariat, para. 95, S/CSS/M/12 (Nov. 28, 2001) [hereinafter Council, Oct. 5-
12 Report], available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/S/CSS/M12.doc.
207. See Doha Press Pack, supra note 144, at 15.
208. Council for Trade in Services, Report (2002) of the Council for Trade in Services to the General
Council, para. 15, S/C/16 (Dec. 9, 2002), (“consider[ing] a new revised draft of the Procedures for the
Certification of Terminations, Reductions and Rectifications of Article II [MFN] Exemptions . . . . [T]he
draft decision contained in document S/C/W/203 was adopted, and has been issued as document S/L/105.
The procedures were issued as document S/L/106.”), available at
209. See Council Dec. 3-6, 2001 Report, supra note 49, para. 143 (India proposing increased
liberalization); Council, Communication from Korea, supra note 197 (proposing to prohibit exemptions
for reciprocity agreements since GATS is supposed to already guarantee equal treatment); Council,
Communication from Mexico, supra note 203 (proposal by Mexico for commitment to end exemptions).
210. Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services, Japan, Conditional Initial Offer, TN/S/O/JPN
(Apr. 7, 2003) (offering to list only cabotage and freight-forwarding services in the maritime transport area),
available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/tn/s/OJPN.doc; Add. List of Commits/Exempts,
supra note 198 (listing the members making Specific Commitments and MFN Exemptions and showing that
Japan made Specific Commitments but not MFN Exemptions); Uruguay Round, Trade Negotiations
Committee, Thirty-fourth Meeting: 26 Nov. 1993, para. 10, MTN.TNC/38, (Dec. 2, 1993), available at
http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/UR/TNC/38.WPF (Japan stating that it planned to submit a
very limited MFN exemption list including only “cabotage and freight-forwarding services in the maritime
211. See Council, Communication from Korea, supra note 197, para. 10 (stating that the “10 year
duration should not be viewed as a minimum period of exemptions, but should be viewed as a maximum
period of transition . . . during which Members should actively seek ways to bring these MFN inconsistent
measures in conformity . . . .”); Council, Communication from Mexico, supra note 203 (stating that the ten-
year maximum of MFN exemptions should be respected).
84 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
begun to propose the commencement of the phase-out process and transition.212
Lastly, an exemption would need to be claimed as a defense at the DSB if a measure
was challenged. The DSB might decline to recognize a more than ten-year old
exemption as a valid defense. Member states have expressed a preference for
negotiation on the elimination of exemptions rather than dispute resolution, so
exemptions may be tolerated for some time.213 However, any MFN provision
maintained beyond the ten-year mark is vulnerable.
In addition, WTO member nations must also justify their exemptions.
Exemptions that expired more than five years in the future were reviewed by the
Council to determine “whether the conditions which created the need for the
exemption still prevail; and . . . determine the date of any further review.”214 The
initial five-year review was admittedly ineffective but this does not mean that the
Council has abandoned its right to review the exemptions for continued
justification.215 If an exemption was disputed, the DSB could find that the exemption
did not expire but is no longer justified. In addition, the exemptions are still subject
to subsequent negotiations regardless of the outcome of the Council’s review or a
Lastly, there is some discussion whether such an exemption for a bilateral trade
agreement must be recognized if both parties to the agreement did not take
reciprocal exemptions. The Council has noted that “[p]references granted are not
frequently mirrored by similar exemptions on the part of beneficiary countries.”217
The Agreement Establishing the WTO states that deviations from the agreements
are not generally allowed, but where they are, they are considered treaty
reservations.218 As has been noted above, the GATS is interpreted according to
212. See Council Dec. 3-6, 2001 Report, supra note 49, para. 143 (India proposing increased
liberalization); Council, Communication from Korea, supra note 197 (noting that most exemptions are for
international reciprocity agreements to secure equal trade treatment, however, GATS is supposed to
already guarantee equal treatment); Council, Communication from Mexico, supra note 203 (proposal by
Mexico that MFN exemptions ten-year maximum should be respected and proposing commencement of
negotiations to terminate all exemptions by 2007); Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services,
Communication from New Zealand, Objectives for the Resumed Services Negotiations, para. 10,
S/CSS/W/90 (June 26, 2001), available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/S/CSS/W90.doc
(emphasizing the need to eliminate all MFN exemptions within the 10 years); Special Session of the
Council for Trade in Services, Communication from Norway, The Negotiations on Trade in Services, para.
1, S/CSS/W/59 (Mar. 21, 2001) [hereinafter Council, Communication from Norway], available at
http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/S/CSS/W59.doc (proposing elimination or major reduction in
exemptions); Special Session of the Council for Trade in Services, Communication from Japan, The
Negotiations on Trade in Services, para. 17, S/CSS/W/42 (Dec. 22, 2000), available at
http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/S/CSS/W42.doc (“the elimination and reduction of MFN
exemptions should be among the most important agenda in the current services negotiations. . . . Japan
shares with other Members the idea that all registered MFN exemptions should be eliminated by the end
of 2004 or the conclusion of the current negotiations, whichever comes earlier.”).
213. See id.
214. GATS, supra note 2, Annex on MFN Exemptions, paras. 3, 4; Council, Oct. 5-12 Report, supra
215. See Council, Communication from Korea, supra note 197, para. 4 (stating that “the first review in
the year 2000 was [inconclusive]” and that there continues to be “wide spread derogation from the most
fundamental principle of the WTO Agreements . . . . In this respect, there is a need to examine the current
MFN exemptions . . . with a view to exploring the possibility of streamlining the MFN exemptions.”).
216. See Council, Oct. 5-12 Report, supra note 206, para. 95.
217. Council Mode 4 Note, supra note 62, para. 47.
218. GATS, supra note 2, art. XVI(5).
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 85
customary international law, including the Vienna Treaty Convention.219 Under the
Convention, treaty reservations are not honored against a state which, at the time of
entry into force, maintained an objection to the reservation.220 Some WTO members
still maintain that these exemptions must be reciprocal or they are not recognized.221
How the Convention’s rule would apply in this multilateral context is unclear, but it
is possible that parties have not taken their exemptions effectively so they are void
ab initio either against the particular nation or the WTO generally.
5. Country-Specific MFN Exemption Scheduled by the United States
In its list of exemptions, the United States included nonimmigrant aspects of
bilateral treaties for trade and investment.222 This exemption allows for:
Government issuance of treaty trader or treaty investor non-immigrant
visas that extend a special visa category to nationals of treaty partners in
executive and other personnel categories engaged solely to carry on
substantial trade, including trade in services or trade in technology,
principally between the US and the foreign state of which a natural person
is a national, or solely to develop and direct the operations of an
enterprise in which a natural person has invested or is actively in the
process of investing a substantial amount of capital.223
This exemption applies to nationals from “[c]ountries with whom the United
States has a Friendship, Commerce and Navigation Treaty (FCN), a Bilateral
Investment Treaty (BIT), or certain countries as described in Section 204 of the
Immigration Act of 1990.”224 The United States currently accords seventy-eight
nations preferred nonimmigrant treatment under these agreements225 and continues
to engage in negotiations for additional agreements that might fall under this
219. See DSU, supra note 8, art. 3(2) (stating that WTO agreements are to be interpreted in
accordance with customary rules of interpretation of public international law); U.S.-Gambling Panel
Report, supra note 13, paras. 6.45-6.46 (finding that customary rules of interpretation of public
international law include the Vienna Treaty Convention).
220. Vienna Treaty Conv., supra note 12, art. 21(3).
221. See, e.g., Council, Communication from Norway, supra note 212, para. 42 (stating that
“provisions in bilateral agreements which are entered as MFN exemptions are only recognized when both
parties to the agreement take equivalent MFN exemptions”).
222. GATS, supra note 2, United States – Final List of Article II (MFN) Exemptions [U.S.–MFN
Exempts], Apr. 15, 1994, GATS/EL/900, available at
http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/SCHD/GATS-EL/EL90.WPF. See generally id., United States,
Final List of Article II (MFN) Exemptions, Suppl. 1, July 28, 1995, GATS/EL/90/Suppl.1, available at
http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/SCHD/GATS-EL/EL90S1.WPF; id., United States, Final List
of Article II (MFN) Exemptions, Suppl. 2, Apr. 11, UPA (1997), GATS/EL/90/Suppl.2, available at
http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/SCHD/GATS-EL/EL90S2.WPF; id., United States, Final List
of Article II (MFN) Exemptions, Suppl. 3, Feb. 28, 1998, GATS/EL/90/Suppl.3, available at
223. GATS, supra note 2, U.S.–MFN Exempts.
224. Id.; see Immigration Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-649, § 204, 104 Stat. 4978, 5019 (1990).
225. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.51 Exh.1 (listing the nations with whom the United States
has a FCN, a BIT, or to whom the United States otherwise extends like treatment).
86 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
exemption, even after the implementation of the GATS.226 The exemption is
justified by the need “[t]o facilitate trade under FCNs and BITs” and as with most of
the exemptions, it is listed as indefinite.227 Nonetheless, this exemption was
theoretically slated for elimination on January 1, 2005, the ten-year anniversary of
the entry into force of the GATS.
It is interesting to note that most countries that have an FCN or BIT with the
United States have not entered a reciprocal exemption.228 Of the sixty-seven nations
with whom the United States has concluded a treaty and who are also members of
the WTO, only Brunei,229 Costa Rica,230 Estonia,231 Jordan,232 the Philippines,233 and
Trinidad and Tobago234 have entered exemptions that are arguably reciprocal. Some
of the most frequent users of the treaties have not entered reciprocal exemptions,
notably Japan235 and the United Kingdom.236
Furthermore, the failure of the United States to have a fixed list of exempted
agreements is also criticized. Certain countries, as described in the Immigration Act
226. See generally United States Trade Representative, Trade Agreements,
http://www.ustr.gov/Trade_Agreements/Section_Index.html (last visited Dec. 7, 2006); Visas, F.A.M., supra
note 17, § 41.51 Exh.1 (listing nations with whom the United States has negotiated treaty trader and/or
treaty investor status including agreements negotiated after the implementation of GATS on Jan. 1, 1995,
such as Armenia, Latvia, Trinidad & Tobago, and Ukraine in 1996; Ecuador, Estonia, Georgia, Jamaica,
and Mongolia in 1997; Albania in 1998; Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bolivia, Jordan, and Lithuania in 2001; and
Chile and Singapore in 2004).
227. GATS, supra note 2, U.S.–MFN Exempts.
228. See generally Add. List of Commits/Exempts, supra note 198 (showing that Japan did not take any
229. See GATS, supra note 2, Brunei – Final List of Article II (MFN) Exemptions, Apr. 15, 1994,
GATS/EL/95, available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/SCHD/GATS-EL/EL95.WPF.
230. See id., Costa Rica – Final List of Article II (MFN) Exemptions, Apr. 15, 1994, GATS/EL/22,
available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/SCHD/GATS-EL/EL22.WPF.
231. See id., Est. – Final List of Article II (MFN) Exemptions, Apr. 15, 1994, GATS/EL/127, available
232. See id., Jordan – Final List of Article II (MFN) Exemptions, Dec. 15, 2000, GATS/EL/128,
available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/SCHD/GATS-EL/EL128.doc (listing reciprocity
agreement as MFN Exemption); see also United States-Jordan Free Trade Area Implementation Act, Pub.
L. 107-43, § 301, 115 Stat. 243 (2001) ((implementing Agreement on the Establishment of a Free Trade
Area, U.S.-Jordan, art. 3, para. 3) [hereinafter U.S.-Jordan FTA], available at
that the Jordanian MFN exemptions contain reciprocal exemptions).
233. See GATS, supra note 2, Philippines – Final List of Art II (MFN) Exemptions, Apr. 15, 1994,
GATS/EL/70, available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/SCHD/GATS-EL/EL70.WPF; id.,
Philippines – Final List of Art II (MFN) Exemptions, Suppl. 1, July 28, 1995, GATS/EL/70/Suppl.1,
available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/SCHD/GATS-EL/EL70S1.WPF; id., Philippines –
Final List of Article II (MFN) Exemptions, Suppl. 2, Feb. 26, 1998, GATS/EL/70/Suppl.2, available at
234. See id., Trin. & Tobago – Final List of Article II (MFN) Exemptions, Apr. 15, 1994, GATS/EL/86,
available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/SCHD/GATS-EL/EL86.WPF.
235. See, e.g., Add. List of Commits/Exempts, supra note 198 (showing that Japan did not take any
MFN Exemptions); Citizens of Seven Countries to Gain E-2 Investor Status Under New Treaties, 69
INTERPRETER RELEASES 1601, 1603 (1992) [hereinafter Citizens of Seven Countries] (reporting that
companies and nationals of Japan and the United Kingdom are the two most frequent users of the E visa).
236. See GATS, supra note 2, European Communities – Final List of Article II (MFN) Exemptions,
Apr. 15, 1994, GATS/EL/31, available at http://docsonline.wto.org/DDFDocuments/t/SCHD/GATS-
EL/EL31.WPF (including all exemptions taken by the United Kingdom); Citizens of Seven Countries,
supra note 235 (reporting that companies and nationals of Japan and the United Kingdom are the two
most frequent users of the E visa).
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 87
of 1990, are covered, but this is not a fixed list.237 The Act grants treatment
equivalent to a treaty for countries that qualify under prescribed statutory
requirements.238 Currently, Australia and Sweden have been designated by
administrative determination as qualifying.239 This exemption is, therefore, neither
transparent nor reliable since others must refer to national legislation to clarify the
exemption240 and even then, the countries involved are not clearly identified.241
Moreover, additional countries may in the future receive the exempted treatment if
III. ANALYSIS OF UNITED STATES IMMIGRATION
MEASURES AGAINST GATS MFN
This article will now apply the above analysis of MFN to qualifying for United
States nonimmigrant categories. Before addressing each category in particular, note
generally that United States immigration law and the GATS may operate in parallel
but not necessarily in concert. Although the United States may believe that it
merely entrenched its immigration law under the GATS, there may be dual sources
of benefits that in total exceed the benefits accruing under only one of the sources.
A. H-1B, Worker in a Specialty Occupation
One of the most important nonimmigrant categories for business purposes is
the H-1B.242 This category is for aliens coming to the United States to work for a
United States-incorporated employer in a “specialty occupation” at a wage that will
not adversely affect United States workers.243
1. Specialty Occupation
A specialty occupation is an occupation that requires the “theoretical and
practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge,”244 that has the
“attainment of a bachelor’s or higher degree in the specific specialty (or its
equivalent) as a minimum for entry into the occupation in the United States.”245
Originally, the category was designated for “professionals,” but was deliberately
changed to “specialty occupations.”246 Although the definitions of professional and
237. See Immigration Act of 1990 § 204.
238. See id.
239. See Citizens of Seven Countries, supra note 235, at 1604-05 (stating that section 204 of the
Immigration Act of 1990 was interpreted to extend treaty treatment to Australia as of December 1991 and
Sweden as of February 1992).
240. See Council Mode 4 Note, supra note 62, para. 52.
241. See id. para. 49.
242. See generally Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b), 8 U.S.C.
§ 1101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b) (2006); 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h) (2006); 22 C.F.R. § 41.53.
243. Immigration and Nationality Act § 214(i)(1), 8 U.S.C. § 1184(i)(1).
244. Id. § 1184(i)(1)(A).
245. Id. § 1184(i)(1)(B).
246. See id. § 1101(a)(15)(H)(i); 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A) (prior to and following passage of
88 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
specialty occupation can overlap greatly, the definitions are distinct. All professional
occupations are specialty occupations, but not all specialty occupations are
professional.247 Certain positions are listed in the statute and regulations as examples
of professions and specialty occupations,248 generally including physicians, engineers,
lawyers, and other occupations traditionally regarded as professions.249 If the
occupation is specifically listed, it should be considered a specialty occupation
regardless of the particular position’s minimum requirements.250 It is important to
note, however, that this test is not applied consistently.251
If the occupation is not listed in the statute or regulations, then the alien’s
employer may still have the occupation classified as a specialty based on the
position’s minimum requirements.252 The regulations establish several measures to
determine if a position is a specialty occupation including whether the normal
minimum requirements for the position demand a specialized degree; the degree
requirement is common in the industry; the particular duties are complex or
specialized; and the employer normally requires a degree.253
2. Alien’s Qualifications
In addition to the position qualifying, the alien must also be qualified to
perform the duties.254 If the alien will practice a profession that is listed, the alien
should be able to presumptively qualify if the alien is currently practicing in that
occupation, regardless of qualifications.255 This policy is also not always applied in a
uniform manner and, in reality, all aliens must have a bachelor’s degree in the
specialty regardless of whether the occupation is listed.
In order to practice an occupation not listed in the statute but satisfying one of
the alternative tests, the alien must have the appropriate specialized bachelor’s
degree.256 Although it may be acceptable discrimination under the GATS to judge a
position as a specialty based on the usual United States requirements, it may not be
acceptable to require the foreign national to have the education that is the usual in
the United States. If the position is a specialty and the employee is a qualified
member of the occupation, it might be discriminatory to require the degree because
different countries have differing requirements for the practice of specialties. In
Immigration Act of 1990 § 205, eliminating the option that a profession could be a position whose “level of
responsibility and authority are commensurate with professional standing”).
247. See In re Essex Cryogenics Indus., Inc., 14 I. & N. Dec. 196, 197-98 (B.I.A. 1972); In re Gen.
Atomic Co., 17 I. & N. Dec. 532, 533 (B.I.A. 1980).
248. See Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(32), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(32).
249. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(ii).
250. See Court Grants H-1 Professional Status to Engineer Without College Degree, 66 INTERPRETER
RELEASES 879 (1989) (citing Turbomotive, Inc. v. Weiss, Civil No. H-88-563 (JAC) (D. Conn. July 27,
1989) in which the judge found an engineering position to be a specialty occupation regardless of required
minimum education because it is listed in the statute as professional).
251. See, e.g., State Department Issues Guidance on L-1 Adjudications, 73 INTERPRETER RELEASES
963, 963 (1996) (including excerpts of State Department Cable, (no. 96-State-75033) (1996), which states
that a position may only be considered professional if it requires at least a bachelor’s degree in a specialty).
252. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A).
254. See Augat, Inc. v. Tabor, 719 F. Supp. 1158, 1160-62 (D. Mass. 1989).
255. See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(ii).
256. Id. § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(A).
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 89
fact, it might be unusual for the national to have a specialized degree. The country’s
national educational system might not even offer the degree in the specialty. The
requirement is not de jure discrimination, but it might be de facto discrimination. If
the United States applies the same standard to two nationals of two different
countries, both of whom have been practicing the same specialty but have different
educations, the United States would be making it more difficult for one country’s
nationals to qualify. WTO members are not generally permitted to claim that
discriminatory effects are the result of inherent competitive disadvantages. National
employment or education standards may be inherent competitive factors between
nations. Accordingly, the United States may not be able to use the usual United
States standard, provided the employee was able to perform the duties.
If an alien does not have the required specialized degree, then the alien may
still qualify if he has the equivalent to the degree through foreign education and/or
experience.257 A professional work experience evaluation may assist in establishing
equivalency. The difficulty with this alternate system is that it does not remedy the
problem above and the alien’s employer has the additional burden of proving the
equivalency with the additional expense of an independent professional evaluation
and a further risk of denial. It is interesting to note that the United States willingly
abolished the need for equivalencies for Canadian and Mexican degrees, when the
employee applies for admission under NAFTA. It is unclear why the United States
believes that all Canadian and Mexican degrees are presumptively the equivalent to
United States degrees but not those from, for example, the Universities of
Cambridge, Tokyo, and Paris. Also, the alien needs the equivalency despite the fact
that other nationals may qualify without showing a degree or equivalent if the
position is listed in the statute or regulations. The fact that certain nationalities may
gravitate more frequently to certain occupations may aggravate the disproportionate
discrimination. If the burden of proving the equivalent is consistently applied to
certain nationals and not to others, then the result may be one of a de facto
The United States might be able to argue that the equivalency requirement falls
under the General Exceptions because, without it, the United States cannot be
certain that the person is competent.258 However, if nationals from particular
countries have been admitted to the United States previously and have shown that
their educations are not issues of competency, then the employee could argue that
the equivalency requirement falls closer to the pole of “contributing to” than
“indispensable” to competency.259 If true, the equivalency requirement might not be
257. See Shanti, Inc. v. Reno, 36 F. Supp. 2d 1151, 1160-64 (D. Minn. 1999); Augat, 719 F. Supp. at
1160-61; Hong Kong T.V. Video Program, Inc. v. Ilchert, 685 F. Supp. 712, 716 (N.D. Cal. 1988); In re Sun,
12 I. & N. Dec. 535, 535 (B.I.A. 1966).
258. GATS, supra note 2, art. XIV.
259. See supra notes 129-132 and accompanying text.
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Licensure to practice the profession is a different situation. The alien must
have the local license required to perform the services.260 Equivalencies are not
acceptable.261 The licensing regime, of course, varies for each state and varies
Since many professions are licensed by independent bodies on a state level, the
first question is whether licensing is even a measure within the definition of GATS.
Certainly, it is a regulation that restricts the performance of services that affects the
conditions of competition through Mode 4. To be covered by GATS, measures may
take the form of a “law, regulation, rule, procedure, decision, administrative action,
or any other form”262 taken by any level of government or “non-governmental bodies
in the exercise of powers” delegated by any level of government.263 Since the
licensing professional bodies are exercising a monopoly to practice that is legally
enforceable, and are overseen by the government, the acts of professional bodies can
be considered measures within the terms of GATS.
The United States may be successful in arguing that this requirement also falls
within the General Exemption relating to competency and protection of United
States citizens.264 This argument presupposes that the United States could show that
the licensing scheme is necessary to accomplish this task. However, the GATS
already includes provisions on licensing recognition under the section on Domestic
Regulation, which may exclusively cover competency questions. The particular
state’s license may not truly be “indispensable” since it is contemplated that a
mechanism for reciprocal recognition of licenses is acceptable.265
If not exempted, the next inquiry is whether it violates MFN. Since the United
States provides for the same treatment for all foreign nationals, this requirement is
not de jure discrimination, but it may be de facto. For example, due to the
discrepancies in state licensing regimes, and the possible tendency of certain
nationalities to migrate to certain United States regions and be disproportionately
more likely to fall under certain state’s rules, the differing licensing regimes may
result in statistically disproportionate discriminatory effects on certain nationalities.
This aspect of federalism as integrated into immigration law may then operate to
violate MFN on a national basis.
4. Prevailing Wage
Lastly, the employer must pay the alien the higher of the prevailing wage or the
wage that the employer actually pays similarly-situated employees.266 The prevailing
wage determination is unique for each position, geographic area, and level of
260. Immigration and Nationality Act § 214(i)(2), 8 U.S.C. § 1184(i)(2) (2006); 8 C.F.R. §
214.2(h)(4)(iii)(C)(3); In re St. Joseph’s Hosp., 14 I. & N. Dec. 202 (BIA 1972).
261. See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(h)(4)(iii)(C)(3); In re St. Joseph’s Hosp., 14 I. & N. Dec. at 202.
262. GATS, supra note 2, art. XXVIII.
263. Id. art. I(3)(a)(i), (ii).
264. See id. art. XI.
265. See id. art. VI.
266. 8 U.S.C. § 1182(t)(1)(A).
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 91
seniority.267 Notwithstanding the prevailing wage, the employer may be required to
pay above the prevailing wage, if the employer already pays its other similarly-
situated employees a higher actual wage.
One of the most apparent differences between countries, and a source of
comparable advantage, is the range in wages paid. When coming to the United
States to perform services, some nationals may effectively receive raises. Just like
licensing, this is a uniform standard that is applied to all nationalities and cannot be a
de jure discriminatory practice, but it may have a de facto effect. The effect is that
differing nationalities receive different raises or none at all. Since many
nonimmigrant workers use their time in the United States as an opportunity to remit
a proportion of their income to their home country, differing home countries may
benefit to differing degrees. The dilemma is that allowing employers to consider the
employee’s country of origin in setting the wage may be a de jure violation.
Guidance may be found in the GATS as a whole. WTO members may not generally
claim inherent competitive disadvantages and discrimination in favor of nationals
from developing countries as defenses. Therefore, employers may need to pay
employees the same prevailing wage regardless of the benefits that may accrue
disproportionately, but this is far from settled.
B. H-1B1, Professionals under the Chile/Singapore Free Trade Agreements
In addition to the H-1B, the H-1B1 subcategory is also available, but only to
nationals of Chile or Singapore under the terms of the Chile268 and Singapore269 Free
Trade Agreements with the United States. The FTAs provide for treaty trader and
investor categories that already exist under United States immigration law but also
created this new H-1B1 subcategory. Significantly, the FTAs were not adopted as
treaties but as legislation.270 Nationals from Singapore and Chile are by no means
required to apply for H-1B1 and may still apply for the regular H-1B, but the new
classification is an additional option.271 On its face, therefore, the H-1B1 establishes
discriminatory preferences for certain nationalities, contrary to MFN.
267. See Memorandum, Emily Stover DeRocco, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Revised Prevailing Wage
Determination Guidance (May 17, 2005), available at
268. See generally Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b1), 8 U.S.C. §§
1101(a)(15)(H)(i)(b1), 1184(8)(A)(i); United States-Chile Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act,
Pub. L. No. 108-77, § 402, 117 Stat. 909, 939-46 (2003) [hereinafter U.S.-Chile FTA Act] (implementing
United States-Chile Free Trade Agreement, Ch. 14, Ann. 14.3, June 6, 2003 [hereinafter U.S.-Chile FTA],
available at http://www.ustr.gov/Trade_Agreements/Bilateral/Chile_FTA/Final_Texts/Section_Index.html);
Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.53 Note 28.1 (establishing H-1B1 field guidance).
269. U.S.-Sing. Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act § 402, Pub. L. 108-78, 117 Stat. 948 (2003)
[hereinafter U.S.-Sing. FTA Act] (implementing U.S.-Sing. Free Trade Agreement, Ch. 11, Ann. 11A, May
6, 2003 [hereinafter U.S.-Sing. FTA], available at
270. See Trade Act of 2002, as amended, Pub. L. 107-210, § 2105, 116 Stat. 933 (2002) (codified at 19
U.S.C. § 3805); Trade Act of 1974, as amended, Pub. L. 93-618, § 151, 88 Stat. 1978 (1975) (codified at 19
U.S.C. § 2191).
271. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.53 Note 28.4 (stating that “the new H-1B1 category allows
for the entry of [Chilean and Singaporean] nonimmigrant professionals in ‘specialty occupations’”
92 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
It is important to note that petitions for H-1B1 classification may be filed
directly at a United States Embassy or Consulate and not necessarily in advance with
the USCIS.272 This option may exacerbate existing inconsistencies with consular
adjudication of qualifications. If the H-1B1 is extended to other WTO nationalities,
some posts may be confronted with petitions for which they have no training,
expertise, or resources, and the degree of inconsistency may increase.
1. H-1B1 Requirements
Once it is established that the individual is a Chilean or Singaporean national,
the next requirement is that the position be professional. This requirement is tested
similarly to the H-1B regulations for specialty occupations.273 Although the Office of
the United States Trade Representative (USTR) may not appreciate the distinction
between professionals and specialty occupations, it is an important one as noted
above. In the Immigration Act of 1990, Congress changed the H-1B criterion from
professional to specialty occupation, so the use of the term professional here
suggests that the test might properly be the prior test for a professional position.
What implications this may have for the future interpretation of the H-1B1 category
in other scenarios is outside this inquiry.
For four specific occupations, the position will be presumptively considered a
specialty occupation without a bachelor’s degree.274 For (1) Disaster Relief Claims
Adjusters and (2) Management Consultants from Chile or Singapore, a combination
of specialized training and three years experience is sufficient.275 For (3) Agricultural
Managers and (4) Physical Therapists from Chile, a combination of a post-secondary
certificate in the specialty and three years experience is sufficient.276 These
provisions suggest that the USTR may be admitting that the normal degree
requirement for some specialties in other countries is not a bachelor’s degree and yet
the individual can still perform the duties, supporting the argument about necessity
of the degree requirement discussed above under H-1B.
In addition, there is a major difference between H-1B1 and H-1B regarding
licensing. For H-1B1, the alien need not have a license as a condition of
qualification.277 Licensing is considered purely a state enforcement issue and not an
issue in the immigration context. Here again, we may find support for the argument
that the necessity of licensing under H-1B may violate MFN.
272. See State Dep’t Cable (no. 04-State-053902), para. 4 (Mar. 31, 2004).
273. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.53 Note 28.4(a); see also Ruth Ellen Wasem, Immigration
Issues in Trade Agreements, at 7, 19 (July 11, 2005) (CRS Report for Congress), available at
http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/50160.pdf (distinguishing between H-1B requirement of highly
specialized knowledge and the H-1B1 requirement of mere specialized knowledge; and noting that the
standard for H-1B1 may be lower than that for H-1B).
274. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.53 Note 28.4(b).
275. See id.
276. See id.
277. See id. § 41.53 N.28.6; Memorandum, William Yates, Assoc. Dir., of Operations, U.S. Citizenship
& Immigr. Servs., Lifting of Numerical Cap on Mexican NAFTA Nonimmigrant Professionals (“TN”) and
Free Trade Agreements with Chile and Singapore, Jan. 8, 2004, available at
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 93
2. Labor Markets or Economic Integration Agreements Exemptions
The United States would most likely submit that the Chile and Singapore FTAs
fall under the labor markets and/or economic integration exemptions of GATS. An
initial question is whether each FTA is an FCN or BIT masquerading as an FTA and
gaining exemption here, rather than under the MFN exemption.278 Since the FTAs
provide for treaty status,279 they must be FCNs or BITs. However, in each FTA, they
specifically claim that they are exempted from the GATS as economic integration
agreements not MFN exemptions.280 One reason why the USTR may have included
this language in each FTA is that the MFN exemptions are slated for expiration but
the exemption for economic integration agreements is not. Therefore, the FTAs
may be considered hybrid agreements, combining aspects of FCNs, BITs, and
economic integration agreements and must be assessed under MFN as such.
i. Labor Markets Integration Agreement
The FTA provisions cannot be exempted under the GATS labor markets
integration provision. In order to qualify, the FTA must provide for “full integration
of the labour markets between or among the parties to such an agreement,”281
meaning that the FTA must “exempt citizens of parties to the agreement from
requirements concerning residency and work permits,”282 and “provide citizens of the
parties concerned with a right of free entry to the employment markets of the
parties.”283 The FTAs principally extend nonimmigrant categories to Chilean284 and
Singaporean285 nationals, granting limited nonimmigrant employment authorization
but do not “provide for open borders or freedom of movement of individuals.”286
The privilege of entry to and residence in the United States continues to be
controlled by the usual United States immigration policy, a far cry from the EU
freedom of movement. Since the FTAs do not provide Chilean or Singaporean
nationals with the right of free entry to the employment market of the United States,
they cannot be considered a labor market integration agreement.
278. See GATS, supra note 2, U.S.–MFN Exempts, U.S.–MFN Exempts Suppl.1, U.S.–MFN Exempts
Suppl.2, U.S.–MFN Exempts Suppl.3.
279. U.S.-Chile FTA Act § 401 (providing for treaty traders and investors) (implementing U.S.-Chile
FTA, Ch. 14 and Annex 14.3, § B); U.S.-Sing. FTA Act, supra note 269, § 401 (providing for treaty traders
and investors) (implementing U.S.-Sing. FTA Ch. 11, Annex 11A, § II).
280. See U.S.-Chile FTA, supra note 268, at ch. 1, art. 1.1 (stating treaty in compliance with GATS,
art. V); U.S.-Sing. FTA, supra note 269, Ch. 1, art 1.1(1) (stating treaty in compliance with GATS, art. V).
281. GATS, supra note 2, art. V bis (footnote omitted).
283. Id. art. V bis n.2.
284. See U.S.-Chile FTA Act § 402 (implementing U.S.-Chile FTA, supra note 268, ann. 14.3, § D)
(providing for professionals).
285. See U.S.-Sing. FTA Act, supra note 269, § 402 (implementing U.S.-Sing. FTA, supra note 269,
ann. 11A, § IV) (providing for professionals).
286. Wasem, supra note 273, at 6.
94 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
ii. Economic Integration Agreement
Considering that the exemptions are not mutually exclusive, the FTAs do not
alternatively qualify as an economic integration exemption. In order to qualify, the
agreement must provide for the elimination of substantially all discrimination.287
Although the FTA may claim that it is in compliance, compliance is not judged by
the parties but by the DSB. The FTAs do not provide for the elimination of
substantially all discrimination regarding the treatment of service suppliers since
foreign service suppliers must still qualify for nonimmigrant classifications and yet
native service suppliers do not. Thus, the measure is discriminatory and cannot be
an economic integration agreement.
3. Scheduled MFN Exemption
While it could be argued that these FTAs fall under the existing MFN
exemption for FCNs and BITs,288 the plain language of the exemption does not cover
them because the FTAs are not FCNs or BITs. The parties have specifically stated
that the FTAs are exempt as economic integration agreements, not MFN
exemptions.289 The United States was free to exempt FTAs when it filed its MFN
exemptions, just as the parties to the Uruguay Round clearly exempted FTAs from
the GATT, but it chose not to. Further, the United States did not extend H-1B1
classification to Chilean and Singaporean nationals by ratifying treaties, but by
enacting domestic legislation that references the diplomatic negotiations. In order to
make even a colorable claim to the MFN exemption, the United States would need
to prove that not only is this legislation an FCN or BIT, but also that its separate
claim in the FTAs for exemption as an economic integration agreement is
The MFN exemption also only covers treaty trader and investors, not specialty
occupations or professionals. In order for the United States to grant preferential
treatment under the MFN exemption, the United States must issue a treaty trader or
treaty investor visa. The United States can only make the argument that it has no
obligation under MFN to extend FTA treatment if the United States limited treaty
trader or treaty investor status to aliens who also, alternatively, qualified as specialty
occupation and professionals. When the United States entered the MFN exemption,
it included “executive and other personnel categories engaged solely to carry on
substantial trade” or investment,290 so the grant of trader or investor status to an
individual serving in a specialty occupation or profession is possible. However, this
approach would set a bad precedent because it would establish that the particular
nonimmigrant classification granted is not controlling for GATS treatment, provided
the individual could have qualified for another category that demands GATS
treatment. If the United States wishes to make GATS treatment contingent on
alternate potential classification, then the United States would need to grant aliens
287. See GATS, supra note 2, art. V.
288. See GATS, supra note 2, U.S.–MFN Exempts, U.S.–MFN Exempts Suppl.1, U.S.–MFN Exempts
Suppl.2, U.S.–MFN Exempts Suppl.3.
289. See U.S.-Chile FTA, supra note 268, pmbl., art. 1.1; U.S.-Sing. FTA, supra note 269, pmbl., art.
290. GATS, supra note 2, U.S.–MFN Exempts.
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 95
the sum total of the most liberal benefits they could potentially qualify for under
several different parallel classifications, regardless of the actual classification
Even if the United States would argue that the FTA H-1B1 provisions fall
under the MFN exemption, the exemption was supposed to, in principle, expire. Not
only might the DSB be reluctant to enforce a theoretically-expired exemption, but
the fact that the FTA entered into force only one year before the MFN exemption
was set to expire, might suggest that the United States had acted in bad faith by
actively working against the phase-out of exemptions. Also, the DSB might read the
MFN exemption narrowly to only cover trade agreements in existence at the time of
GATS entry into force, not thereafter, and thereby exclude these FTAs from the
exemption.291 Note that the provision only exempts countries “with whom the
United States has [a Treaty],” not those with whom the United States has or may
have a treaty in the future, even though the United States clearly could have
attempted to exempt potential future agreements.
Lastly, even if the DSB allowed the discriminatory FTA measures to stand, the
United States could not fully benefit from the exemption if it exceeded its terms by
granting H-1B1 status to an individual in a specialty which was not also a profession.
By granting H-1B1 status in this way, the United States would be discriminating
outside the exemption for professionals and would need to provide H-1B1 status to
all WTO nationalities who work in similar specialty occupations.
There is clearly a danger inherent in FTAs. By creating new preferential
trading regimes for certain nationalities without precedent on how the DSB will view
such agreements, the United States may be inadvertently creating more liberal
immigration obligations that must eventually be extended to all WTO members.
The United States is currently pursuing other bilateral FTAs292 and after the success
of the Singaporean and Chilean FTAs, may be inclined to include immigration
provisions in some or all of those new agreements despite Congressional
opposition.293 In so doing, the United States may be sowing the seeds of immigration
liberalization when the MFN exemption is eventually eliminated.
C. E-1 or E-2, Treaty Trader or Investor
One of the most significant nonimmigrant categories in terms of a MFN
discussion is the E.294 This category is extended for the promotion of international
291. See Council Mode 4 Note, supra note 62, para. 49 (criticizing practice that “several exemptions
mention as beneficiaries all countries with whom the Member concerned maintains, or may conclude in
future, agreements of a certain type. (It is difficult to provide count of such cases as the terms used are not
always sufficiently clear.)”).
292. See United States Trade Representative, Trade Agreements, supra note 226; Cooper, supra note
116, at 7.
293. See Jessica Vaughan, Be Our Guest: Trade Agreements and Visas, CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION
STUDIES: BACKGROUNDER, Dec. 2003, at 12, available at http://www.cis.org/articles/2003/back1803.pdf
(stating that the FTA of the Americas negotiations are based on the text of the U.S.-Chile FTA, including
294. See generally Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(15)(E), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(E) (2006);
8 C.F.R. § 214.2(e) (2006).
96 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
trade and investment pursuant to individual treaties with select countries.295 If the
purpose of the admission is pursuant to trade, then the alien’s classification is E-1; if
investment, then the classification is E-2.296
1. Qualifying Treaty
Not all employees and companies can qualify for E, since one of the principal
criteria is nationality.297 In order to qualify, the alien and employer must both have
the nationality of a nation with whom the United States has an FCN, BIT, or the
equivalent.298 Although the United States has concluded a treaty with most members
of the WTO, there are some notable exceptions, such as South Korea, Brazil, India,
and Cuba.299 Thus, this classification is potentially discriminatory, although it has
withstood challenges under United States discriminatory workplace legislation.300
Having survived scrutiny under United States law, the next question is if it complies
with MFN Treatment.
Since E classification is a creature of treaty, the terms of the treaty control.301
USDOS, not USCIS, retains primary jurisdiction in the exercise of its foreign
relations functions.302 Some nationals may qualify as either traders or investors,
some may only qualify for one or the other, and some may have additional
requirements based on the unique treaty terms.303 Also, treaties may from time to
time be rendered inoperable, for example, the treaty with Iran304 which is currently
blocked by Executive Order.305
295. Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(15)(E), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(E).
296. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(e)
297. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.51. Exh.1 (listing the nations with whom the United States
has an FCN Treaty, a BIT, or to whom the United States otherwise extends like treatment).
298. See id. § 41.51 Note 3. (including coverage for BITs that provide for the status).
299. See id. § 41.51 Exh.1.
300. Compare Sumitomo Shoji Am., Inc. v. Avagliano, 457 U.S. 176 (1982) (holding that a New York
corporation, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of a Japanese company, is not covered by the Friendship,
Commerce and Navigation Treaty between the United States and Japan since an American company is not
a company of Japan) with Fortino v. Quasar Co., 950 F.2d 389 (7th Cir. 1991) (distinguishing Sumitomo
and holding that discrimination based on Japanese citizenship was not actionable under United States
employment discrimination laws when authorized by treaty).
301. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.51.
302. See Memorandum of Understanding Between the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security
Concerning the Implementation of Section 428 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, at § 3(a)(1)(b)
(Sept. 29, 2003); see also Notice of Report to Congress on the Memorandum of Understanding, 68 Fed.
Reg. 56,517 (Sept. 30, 2003); Chang, supra note 170, at 186.
303. See, e.g., General Convention of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation, U.S.-Den., art. 6, Apr.
26, 1826, 8 Stat. 340 (not applicable to Danish nationals resident in Greenland, Faeroe Is., and Iceland);
Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation, U.S.-Den., art. II, Oct. 1, 1951, 12 U.S.T. 908 (applicable
to all Danish territories except Greenland); Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Consular Rights, U.S.-
Nor., art. 1, opened for signature June 5, 1928, 47 Stat. 2135 (entered into force Sept. 13, 1932) (inapplicable
to the Svalbard islands) [hereinafter collectively U.S.-Nor. FCN] (abrogating all but Article 1 regarding
treaty traders and investors of the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation, U.S.-Nor., July 4, 1827, 8 Stat.
346); Convention to Regulate Commerce, U.S.-U.K., art. I, July 3, 1815, 8 Stat. 228 [hereinafter U.S.-U.K.
FCN] (requiring the individual to reside in British territory in Europe in order to qualify); 22 C.F.R. §
41.51(a)(14) (2006) (prohibiting use of the category under NAFTA during a strike or lockout).
304. See Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights, U.S.-Iran, Aug. 15, 1955, 8
305. See, e.g., Exec. Order No. 12,957, 60 Fed. Reg. 14,615 (Mar. 15, 1995); Exec. Order No. 12,959, 60
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 97
To further complicate matters, the treaties take a variety of forms. Some of the
treaties are classic FCN treaties,306 some are BITs,307 and some contain aspects of
either or both. For the purposes of this Article, we will assume that all of these
agreements would be considered FCNs or BITs by the DSB within the meaning
established under the GATS; however, the DSB may, in the spirit of reading the
MFN exemptions as narrow treaty reservations, find that a treaty of “Amity,
Economic Relations, and Consular Rights” or “Establishment and Sojourn” does
not qualify as an FCN under the MFN exemption.
In addition to the myriad of FCNs, BITs, and arguably similar agreements,
trader or investor classification is extended to Canadian,308 Mexican,309 Singaporean,310
Chilean,311 and Jordanian312 nationals under the respective FTAs. Again, it is not
entirely clear that FTAs are properly classified as FCNs or BITs since they were not
enacted as treaties. The argument that a “Convention of Friendship, Commerce and
Extradition” is, in actuality, an FCN, is far more reasonable than the argument that
domestic legislation is an FCN, if for no other reason than the former is at least a
A unique situation is that of the Philippines where E status is available based
on only the exchange of diplomatic notes pursuant to the Trade Agreement with the
Philippines implementing certain provisions of the Act of June 18, 1954, even though
there were no trader or investor terms in the Treaty.313 As opposed to the FTAs
which actually include trader and investor terms, it seems even more difficult in this
case to comprehend how a diplomatic understanding neither ratified nor enacted in
domestic legislation could fall under the exemption.
Fed. Reg. 24,757 (May 9, 1995); Exec. Order No. 13,059, 62 Fed. Reg. 44,531 (Aug. 19, 1997).
306. The FCNs often take a variety of names and cover slightly varying subject matters. See Treaties
of Amity and Economic Relations (Ethiopia, Thailand, and Togo); Amity, Economic Relations, and
Consular Rights (Iran and Oman); Establishment and Sojourn (Turkey); Friendship and Commerce
(Pakistan); Friendship, Commerce, and Consular Rights (Austria, Estonia, Finland, Honduras, Latvia, and
Norway); Friendship, Establishment and Navigation (Belgium and Luxembourg); Friendship and General
Relations (Spain); Peace, Amity, Navigation, and Commerce (Colombia); Peace, Friendship, Commerce,
and Navigation (Bolivia and Brunei); and the Conventions of Establishment (France); Friendship,
Reciprocal Establishments, Commerce and Extradition (Switzerland); and Regulate Commerce (United
307. Similarly note that the BITs often take a variety of names, although not to the same degree of
variety as the FCNs. See, for example, Treaties Concerning: Business and Economic Relations (Pol.);
Encouragement and Reciprocal Protection of Investment (Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Ecuador,
Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Trinidad & Tobago, and Ukraine);
Reciprocal Encouragement and Protection of Investment (Argentinia, Armenia, Bangladesh, Cameroon,
Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo, Czech Republic and Slovakia, Egypt, Grenada, Jamaica,
Kazakhstan, Romania, Senegal, Tunisia, and Turkey); Reciprocal Protection of Investment (Albania);
Treatment and Protection of Investments (Panama); and Treaty for the Encouragement and Reciprocal
Protection of Investment (Lithuania).
308. See North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act § 341.
309. See id.
310. See U.S.-Sing. FTA Act, supra note 269, § 401 (implementing U.S.-Sing. FTA, supra note 269,
art. 11.4, ann. 11A, § II).
311. See U.S.-Chile FTA Act, supra note 268, § 401 (implementing U.S.-Chile FTA, supra note 268,
art. 14.1, ann. 14.3, § B).
312. See U.S.-Jordan FTA, supra note 232, art. 10, paras. 1, 2.
313. See Agreement Effected by Exchange of Notes, U.S.-Phil., Sept. 6, 1955, 6 U.S.T. 3030
[hereinafter U.S.-Phil. FCN Equivalent].
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In addition, some nationals are eligible to receive E classification even though
the United States has not concluded a treaty or diplomatic exchange with the nation
or enacted any treaty-based domestic legislation because the state succeeded to a
treaty upon secession from a treaty state or because United States legislation
provides for the treaty treatment without a negotiated agreement. Nationals of the
successor states to the former Yugoslavia qualify based on the prior state’s Treaty of
Commerce,314 nationals of the Czech and Slovak Republics qualify based on the BIT
with Czechoslovakia,315 and nationals of Suriname qualify based on the treaty with
the Netherlands.316 The Immigration Act of 1990 also extended E status to certain
countries meeting statutory conditions.317 Although the countries were not
mentioned by name, subsequent administrative determinations found Australia and
Sweden qualified.318 The United States is currently considering another extension of
E status to Danes.319 On May 2, 2001, the United States and Denmark signed a
protocol to the existing FCN320 providing for E-2 eligibility; however, the House of
Representatives objected to the protocol, arguing that even though the extension of
E eligibility has almost always been accomplished through treaties, in light of the
Chilean and Singaporean FTAs, it should only be extended in the future through the
legislative process.321 Accordingly, the House Judiciary Committee has proposed
legislation to extend E-2 eligibility to Danes.322
2. Scheduled MFN Exemption
This nonimmigrant category is clearly the category for which the MFN
exemption was entered. As a preliminary matter, the very fact that the United
States has listed this category as needing an exemption from MFN implies that the
United States believes that the discriminatory E category inherently violates MFN.
If the MFN exemption was to fail for any reason, then the category would not be
314. See Treaty of Commerce, art. I, U.S.-Serb., Oct. 14, 1881, 22 Stat. 963.
315. See Treaty Concerning the Reciprocal Encouragement and Protection of Investment, U.S.-Czech
& Slovak Fed. Rep., Oct. 22, 1991, S. TREATY DOC. NO. 102-31 (1992).
316. See Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation, U.S.-Neth., art. II, Mar. 27, 1956, 8 U.S.T.
317. See Immigration Act of 1990, §204(b), Pub. L. No. 101-649, 104 Stat. 4978 (1990).
318. See id. (providing for treaty trader and investor status for nationals of “[t]he largest foreign state
in each region . . . which . . . has 1 or more dependent areas . . . and . . . does not have a treaty of commerce
and navigation with the United States [or] [t]he foreign state which . . . was identified as an adversely
affected foreign state . . . and . . . does not have a treaty of commerce and navigation with the United
States, but . . . had such a treaty with the United States before 1925.); Australians Can Receive E Visas,
State Dept. Says, 69 INTERPRETER RELEASES 7, 7-8 (1992) (Section 204 of the Immigration Act of 1990
may be interpreted to extend treaty treatment to Australians); State Dept. Allows Treaty Trader and
Investor Visas for Swedes, 69 INTERPRETER RELEASES 302, 303 (1992) (including excerpts of State
Department Cable (no. 92-State-063364) (1992), which states that E visas can be issued to qualifying
319. H.R. 3647, 109th Cong. (2005); H.R. REP. NO. 109-251 (2005).
320. See Protocol to Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation with Denmark, May 2, 2001, S.
TREATY DOC. NO. 108-8 (2003).
321. See F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, JR., UNITED STATES-CHILE FREE TRADE AGREEMENT
IMPLEMENTATION ACT, H.R. REP. NO. 108-224, pt. 2, at 46-47 (2003), as reprinted 2003 U.S.C.C.A.N.
1050 (including letter from The Honorable F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., Chairman, House Judiciary
Committee & John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Member, House Judiciary Committee to The Honorable Robert
B. Zoelick, United States Trade Representative (July 10, 2003)).
322. See H.R. DOC. NO. 109-251 (2005).
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 99
protected, and the United States would have to extend treaty treatment to all WTO
members, including Cuba.323
We will also assume that the DSB will recognize the exemption even though
not all of the partners to those treaties have entered reciprocal MFN exemptions.
i. Applicability of the Exemption
By the exemption’s terms, if any of the different treaties described above (at
least the portion of the treaty that confers the E benefits) could not be characterized
as an FCN or BIT then treatment would fall outside of the exemption. There are, of
course, several examples of extending trader or investor eligibility through
alternatives to the treaty process, and these may be more prevalent in the future.324
Since the GATS must be read using the usual meaning of words, and the definition
of treaty does not usually include domestic legislation or non-ratified agreements,
the language of the GATS exemption cannot cover them. The United States
appears to have already acknowledged this fact since it listed the Immigration Act of
1990 as an MFN exemption.325 The United States would only have listed this
measure if it believed that it would not be considered an FCN or BIT. Since E
eligibility was extended to Canadians, Mexicans, Singaporeans, Chileans, and
Jordanians (and potentially Danes) by domestic law, along the same lines as the
Immigration Act of 1990, then they must be separately exempted. Unfortunately, no
further exemptions can be entered. Thus, the United States is arguably already
exceeding the terms of its exemption.
ii. Interpreting Discrepancies Between Immigration Law and the
The language of the United States MFN exemption is not identical to the
requirements for treaty trader or investor status under United States law. At times
the exemption is more restrictive than the statutory requirements, demanding
additional criteria for qualification, and at other times it is more liberal, requiring
less. Since the United States was the author of its own MFN exemption, the USTR
was free to literally transcribe the statute in its entirety as its exemption, or even
directly cite the United States statute as it did for the Immigration Act of 1990, but it
chose not to. The question of how to interpret the discrepancies arises. There are
several options. A measure that is more restrictive than the exemption, requiring
additional criteria to qualify, might still be exempted because the minimal criteria for
the exemption are included in the more numerous criteria for qualification. If an
employee qualifies, then it must be exempted because the fewer exemption criteria
323. Even if a Cuban employer and national could qualify for treaty trader or investor status as
discussed in this Article, the United States might still prohibit the admission of the foreign national on
foreign policy or other legitimate excludability grounds. See, e.g., Immigration and Nationality Act §
212(a)(3)(C), (D), 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(3)(C), (D) (2006) (excluding aliens whose admission would have
adverse foreign policy consequences or who are members of the Communist party). The question of the
degree to which GATS may govern immigration regulations that bar otherwise qualified applicants from
admission will be saved for another day.
324. See, e.g., H.R. DOC. NO. 109-251 (extending eligibility to nationals of Denmark).
325. GATS, supra note 2, U.S.–MFN Exempts.
100 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
have certainly been met. However, if the employee qualifies for all of the criteria in
the exemption, which would excuse the discriminatory treatment, the individual
would still not qualify for the classification. If a national cannot even qualify for the
classification under the criteria in the exemption, then the discriminatory
classification based on criteria not in the exemption cannot be excused. The other
discrepancy, if the measure is less restrictive than the exemption, requiring fewer
criteria to qualify, also has potentially competing interpretations. Since the
classification could be granted without satisfying all of the criteria of the exemption,
then the classification would not fulfill the exemption’s terms and would not be
excused. On the other hand, the exemption is the maximum criteria that may be
imposed while still being exempted from MFN. Any criteria that are less do not
exceed the exemption and provide for allowable discrimination. However, because
the exemption functions similarly to a treaty reservation, the DSB may be inclined to
read it very narrowly, and find that any deviation, whether more or less restrictive, is
not in compliance with the exemption, thus defeating the exemption in its entirety.
iii. Grant, Extension, and Change of Status
The language of the exemption specifically excuses “[g]overnment issuance
of . . . visas that extend a special visa category.”326 Again we find the recurring
problem of the meaning of the term “visa.” Note that this term, however, must be
read even more literally in this instance than discussed previously because this
provision was authored by the USTR itself, referring to United States immigration
Reading the exemption literally and narrowly as a treaty reservation, the only
acceptable measures would be for issuance of visa documents by the USDOS, not
grants of status by USCBP or USCIS. Because USDOS retains primary jurisdiction
over treaty traders and investors, applications for classification may be filed at an
Embassy or Consulate as an amendment to a visa application, without the need for
prior approval from USCIS.327 When the alien travels to the United States, USCBP
may grant the alien E status based on the alien’s visa document.328 Once in the
United States, extension of the alien’s E status is subject to the jurisdiction of
USCIS. If the alien were to leave the United States, and the visa had expired in the
meantime, he would need to apply for another visa before returning to the United
States, and the embassy or consulate would again exert jurisdiction. However, as
long as the alien remained in the United States, a request to extend status is judged
solely by USCIS and a visa application is not necessary.329 Similarly, if an alien was
admitted to the United States in another status, for example, H-1B, the alien might
326. GATS, supra note 2, U.S.–MFN Exempts (emphasis added).
327. Chang, supra note 170, at 202; see also U.S. Dep’t of State, Form DS-156E, Nonimmigrant Treaty
Trader/Investor Application, available at http://foia.state.gov/FORMS/visa/ds0156e.pdf (Dec. 7, 2006).
328. See Immigration and Nationality Act § 221(a), 8 U.S.C. § 1201(a) (2006); 22 C.F.R. § 41.111(a)
(2006) (discussing consular officer’s authority to issue visas); Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.112 Note
329. See U.S. Citizenship & Immigr. Servs., Dep’t of Homeland Sec., Form I-129, Petition for a
Nonimmigrant Worker, available at http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis (follow “Immigration Forms”
hyperlink; then follow “Petition for a Nonimmigrant” link) (Dec. 7, 2006); U.S. Citizenship & Immigr.
Servs., Dep’t of Homeland Sec., E Classification Supplement Form to I-129, available at
http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis (follow “Immigration Forms” hyperlink; then follow “Petition for a
Nonimmigrant” link) (Dec. 7, 2006); Chang, supra note 170, at 202.
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 101
later seek a change of status to E, without leaving the U.S. if alternatively qualifying
for that status, where USCIS would also have sole jurisdiction.330 A new visa would
not be required for either a change or extension of status, though it would be
required if the alien chose to travel outside of the United States. Moreover, the visa
by no means compels USCBP to grant the related status at the port of entry. The
exemption, by its express terms, only covers USDOS issuance of visa documents, not
the admission, extension, or change of status by USCBP or USCIS, so these
functions cannot be exempted from MFN.
iv. Expiration and Justification of the Exemption
Notwithstanding all of the above, the exemption itself has theoretically expired;
therefore, it is doubtful that the United States could rely on it in a DSB dispute.
Even if the expiration was not self-executing, the DSB could enforce the ten-year
principle, refer the question to the Council, or review the exemption to determine if
it is still justified. If referred to the Council or reviewed by the DSB, the justification
that the United States offered does not seem to necessitate the MFN exemption.
The United States justified the exemption on the grounds that it needed to
continue “[t]o facilitate trade under FCNs and BITs.”331 Interestingly, in making its
justification, the United States did not refer to the Immigration Act of 1990,
NAFTA, or any of the other vehicles that also grant equivalent treatment. Even if
the exemption was justified, the treaty equivalents might not be upheld by the DSB
since they were never justified. The same logic might also apply to any treaty not
specifically an FCN or BIT or to agreements entered into after the entry into force
In any event, the precise language of the justification is irrelevant, since the
justification could still be satisfied if the exemption was held invalid. If the
exemption was terminated and the United States extended the category to all WTO
members, the nations to whom the privilege of receiving E status had already been
extended would continue to receive it without interruption, the treaties would not be
violated, and the justification would be satisfied. There would merely be more
countries that qualified for E status than before, just as already happens each time a
new qualifying FCN or BIT enters into force.
3. Employer and Employer’s Activities
In order to qualify, the employer must first have the nationality of the nation
with whom the United States has the treaty.332 In many cases, the employer is a
United States corporation, so in order for it to qualify, its ownership must be traced
to at least fifty percent by natural persons or other juridical persons with the
nationality.333 If a juridical person, then its ownership must be traced to natural
persons with the nationality. The country of incorporation does not establish
330. See Chang, supra note 170, at 202.
331. GATS, supra note 2, U.S.–MFN Exempts.
332. Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.51 Note 2.
333. See id. § 41.51 Notes 2, 3.1.
102 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
nationality,334 although if the stock is sold exclusively on a country’s stock exchange,
nationality may be presumed.335
Second, the employer must be engaged in either trade or investment,
depending on which of the two categories—or both—are provided in the treaty. If
the basis is trade, then the employer must engage in substantial336 trade337 principally
between the United States and the treaty country.338 If the basis is investment, then
the employer must have an active339 and substantial340 United States investment341 that
it will “develop and direct.”342
If the investment is pursuant to a BIT, the investing employer need not
necessarily be “developing and directing” the investment, but may instead employ
home country nationals that are “establishing, developing, administering or
advising” the entity in which the employer has invested.343 Despite this different
requirement, the USDOS has elected to interpret the BIT standard as identical to
the FCN standard;344 however, there is no guarantee that the DSB will agree that this
is the correct interpretation since it contrasts with the precise language of the BITs.
The USTR only exempted “develop and direct”345 from MFN Treatment, so if the
DSB found that employers could hypothetically “establish, administer, or advise,”
then the United States may be harboring a potential discriminatory standard that
was never exempted.
In addition, Mexicans and Canadians may not be accorded E classification
under NAFTA when there is a strike at the place of employment in the particular
occupation and the employee may adversely affect the settlement.346 How these
additional criteria for qualification for these two nationalities would be addressed by
the DSB will depend on the interpretation of qualification criteria that is more
restrictive than the exemption, as discussed above. In the spirit of reading treaty
reservations narrowly, the DSB could find that establishing additional criteria for
certain nationalities results in a non-exempted application.
334. See id. § 41.51 Note 3.2.
335. See id.
336. See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(e)(10) (2006); Visas, F.A.M. supra note 17, § 41.51 Notes 1.1, 6.
337. See generally Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(15)(E)(i), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(E)(i)
338. See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(e)(11); Visas, F.A.M. supra note 17, § 41.51 Notes1.1, 4.3, 6, 7.
339. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.51 Note 9.
340. See Immigration and Nationality Act §§ 101(a)(15)(E)(ii), (a)(45), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(E)(ii),
(a)(45); Visas, F.A.M. supra note 17, § 41.51 Notes 1.2(5), 10. The investment must also not be marginal.
See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(e)(15); 22 C.F.R. § 41.51(b)(10); Visas, F.A.M. supra note 17, § 41.51 Notes 1.2(6), 11.
341. See 22 C.F.R. § 41.51(b)(1).
342. See Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(15)(E)(ii), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(E)(ii); Visas,
F.A.M. supra note 17, § 41.51 Notes 1.2(7), 12.1.
343. Citizens of Eight Countries to Gain E-2 Investor Status Under New Treaties, 70 INTEPRETER
RELEASES 1632, 1634 (1993) [hereinafter Citizens of Eight Countries] (discussing the 2004 Model BIT, art.
II) (internal quotations omitted).
344. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.51 Notes 1.2(7), 12.1-12.4 (stating a “develop and direct”
345. See id. § 41.51 Notes 12.1-12.4.
346. See 22 C.F.R. § 41.51(a)(14).
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 103
i. Trade Under the Exemption
The exemption for trade only permits discrimination in favor of “nationals of
treaty partners” who “carry on . . . substantial trade . . . principally between the US
and the foreign state of which a natural person is a national.”347 The problem is that
the MFN exemption does not say anything about the nationality of the employer for
trade purposes; it only requires the appropriate nationality of the employee.
Accordingly, the exemption is less restrictive than United States law since it does not
fully cover the classification criteria. If the United States granted E status only when
the company also had the same treaty nationality as the alien, then it would be
applying a measure that was not covered by the MFN exemption.
ii. Investment Under the Exemption
For investment, the exemption only applies to cases where a natural person has
invested.348 Since the GATS is very explicit about the differences between natural
and juridical persons,349 this exemption suggests that investments by juridical persons
are not covered by the exemption. In many E cases, it is a foreign company that has
invested in a United States entity. United States law qualifies investments made by
juridical persons as long as those investments can be traced to qualifying natural
persons.350 By the literal reading of the exemption, it is more restrictive than the
measure since it imposes an additional criterion, saying nothing about tracing
investment through one or more degrees of ownership.
The exemption is also unclear when it refers to “a” natural person. We could
presume that the USTR intended this statement to mean “a national of the same
treaty country,” or we could presume that the USTR meant “any” natural person of
any nationality. A literal reading suggests that any natural person is the more likely
interpretation based on the usual meaning of the indefinite article. Thus the
exemption is less restrictive that the measure since the investment need not be made
specifically by a national of a treaty partner; it must only be made by a natural
person of any nationality.
4. Executive, Supervisory, or Essential Skills Position
In order to qualify, the employer also must offer the alien an executive or
supervisory position,351 or a position requiring skills essential to the operation.352 The
employer is not required to show that there are no United States workers that can
347. GATS, supra note 2, U.S.–MFN Exempts.
349. GATS, supra note 2, art. XXVIII(k), (l).
350. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.51 Note 8.1-1 (“The alien must demonstrate possession and
control of the capital assets, including funds invested.”).
351. See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(e)(17); 22 C.F.R. § 41.51(b)(12); Visas, F.A.M. supra note 17, § 41.51 Notes
352. See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(e)(18); 22 C.F.R. § 41.51((b)(13); Visas, F.A.M. supra note 17, § 41.51 Note
104 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
perform the job, but such a showing may be informative in adjudicating
essentiality.353 Neither licensure nor a bachelor’s degree is required.
The difference here between FCNs and BITs is that, in cases of BITs, nationals
are not limited to executive, supervisory, and essential skills positions but may serve
in “professional, technical and managerial [occupations]” involved in “establishing,
developing, administering or advising on the operation.”354 The USDOS initially
stated that the treaty covered positions “requiring special expertise or skills,”355 not
necessarily essential skills, but in actual adjudication, the USDOS now applies an
identical essential skills standard to either FCN or BIT-based applications.356 If the
DSB were to find that the correct standard does not demand essential skills, the
DSB might determine that, again, the United States has a formally different
standard that it could apply to certain nationalities, which was not exempted.
The essential skills option may be discriminatory among nations on a de facto
basis. Due to a country’s level of development, a claim of essentiality of skills may
be disproportionately more difficult to sustain from certain countries. Many
countries, for example, Germany, dedicate significant resources to technical training,
so that when their nationals enter the workforce they are not entry-level employees
needing training, but are already specially trained and experienced workers, often
with an apprenticeship or university-level research position in the very company in
which they are now employees. On the other hand, many countries do not provide
these kinds of resources to training, so skills that might be essential for that position
could be considered ordinary in the United States. Positions with companies from
certain countries might then be disproportionately more or less able to require
essential skills for operation.
5. Alien’s Qualifications
The employee must have the same nationality as the employer.357 Under BITs,
as opposed to FCNs, employers are supposed to have freedom to employ “personnel
of their choice, regardless of nationality,” which the USDOS initially explained was
“to provide freedom of choice with respect to positions,” not specifically limited to
home country nationals.358 Eventually, the USDOS implemented the default
interpretation identical to that applied to FCNs,359 but of course this interpretation
will not control the DSB. This language could as well be seen as a potential for non-
exempted discriminatory treatment.
353. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.51 Notes 14.3-2(c).
354. Citizens of Eight Countries, supra note 343.
356. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.51 Notes 1.1(6), 1.2(8), 14.3.
357. See id. § 41.51 Note 14.1(2). But see Treaty on Friendship, Commerce and Navigation, U.S.-
Den., supra note 303, art. XXIII (FNC does not apply to Greenland); U.S.-Nor. FCN, supra note 303, art. 1
(requiring that the Norwegian citizen not reside in the Svalbard Islands); U.S.-U.K. FCN, supra note 303,
art. I (requiring that the United Kingdom citizen also be domiciled in British territory in Europe).
358. Citizens of Eight Countries, supra note 343.
359. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.51 Notes 1.1(2), 1.2(2), 2.
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 105
6. Labor Markets or Economic Integration Agreements Exemptions
We must also consider if the classification may be alternatively exempted under
the labor markets and economic integration agreement exemptions.360 Treaty traders
and investors are already expressly exempted under the MFN exemption. If the
USTR thought that traders and investors fell under the labor markets or economic
integration agreement exemptions, then there was no need to enter an MFN
exemption, so it is unlikely that trader and investor provisions may be alternatively
considered under the labor markets and economic integration agreement
exemptions. It is interesting to note that Korea’s stated understanding is these types
of reciprocal trade agreements do not fall under the labor markets or economic
integration agreements provision since similar agreements did not fall under the
Customs Union or FTA provisions of GATT.361 Nonetheless, we will consider the
alternative exemptions for the sake of argument.
Labor markets integration agreements fully integrate their labor markets by
exempting each other’s citizens from “requirements concerning residency and work
permits”362 and “[t]ypically . . . provid[ing] [each other’s] citizens . . . with a right of
free entry to the employment markets . . . .”363 The trader and investor provisions
require nonimmigrant classification and restrict work authorization; therefore, they
cannot be labor market integration agreements. Assuming that an immigration
provision could alternately qualify for exemption under the economic integration
agreement exemption, the treaty trader provisions also do not qualify there because
economic integration agreements eliminate discriminatory measures,364 meaning that
the member will “accord . . . treatment no less favourable . . .than that it accords to
its own . . . .”365 By limiting the admission of service suppliers to certain qualifying
workers, and by imposing an employment authorization qualification requirement,
the agreements clearly discriminate between domestic labor and labor from the
treaty country, and thus do not qualify.
D. E-3, Australian National Worker in a Profession
On May 13, 2005, the President of the United States signed the Emergency
Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and
Tsunami Relief Act 2005, section 501 of which is the REAL ID Act of 2005 that,
among other provisions, creates the new E-3 nonimmigrant category only for citizens
of Australia.366 Although amending the section on E status,367 the E-3 appears to be a
360. GATS, supra note 2, art. V bis.
361. See Council, Communication from Korea, supra note 197, para. 7 (noting that the interpretation
of “GATS can benefit from the 50 years of experience in GATT history. GATT has dealt with the
relationship between MFN principle and the international agreements (which cannot qualify as Customs
Union or Free Trade Agreements), through granting waivers.”).
362. GATS, supra note 2, art. V bis.
363. Id. art. V bis n.1.
364. See id. art. V.
365. Id. art. XVII(1).
366. See Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defence, the Global War on Terror, and
Tsunami Relief Act 2005 [REAL ID Act], Pub L. No. 109-13, § 501, 119 Stat. 231, 321-22 (2005) (amending
Immigration and Nationality Act §§ 101(a)(15)(E), 214(g), 214(i)(1), 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(15)(E), 1184(g),
106 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
hybrid of the H-1B1 and E.368 The Act references the H-1B1 section and subjects the
E-3 to some of the same requirements,369 but the E-3 does not mandate the same
nonimmigrant intent as under the H-1B1.370
Although the United States might argue that the E-3 is not unlike the H-1B1,
and thus the same arguments for its compliance with the GATS apply here, there is a
key difference: the E-3 is not the result of a treaty, domestic legislation
implementing a treaty, or legislation requiring the equivalent. Uniquely, the E-3 is a
creation in United States law of a special nonimmigrant category reserved for a
particular nationality without any connection to qualifying trade or investment under
a treaty. In fact, informally, the provision is seen as measure of thanks to Australia
for assisting the United States in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.371 According to
Congressman James Sensenbrenner, the provision was intended to be part of the
FTA with Australia but was removed due to Congressional opposition, with the
pledge that Congress would work towards legislating the special category.372 The
Congressman has stated that there are no plans to extend the E-3 to other
1. E-3 Requirements
In order to be classified as an E-3, the alien, position, and employer must all
qualify.374 The alien must be an Australian national375 and must travel to the United
States to serve in a profession.376 The continued use of the term “professional”
rather than “specialty occupation” is surprising given the extension of the H-1B and
H-1B1 to specialty occupations, not only professionals. However, since the E-3
defines “professional” by reference to the H-1B1 regulations, the test is the same as
that for specialty occupations.377 In addition to serving in the occupation, the
Australian must also have the license required to practice the occupation.378 The
“professional” position and the licensure issues raise the same MFN problems
addressed above under H-1B and H-1B1. In addition to these requirements for the
367. See generally Immigration and Nationality Act §101(a)(15)(E), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(E).
368. See Gregory Siskind, The New E-3 Visa for Australians – FAQs, IMMIGRANT’S WEEKLY, May 16,
2005, http://www.ilw.com/lawyers/articles/2005,0516-siskind1.shtm; Gary Endelman, The Real Story Behind
the New E-3 Visa, IMMIGRATION DAILY, July 11, 2005 (comparing and contrasting the H-1B and E-3
visas), available at http://www.ilw.com/lawyers/articles/2005,0711-endelman.shtm.
369. See REAL ID Act § 501(c)-(d) (subjecting E-3 to requirements of Immigration and Nationality
Act §§ 212(t), 214(i)(1), 8 U.S.C. §§ 1182(t), 1184(i)(1)).
370. See Siskind, supra note 368; Endelman, supra note 368.
371. See Endelman, supra note 368.
372. See Interview with The Honorable F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., Chairman, House Judiciary
Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, in Canberra, Australia (May 31, 2005) (name of interviewer
unknown), available at http://www.americavisalaw.com/Portals/0/Sensenbrenner%20Q&A.pdf.
373. See id.
374. See REAL ID Act.
375. REAL ID Act § 501(a)(1).
376. See id. § 501(c) (amending Immigration and Nationality Act § 214(i)(1), 8 U.S.C. 1184(i)(1)).
377. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.51 Notes 16.1, 16.4.
378. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.51 Notes 16.1(c), 16.2-1(e), 16.7.
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 107
alien and position, the employer must be a United States corporation379 since it must
file labor condition attestations with USDOL.380
Although the E-3 falls under the E section of the statute, it is unclear to what
extent the E-1 and E-2 provisions affect it. As mentioned above, Australians and
Swedes uniquely receive the privilege of E-1 or E-2 status based on the Immigration
Act of 1990, not because of qualifying treaties. If conditions were to change enough
so that Australia no longer qualified for E-1 or E-2 under the Act, the E-3 might also
need to be terminated or at a minimum, the E-3 might lose those features borrowed
from the general E category, since Australians no longer qualified for them. The
irony is that if the United States were to extend the E category to all WTO members
under MFN, the E-3 would be doubly protected for Australians. That nationality
would then continue to qualify for E as long as the nation was a member of the
WTO regardless of qualifying under the Immigration Act of 1990.
2. Labor Markets and Economic Integration Agreements Exemptions
Since there is no FTA and the E-3 measure to a large degree tracks the H-1B1,
the United States would not be successful arguing that the E-3 falls under the labor
markets and economic integration exemptions. The E-3 does not exempt
Australians from nonimmigrant employment authorization requirements so it cannot
be a labor markets integration agreement. It also does not have substantial sectoral
coverage or provide for the elimination of substantially all discrimination, so it
cannot be an economic integration agreement either.
3. Scheduled MFN Exemption
In addition, the United States cannot argue that the E-3 is exempted based on
the MFN exemption. The exemption only covers FCNs, BITs, or the Immigration
Act of 1990. The provision for E-3 is none of these. The United States might argue
that the E-3 is tenuously connected with the Australian FTA, as per Sensenbrenner’s
statement, but it is doubtful that the DSB would find this one statement of vague
connection sufficient to qualify the E-3 as a treaty. In the alternative, the United
States could argue that Australia qualifies for E under the Immigration Act of 1990
and that the E-3 is included in the general MFN exemption. However, attempting to
argue that a nonimmigrant category should be excluded because a different category
from a neighboring section of the law is excluded is a rather weak argument. If the
E-3 were exempted under this argument, no authority would keep the H-1B from
also being exempted.
In addition, the MFN exemption is only for executives or other personnel
pursuant to trade or investment, not professionals without a showing of trade or
investment. As discussed above under H-1B1, if the United States wanted to argue
that it will only provide E-3 status to aliens who could alternatively qualify for E-1 or
379. See Immigration and Nationality Act § 212(t), 8 U.S.C. § 1182(t) (2006); 20 C.F.R. § 655.730
(2006) (requiring a FEIN in order to file the mandatory labor attestations).
380. See Immigration and Nationality Act § 212(t), 8 U.S.C. § 1182(t); REAL ID Act § 501(d);
Department of Labor Notice, 70 Fed. Reg. 41,430 (July 19, 2005).
108 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
E-2 status, the United States would create a precedent that it may not want to follow
for other categories. Further, the DSB may not be amenable to the creation of this
precedent. Of course, an attempt to argue the MFN exemption may be futile, in any
event, since the exemption was slated for expiration.
E. TN, North American Free Trade Agreement
The next category that will be discussed is “TN,” which is an admission
category in connection with NAFTA for specific professionals from Canada and
Mexico.381 Similar to the H-1B1, this category was created through direct
implementation in United States law, not the treaty process.382
1. Professional Position
In order to qualify, the Canadian or Mexican citizen must be entering the
United States to serve an American, Canadian, or Mexican company in one of the
professions listed in NAFTA Annex,383 and the position the person will fill must
actually require someone in that professional capacity.384
2. Alien’s Qualifications
The Canadian or Mexican citizen need not have ever worked for the employer
before but must show qualification for the position by having earned a four-year
bachelor’s degree in the field or other alternative qualification specified in NAFTA.
Only degrees granted outside the United States, Canada, and Mexico must be
evaluated, so the evaluation issue is avoided to some degree.385 Just as with the H-
1B, however, the education requirement is still an issue. In this case it may not be as
significant as under H-1B since both Canada and Mexico succeeded in having some
professional occupations recognized in NAFTA as not per se requiring a bachelor’s
degree.386 Licensure is not specifically required, but may be effectively required since
the alien must be qualified for the job and the particular state in which the alien will
work may require a license.387 This requirement again involves the licensing
problems that were discussed under H-1B. Again, the recognition of certain
professions without a bachelor’s degree and waiving the licensing requirement
381. See generally Immigration and Nationality Act § 214(e), 8 U.S.C. § 1184(e); North American
Free Trade Agreement, supra note 121, at 665-70 (Annex 1603 and Appendix 1603.D.1); 8 C.F.R. §§
214.2(b)(4), 214.6; Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.59.
382. See North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act § 341 (implementing North
American Free Trade Agreement, supra note 121, at 665-70 (Annex 1603 and Appendix 1603.D.1)).
383. See North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act § 341; North American Free
Trade Agreement, supra note 121, at 665-70 (Annex 1603 and Appendix 1603.D.1); 8 C.F.R. § 214.6(c);
Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.59.
384. See North American Free Trade Agreement, supra note 121, at 665-70 (Annex 1603 and
Appendix 1603.D.1); 8 C.F.R. § 214.6(c).
385. Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.59 Note 7.1.
386. See North American Free Trade Agreement, supra note 121, at 665-70 (Annex 1603 and
387. Id. § 41.59 Note 7.2.
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 109
appears to have been negotiated away without much concern, drawing the necessity
of those requirements in the H-1B context into question as General or Security
3. Labor Markets and Economic Integration Agreements Exemptions
The TN, just like the other classifications, cannot be exempted under the labor
markets and economic integration agreement exemptions, despite the fact that they
are derived from NAFTA. As discussed above in the Canadian–Autos DSB Panel
Report, the qualification for the agreement exemptions is not self-judging.388 The TN
does not exempt Canadians and Mexicans from residency and work permits so it
cannot be a labor markets integration agreement. Although NAFTA may
significantly eliminate some discrimination, it still restricts the kinds of service
providers that may compete against those in the United States and cannot therefore
be an economic integration agreement. The DSB may be moved to consider the
wider “process of economic integration or trade liberalization”389 between and
among the United States, Canada, and Mexico. However, just because the counties
have made certain liberalization agreements does not mean they intend to eventually
reach full economic integration. Given the DSB prior ruling, it is unlikely that this
provision of NAFTA will be exempted.
4. Scheduled MFN Exemption
Similar to the earlier discussions, the measure does not fall within the MFN
exemption. Even if NAFTA is a type of FCN or BIT, the express language of the
exemption does not cover the TN classification. First, the exemption is only for
issuance of trader or investor visas, not admission in TN status. Second, the aliens
admitted under TN are not necessarily executives or other personnel categories
engaged in trade or investment. Third, the exemption was intended to have expired.
F. L-1, Intra-Company Transferee
The next category is the L-1.390 This category is for employees of international
companies who are being transferred from an overseas office to a United States
388. Can.–Autos Panel Report, supra note 31.
389. GATS, supra note 2, art. V.
390. See generally Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(15)(L), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(L) (2006);
8 C.F.R. § 214.2(l) (2006); 22 C.F.R. § 41.54; see also Immigration and Nationality Act § 214(c)(2)(A), 8
U.S.C. § 1184(c)(2)(A).
391. See generally Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(15)(L), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(L); 8
C.F.R. § 214.2(l); 22 C.F.R. § 41.54; see also Immigration and Nationality Act § 214(c)(2)(A), 8 U.S.C. §
110 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
The employer must be a firm, corporation, or other entity, having a commonly-
owned corporate relationship between the overseas parent, branch, affiliate, or
subsidiary and the United States parent, branch, affiliate, or subsidiary.392 Just as
with the H-1B, there is no prohibition against the alien employee owning the
petitioning employer or being a majority stockholder.393
It is well-known that different countries have different corporate structures
available such as the GmbH, SA, and SpA. The EU recently created a new pan-
European entity termed the “Societas Europea” (SE) in which the corporation is,
more or less, stateless, and thus may have a significant burden in establishing
qualification.394 Other countries also often have different rules regarding
partnerships, limited liability companies, and other corporate entities. Various
forms of these country-specific entities may have a more difficult burden of proof to
qualify and thus may face disproportionate discrimination.
A second aspect of corporate formation in other countries is ownership and
control. Generally, it is sufficient to show the ownership connections and
percentages to establish the centralized control of the foreign and United States
entities. However, local legislation may demand that a certain percentage of
ownership of the corporation be local or governmental. Also, different countries
may have differing corporate control structures or potentially informal control
patterns especially in family-owned companies that may make documenting the
control of the entities more difficult on a disproportionate basis.
A third potential discriminatory basis is evidentiary. The United States
determines the types and forms of unique documentary evidence for each country to
establish the corporate existence, ownership, and control. Note that the difficulty of
procuring these documents varies from country to country, sometimes based on
legitimate reasons, and other times based on corruption or illegitimate reasons. This
issue can be even more problematic if the petition for classification is filed at a
United States Embassy or Consulate overseas where local adjudication may have a
different standard than that of USCIS, as will be discussed in more detail below.
Requiring the employers and employees to comply with local laws in order to satisfy
United States law could be considered an inherent competitive disadvantage for
nationals facing overly rigorous or poorly administered corporate regulation
infrastructures resulting in a disproportionately more difficult qualification.
392. See Johnson-Laird, Inc. v. Immigration & Naturalization Serv., 537 F. Supp. 52, 54 (D. Or. 1981);
In re Church Scientology Int'l, 19 I. & N. Dec. 593, 595-96 (B.I.A. 1988); In re Tessel, Inc., 17 I. & N. Dec.
631, 633 (B.I.A. 1981) (finding that majority stock ownership in both companies is sufficient); Visas,
F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.54 Note 7.
393. See In re Tessel, 17 I. & N. Dec. at 633; In re Aphrodite Invs. Ltd., 17 I. & N. Dec. 530, 531
(B.I.A. 1980); In re Allan Gee, Inc., 17 I. & N. Dec. 296, 297-98 (B.I.A. 1979); In re M-----, 8 I. & N. Dec.
24, 42 (B.I.A. 1958) (exclusion proceedings); Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.54 Note 7.6.
394. See generally Peter A. Le Piane, Note, Stateless Corporations: Challenges the Societas Europaea
Presents for Immigration Laws, 18 ST. JOHN'S J. LEGAL COMMENT. 311 (2003) (discussing the unique
difficulties of qualifying employees for nonimmigrant classifications when the entity is a Societas Europea
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 111
2. Executive, Managerial, or Specialized Knowledge Position
In order to qualify, the alien must fill a position that is executive, managerial, or
requires the use of specialized knowledge,395 and the alien must have been employed
for one year out of the last three years by the company abroad as a manager or
executive, or in a position requiring the use of specialized knowledge.396 Unlike the
H-1B, the L position need not pay the actual or prevailing wage.397 Neither licensure
nor a bachelor’s degree is required.
The test for specialized knowledge is especially difficult to quantify. The test
previously required that the employee have proprietary knowledge of the business
or its products, but that requirement was eliminated in 1990.398 Today, if the
knowledge is proprietary, then it will most likely be considered specialized. If it is
not proprietary, it may still be considered specialized but will require a more detailed
showing of the acquisition of specialized knowledge through training and experience
with the company. The specialized knowledge requirement may be discriminatory
among nations in a manner similar to the potentially discriminatory requirements for
essential skills workers under the treaty trader and investor categories. Both a
country’s level of development and the degree to which property and intellectual
property rights are respected may disproportionately affect a claim of specialized
knowledge, since companies from different countries may be less likely to have any
special knowledge to impart to an employee; yet the GATS may require
compensatory treatment of these inherent competitive disadvantages, lowering the
threshold for the degree of specialization. Also, just as discussed under the trader
and investor section above, countries may provide for higher level training of their
nationals in the normal course of education resulting in workers often trained and
experienced in the same company in which they are now entry-level employees.
These employees may have existing specialized, even proprietary, knowledge at
entry level. Refusing to acknowledge this specialized knowledge could violate MFN
if disproportionately fewer employees from a given nation would have
“employment” experience in the specialized knowledge, as opposed to a mandatory
education in the specialized knowledge.
3. “Blanket” L Program
If the employer transfers sufficient numbers of employees in any year, or has
large enough operations or revenue, the employer may establish a “blanket”
395. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(l)(1)(i) (2006).
396. Memorandum from James A. Puleo, Acting Executive Associate Commissioner, INS, to All
District Directors et al. (Mar. 9, 1994) [hereinafter Puleo Memo] (discussing the interpretation of
specialized knowledge); see also In re Vaillancourt, 13 I. & N. Dec. 654, 654 (B.I.A. 1970); Immigration Act
of 1990, §206(b)(2), Pub. L. No. 101-649, 104 Stat. 4978 (1990) (adding more broad definition of knowledge
that did not require proprietary knowledge, only specialized knowledge).
397. In re Tessel, 17 I. & N. Dec. at 631-32; State Department Issues Guidance on L-1 Adjudications,
supra note 251.
398. See Puleo Memo, supra note 403 (“The prior regulatory definition required that the beneficiary
possess an advanced level of expertise and proprietary knowledge not available in the United States labor
market.”); Immigration Act of 1990 § 206.
112 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
program.399 In this program, the employer and its qualifying affiliates and
subsidiaries are designated as pre-qualified for intra-corporate transfers.400 In
subsequent applications under the blanket, only the qualifications of the alien and
the position are adjudicated since the employer has already been pre-approved.401 In
fact, employers need not even file a petition with USCIS beforehand. The employee
may file the petition directly at a United States Embassy or Consulate as an
amendment to a visa application. The blanket system allows employers to transfer
personnel much more quickly than the standard petition process. Due to differences
in the volume of operations or transfers among the companies of many countries,
especially developing countries, larger companies concentrated in wealthy,
developed countries may be receiving disproportionately preferential treatment.
In order for an alien applying specialized knowledge to qualify under the
blanket, the alien must be a member of the professions.402 The first problem here is
that the blanket system establishes separate qualification regimes depending on
whether the employee is transferred under the blanket without establishing separate
nonimmigrant classifications. Requiring two sets of different criteria for the same
classification, if largely correlated to nationality, may violate MFN. Also, the
requirement of the profession raises the same questions as under the H-1B, H-1B1,
and E-3 categories discussed above. The term suggests that one of the listed
professions or an occupation requiring a specialized bachelor’s degree may qualify;
however, USDOS guidance is inconsistent, and thus adjudication is inconsistent.403
Although the statute does not specifically call for a bachelor’s degree, many posts
require the degree nonetheless. This interpretation ignores the possibility of an alien
qualifying as a professional by serving in one of the statutorily-listed professions.404
Aliens applying at a post that has adopted this interpretation necessarily receive
disproportionately discriminatory treatment. Employers oftentimes have a difficult
time proving qualification for the L because of a lack of USCIS appreciation of the
local company. In these cases, it can be a good strategic choice to apply for blanket
classification at the nearest United States post where the company’s presence and
operations may be better understood. However, such a change in strategy
necessitates that the employee be a professional and is thus foreclosed on a
disproportionate basis to nationalities that are less likely to have a bachelor’s degree.
Further, it is well-known that consulates apply less strict standards in adjudicating L
applications under blankets than USCIS, which may have MFN-violating
consequences as discussed above since only professionals may qualify, often being
from wealthy, developed nations whose companies can qualify for blankets.405 On a
related note, it is widely believed that consular officers adjudicate E applications
even less strictly than L applications under blankets.406 This practice may also have
MFN-violating consequences, as only certain nationalities can qualify for the E and,
399. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(l)(4).
400. See id.
401. See id.
402. See id. § 214.2(l)(1)(ii)(E); Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.54, Notes 8.2-3.
403. See generally Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(32), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(32) (2006); State
Department Issues Guidance on L-1 Adjudications, supra note 251 (1996 State Department Cable stating
that a specializing knowledge professional must have a bachelor’s degree related to the proposed position).
404. See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(l)(1)(ii)(E).
405. See, e.g., White & Evans, supra note 191, at 261.
406. See, e.g., id.
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 113
thus, those companies with certain nationalities who must use the L category to
transfer personnel may be subjected to more rigorous standards.
G. B-1, Business Visitors, and Admission Under the Visa Waiver Program
One of the most common types of visas issued to aliens who wish to come to the
United States temporarily for business purposes is the B-1.407 This classification does
not allow the person to be employed in the United States by a United States
employer, and only allows limited duties in connection with employment abroad.408
The fact that the alien is not being employed in the United States by a United
States employer distinguishes these categories from the others, but not significantly
for MFN considerations, since this difference does not necessarily mean that the
nationality of the employer abroad is irrelevant. If the employee is seeking
admission to the United States to provide services, in connection with the overall
provision of services by the foreign employer, then the foreign employer, despite not
being a party to the application for a visa and the employee’s admission, is realizing
the supply of its services through its employee. Denial of MFN treatment to the
alien would affect the employer’s ability to supply its services, and if that employer
had the nationality of a WTO member nation, then its nation could file a dispute at
the DSB. Thus, the MFN analysis is similar to that of the other nonimmigrant
2. Alien’s Activities
When in B-1 status, an alien may only engage in certain limited business
purposes such as attending conferences,409 consultations,410 observing the conduct of a
business,411 attending a meeting of a Board of Directors,412 negotiating contracts,413
researching investment in the United States,414 litigation,415 undertaking independent
research,416 or otherwise coming incidentally to the United States to further
407. See generally Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(15)(B), 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(B); 22
C.F.R. § 41.31 (2006); Visas, F.A.M. supra note 17, § 41.31.
408. See 8 C.F.R. § 41.31(b)(1) (“[Business] does not include local employment or labor for hire.”).
409. See Immigration and Nationality Act § 212(q), 8 U.S.C. § 1182(q); Visas, F.A.M. supra note 17,
§ 41.31 Note 8(5).
410. See Immigration and Nationality Act § 212(q); 8 U.S.C. § 1182(q); Visas, F.A.M. supra note 17, §
41.31 Note 8(3).
411. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.31 Note 10.4-2.
412. See id. § 41.31 Note 9.2.
413. See id. § 41.31 Note 8(2).
414. See id. § 41.31 Note 9.7.
415. See id. § 41.31 Note 8(4).
416. See In re Hira, 11 I. & N. Dec. 824 (B.I.A. 1966) (allowing foreign tailor to come to United States
to take measurements of his customers); Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.31 Note 8(6).
114 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
international business.417 Regardless of purpose, the alien must remain under the
direction and control of the employer abroad and not earn wages in the United
States.418 However, United States immigration law does not specify that the
objective cannot be a commingled provision of goods and services, such as sales and
sales servicing.419 The alien must show that his objective falls within the allowable
activities, but need not show anything about his education or work credentials or his
3. Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) can be considered a subcategory of the B-1.
The VWP involves the common experience of a business visitor from Western
Europe, Japan, Australia, or one of several other countries420 simply booking air
transportation and traveling to the United States without a second thought to visas
or admission categories. Upon arrival, the traveler presents his passport and is
admitted without a visa. These individuals are limited to the same purposes as listed
under the B-1 category above.
Contrary to popular belief, these individuals have not been generally exempted
from the visa requirement nor have they been exempted from the usual
requirements under United States immigration law for qualifying for a
nonimmigrant category. The United States only generally exempts Canadians from
the visa requirement421 and even then, the exemption is not absolute.422 If a non-
Canadian person wishes to travel to the United States for any other purpose not
covered by the B-1 and VWP, the visa requirement is not waived and the person
must apply for a visa.423 The only reason for this category is that there is a volume of
applicants for admission for B-1 purposes and many country’s nationals do not
generally violate the terms of their stay so that requiring visa applications would
overtax United States Embassies and Consulates without providing any significant
In granting this limited privilege to travel to the United States without a visa
document, the United States has, however, added several conditions to the stay that
are more onerous than those attached to B-1 status.425 For example, admission is
417. See Karnuth v. United States ex rel. Cook, 279 U.S. 231, 243 (1929); Mwongera v. Immigr. &
Naturalization Serv., 187 F.3d 323, 328 (3d Cir. 1999).
418. Letter from R. Michael Miller, Deputy Assistant. Comm’r. of Adjudications, U.S. Dep’t of
Justice, to Stephen E. Mander (Nov. 5, 1992), reprinted in INS Speaks on Business Activities for B Business
Visitors, 70 INTERPRETER RELEASES 239, 239-40 app. V (1993).
419. See Dobson Report, supra note 41.
420. See Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.2, Exh.II (listing nations currently participating in VWP).
421. See 22 C.F.R. § 41.2(a) (2006).
422. See 22 C.F.R. § 41.2(m) (excepting Canadian nationals classified or seeking classification under
Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(a)(15)(E)).
423. See generally 22 C.F.R. § 41.2 (listing the current limited exceptions); see also 68 Fed. Reg. 5,194,
5194-95 (Jan. 31, 2003) (codified at 22 C.F.R. § 41.2 (2006)) (terminating the visa exceptions for
Commonwealth citizens resident in Canada or Bermuda).
424. See Alison Siskin, Visa Waiver Program, 8-9 (Oct. 18, 2004) (CRS Report for Congress),
available at http://www.ilw.com/lawyers/immigdaily/news/2004,1029-VWP.pdf; Lorna Rogers Burgess,
Susan J. Cohen & Mark D. Koestler, B-1/B-2 Myths and Realities, in 2 IMMIGRATION & NATIONALITY
LAW HANDBOOK 93 (Stephanie L. Browning et al. eds., 2004-05).
425. See generally Visa Waiver Permanent Program Act, Pub. L. No. 106-396, 114 Stat. 1637 (2000);
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 115
limited to ninety days426 and extensions or changes in the terms of stay are not
In order to qualify, the alien must have a valid B-1 business purpose, nationality
from the list of “Visa Waiver” countries,427 a round-trip transportation ticket,428 and a
machine-readable passport.429 The alien will not be eligible despite otherwise
qualifying if the alien has previously violated any terms of stay.430 Therefore,
although admission under the VWP is granted for the same objectives as B-1, it has
different qualifying requirements and terms of admission, and must therefore be
considered a separate category.
There are two aspects of this category that may violate MFN: the visa
requirement and the separate category reserved for specified nationalities.
Regarding the visa requirement, by specifically citing this type of discrimination as
not constituting a violation of specific commitments,431 the Annex on Movement of
Natural Persons implies that requiring a visa for nationals of certain WTO members
and not others will be regarded as violating MFN. Thus, requiring a visa application
for some nationalities and not others is de jure discrimination. In order to comply,
the United States would need to either provide VWP admission to all WTO
nationalities without a visa or admit VWP applicants without visas in true B-1 status
subject to the usual requirements of that category, just like Canadians. However,
even if the requirement of a visa application could be excluded from MFN
consideration, the separate nonimmigrant category cannot. The United States might
need to allow certain nationalities to apply for admission under the VWP although
they might still be required to apply for a visa beforehand. If a non-VWP national
could apply for a VWP visa, it is unlikely that the person would if he could
alternatively apply for a B-1 visa with its less burdensome restrictions. However,
there is anecdotal evidence that the standard for applying for a B-1 visa is higher that
applying for admission under the VWP because of the VWP’s limited terms. If a
non-VWP national could apply for a visa under the lower standard of the VWP, then
it might be attractive.
Immigration and Nationality Act § 217, 8 U.S.C. § 1187 (2006); Attorney General’s Evaluations of the
Designations of Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Uruguay as Participants Under the Visa Waiver Program, 68
Fed. Reg. 10,954-57 (Mar. 7, 2003) (codified at 8 C.F.R. pt. 217).
426. Immigration and Nationality Act § 217(a)(1), 8 U.S.C. § 1187(a)(1).
427. See 8 C.F.R. § 217.2(a) (2006); Visas, F.A.M., supra note 17, § 41.2. This list of approved
nationalities is subject to change. See Immigration and Nationality Act § 217(c)(5)(A)(i), 8 U.S.C. §
1187(c)(5)(A)(i) (reserving the power to suspend or cancel the visa waiver for any nationality upon
USDOS review); see, e.g., Attorney General’s Evaluations of the Designations of Belgium, Italy, Portugal,
and Uruguay as Participants Under the Visa Waiver Program, 68 Fed. Reg. 10,954, 10,955 (terminating
Uruguayan nationals’ participation in the VWP).
428. Immigration and Nationality Act § 217(a)(8), 8 U.S.C. § 1187(a)(8).
429. Immigration and Nationality Act § 217(a)(3), 8 U.S.C. § 1187(a)(3); Uniting and Strengthening
America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT
Act) Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-56, § 417, 115 Stat. 272 (2001) (codified at 18 U.S.C. 1187) (establishing a
tamper-resistant passport requirement, but allowing for its waiver until Sept. 30, 2007); see, e.g., Attorney
General’s Evaluations of the Designations of Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Uruguay as Participants Under
the Visa Waiver Program, 68 Fed. Reg. 10,954, 10,955 (requiring Belgian nationals to have a machine-
readable passport after May 15, 2003).
430. See Immigration and Nationality Act § 217(a)(7), 8 U.S.C. § 1187(a)(7); 8 C.F.R. § 217.2(a)(2)
(2006) (prohibiting use of the visa waiver program if the individual violated the terms of a previous stay).
431. See GATS, supra note 2, Annex on Movement of Natural Persons n.1.
116 TEXAS INTERNATIONAL LAW JOURNAL VOL. 42:55
The United States is currently violating the MFN obligation of GATS and may
violate it further in the future. Although the members of the WTO may be
tolerating measures that pre-dated the implementation of GATS, the United States
has negotiated treaties such as the Chile and Singapore FTAs and passed legislation
such as the E-3 that post-date the GATS and violate the agreement on its face.
These treaties and legislation could be construed as bad faith acts in implementing
If these measures are violations, then the obvious question is why the other
members of the WTO have not disputed them yet. The answer may lie in politics.
The WTO is keenly aware that it is being criticized for overreaching its mandate,
even if wrongly so, and may be inclined to discourage politically sensitive disputes.
Even if a measure is a per se violation of MFN, lodging a dispute is still within the
political judgment of the members, who may always decline. The members must
balance the potential gain in immigration liberalization against the potential loss if
trade sanctions have to be imposed. The GATS and other WTO agreements are still
the subject of ongoing negotiations at the Doha Round, and members may be
reluctant to commence disputes in order to preserve their leverage in negotiations
and not jeopardize future concessions. There may in fact be a closed door
agreement on just this issue for the promise of other benefits. In addition, faced with
recent losses at the DSB, the United States still considers withdrawal from the WTO
as a serious alternative432 and members may lose even more by pushing the United
States too far. These countries could also be mindful of their own MFN violations
and be hesitant to bring the United States’ violations into the light of DSB scrutiny.
The fact that the other members of the WTO have not disputed the United States’
immigration laws does not mean that the measures do not violate MFN, only that
they have not been challenged for any number of reasons.
However, there are signs that the above political decisions are beginning to
show cracks. Although the EU quickly withdrew its dispute over the Helms-Burton
Act, other countries are now openly discussing filing disputes over aspects of United
States immigration policy. India is pressing the United States over the restrictions
on H-1Bs,433 and Canada is considering a dispute over immigration provisions
affecting healthcare workers.434 Also important is the recent report by the WTO
regarding its institutional changes that has strongly criticized the growth of non-
MFN trade agreements of just the sort the United States entered with Chile and
Singapore.435 In addition, India is pressing for a general “GATS visa,”436 and some
432. See Withdrawing the Approval of the United States from the Agreement Establishing the World
Trade Organization, H.J. Res. 27, 109th Cong. (2005).
433. See G. Ganapathy Subramaniam & M.K. Venu, India Demands 195K H-1B US Visas, ECON.
TIMES (India), June 24, 2005, available at http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/1151031.cms;
India and WTO Negotiate for More Visas, SISKIND’S IMMIGR. BULLETIN, July 7, 2005, available at
http://www.visalaw.com/05jul1/11jul105.html; Vaughan, supra note 293, at 12.
434. See Vaughan, supra note 293, at 10.
435. See Consultative Board to the Director-General, World Trade Org., The Future of the WTO:
Addressing Institutional Challenges in the New Millennium 19-27 (2004), available at
436. See Special Session of the Council of Trade in Services, Communication from India, Proposed
Liberalisation of Movement of Professionals Under General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), at
5S/CSS/W/12 (Nov. 24, 2000), available at
2006 MOST-FAVORED-NATION OBLIGATION 117
countries such as Canada437 and the United Kingdom438 have already introduced
special GATS nonimmigrant categories. A further aggravating situation is that each
year’s limited annual allotment of H-1Bs seems to be more quickly exhausted than
the previous year’s, requiring companies who miss the cut-off to be more aggressive
and creative in pursuing alternate nonimmigrant categories, such as the L and the
others described in this Article. If the United States Government begins to limit
those other categories, as has been suggested,439 a serious confrontation may arise.
The next question is whether the United States has a moral obligation under
pacta sunt servanda to comply with MFN. Under this general principle of
international law, the United States must make a good faith attempt to bring its
measures into MFN conformity. The example of the expiration of the MFN
exemption is a case in point. As there was a specific expression of intent, pursuing
additional agreements and claiming they fall under an expanded definition of the
exemption could amount to abuse of the exemption.
In sum, the USTR appears to be unaware or unappreciative of the potential of
the GATS MFN obligation to force significant changes in United States immigration
law under the threat of WTO authorized trade sanctions. Perhaps the USTR is, in a
Machiavellian sense, acutely aware but willfully ignorant of such a potential.
Regardless, the United States may be precariously positioned for an uncomfortable
surprise if many of its immigration laws that protect the domestic labor market from
international competition fall in a relatively short span of time following a dispute.
In such a case, the United States may be forced, under the terms of GATS MFN, to
truly compete internationally for the provision of services.
437. See Citizenship and Immigr. Canada, FW 1: Foreign Worker Manual 102 (2005), available at
438. See Immigr. and Nationality Directorate, Home Office, WORK PERMITS (UK): GENERAL
AGREEMENT ON TRADE IN SERVICES FOR OVERSEAS EMPLOYERS: GUIDANCE FOR EMPLOYERS 2 (2006),
available at http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/6353/11406/49552/gatsanotesnew.pdf.
439. See, e.g., Save American Jobs Through L Visa Reform Act of 2004, H.R. 4415, 108th Cong. (2d