Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Immigrant Investor Program Helps Foreign Entrepreneurs Obtain Green Cards

The U.S. government’s Immigrant Investor Program is all the rage among wealthy foreign investors who wish to obtain permanent residency visas to live and work in the United States.

The Program, which was created by Congress two decades ago in an effort to encourage economic development and job creation on the domestic front, offers wealthy overseas investors an opportunity to secure a green card by investing at least $500,000 in a domestic commercial enterprise.  A foreign investor can put either half a million dollars in a commercial project in a Targeted Employment Area (defined as a rural area or an area experiencing 150% of the national unemployment rate), or one million dollars anywhere else.  Regardless of where and how much an immigrant entrepreneur wishes to invest, the commercial investment must lead to the creation or preservation of 10 permanent full time jobs within two years. 

A conditional visa is awarded once an investor’s application has been approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (USCIS), which administers the Immigrant Investor Program.  If a foreign investor meets the requirements of the Program, he or she (and his or her family) will be granted permanent green cards.  These green cards are one of five employment-based visas available to foreign nationals.  This particular employment-based green card is often referred to as an EB-5 visa, since it is the fifth category of employment-based visas offered by the U.S. government.  After a foreign investor has had an EB-5 visa for five years, he or she (and his or her immediate family) may apply for full U.S citizenship.

In order to meet the stringent requirements of the EB-5 visa program, most foreign investors use Regional Centers to oversee the development and management of commercial enterprises in which they have placed their money and their hopes of obtaining a green card.  Regional Centers are essentially development groups led by U.S.-based managers and business professionals who oversee EB-5 projects, attract additional financing when necessary, and most importantly, make sure the projects comply with the federal government’s EB-5 program rules and regulations.  EB-5 Regional Centers identify good areas for investment, develop a business plan for EB-5 enterprises, help file the necessary paperwork with the USCIS, and present the agency with sound economic analyses that show the reasonable job-creation potential of the project.  Since the goal of the Immigrant Investor Program is to promote economic growth here at home, USCIS prefers the EB-5 Regional Center model to individual investment models because they have better track records and are more likely to lead to successful commercial projects that create jobs and infuse economically stricken communities with much-needed cash.

As one might expect, EB-5 Regional Centers have popped up all over the country, and there are dozens more in the pipeline.  The economic boom in China, India, Southeast Asia and elsewhere over the last decade, coupled with the severe recession in the United States, has made the EB-5 program a relatively affordable and attractive option for wealthy foreign entrepreneurs seeking permanent residency visas for themselves and their families.  This positive trend is expected to continue over the next few years as businesses and development firms from the United States increase their EB-5 outreach in order to secure financing for commercial projects that would otherwise not be possible from domestic sources.

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