Visa Free Travel
The United States has one of the world’s most popular residency-by-investment programs. Investors who participate in the EB-5 program must investment a minimum of $900,000 or $1.8 million in qualified projects and create at least 10 jobs for qualified U.S. workers. Once those conditions are satisfied, investors can look forward to gaining permanent status, with a clearly established onward path to U.S. citizenship. Between 2008 and 2015, over $20,000,000 in foreign direct investment was transferred to the United States through EB-5, creating over 700,000 U.S. jobs, at no cost to the American taxpayer.
Since 2014, the EB-5 Program has routinely hit its annual cap of 10,000 visas. That’s unfortunately led to a processing backlog that in some cases — especially involving applicants from China and Vietnam and even India — can lead to delays before visas are issued. Another, potentially quicker, option is the E-2 program: though only available to citizens of selected countries, and offering a limited pathway to permanent status, the E-2 visa can offer a faster and lower-cost way for investors to obtain a long-term U.S. visa.
The EB-5 program doesn’t confer citizenship directly, but after five years as a green-card holder, it’s possible to apply for naturalization as a citizen. Time spent as a conditional permanent resident counts towards the five-year waiting period, and the process is relatively straightforward as long as investors speak English, have maintained a physical presence in the U.S., and can pass a basic test on U.S. history and culture.
The E-2 option doesn’t include a straight-forward path to permanent status, but can be done if properly advised prior to beginning the E-2 visa application.
Applicants for the EB-5 visa must first identify a suitable project, either independently or — in most cases — through a registered broker-dealer or in partnership with a regional center established to pool EB-5 investments to fund large-scale projects. The investment must then be transferred, often into an escrow account, whereupon the investor or their agent can file an I-526 petition to begin their formal application process. The I-526 filing can be complex, and requires both proof that the applicant’s funds were legally acquired and transferred to the EB-5 project, and a detailed description of the funded project, including a business plan showing that enough jobs are likely to be created through the EB-5 investment.
There is often a lengthy delay for I-526 processing; it is not uncommon for processing to last over two to three years.
A successful I-526 petition grants the investor the conditional right to reside in the U.S., subject to consular processing for applicants outside the US, or a successful I-485 petition for applicants already in the US on nonimmigrant visas. Consular wait-times vary considerably from country to country but can take six months of longer.
After consular processing or adjustment of status, applicants receive a conditional green card that can be converted to a permanent green card after two years via an I-829 petition. As part of the I-829 filing, investors must show they have successfully created the requisite number of jobs and sustained their investment continuously since beginning the process.
For EB-5 investors seeking citizenship, naturalization paperwork can be filed 90 days before the fifth anniversary of the issuance of their conditional green card. The citizenship application requires no further investment but does require that the investor show fluency in English and pass a simple civics exam. Once the I-829 petition is approved, the naturalization process can be finalized.
A green card doesn’t provide mobility benefits, other than the right to reside in the United States, and residents who take lengthy trips outside the US risk being deemed to have abandoned their US residency and forfeited their green card. For investors who gain citizenship, a US passport is one of the strongest in the world, providing visa-free travel to 176 countries.
For many of the world’s people, the United States remains a “shining city on a hill,” and is perceived as a bastion of personal liberty and economic opportunity. The United States is a vast country, with vibrant cities, sprawling agricultural belts, and resurgent post-industrial areas where new arrivals can find affordable homes or attractive investment opportunities. American higher education and healthcare are top notch, the economy is strong and diversified, and the country remains welcoming to investors who hope to secure their own piece of the American dream.
Updated by Joseph Barnett
The employment-based, fifth preference (EB-5) visa category allows investors (and their spouses and unmarried children under 21) to apply for lawful permanent residence (a Green Card) if they make the required investment of lawfully obtained capital in a commercial enterprise in the United States that creates or preserves 10 permanent, full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers.
The EB-5 Program is administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). USCIS has a specific office located in Washington D.C. called the Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO) which manages the EB-5 Program.
Applicants can handle their investment on an individual basis, such as by starting a company, but many prefer to apply through one of the USCIS-designated regional centers, which pool investors’ resources to fund projects such as real-estate developments. Regional centers can take care of the investor’s managerial obligations, freeing them of day-to-day involvement in the funded project. While independent EB-5 investors must create actual jobs in the business they fund, regional centers also have the advantage of being allowed to claim indirect or induced employment, in which certain expenditures and revenues are presumed to create jobs at a given rate.
Investments in the EB-5 program must be sustained for the duration of the application process and until the investor has achieved at least two years of conditional green card status. Some investors, facing long wait times while their papers are processed, see the projects they initially invested in completed before they’re able to complete their EB-5 process, and developers attempt to repay their investments. In such cases, the capital must be redeployed to other projects in order to maintain compliance with USCIS’ current EB-5 policy.
Most other visas have strict requirements that must be followed or lawful status in the United States can be lost. While there is a quota of EB-5 visas that can be issued each year, there is no lottery (like H-1B or Diversity Visa program) for selection to file an EB-5 application.
Investors who don’t need a straightforward pathway to citizenship can also consider an E-2 visa — available only to nationals of selected countries — which confers a temporary but renewable visa in exchange for a “substantial” business investment. There is no hard-and-fast rule about how much must be invested, and some investors have successfully obtained E-2 status with investments of just a few tens of thousands of dollars. E-2 applicants first apply at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad and can then remain in the United States indefinitely through “extension of status” applications with USCIS, as long as the E-2 business continues to operate. In some cases, a temporary, renewable visa can provide tax advantages over more permanent options.
Updated by Joseph Barnett
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