United States Investment Immigration Programs Overview
The United States has the world’s most popular residency-by-investment program. Investors who participate in the EB-5 program must pay between $500,000 and $1 million in qualified projects and create at least 10 jobs. Once those conditions are satisfied, investors can look forward to gaining permanent status, with a clearly established onward path to citizenship.
The EB-5 program has expanded dramatically in recent years, and since 2014 the program has routinely hit its annual cap of 10,000 visas. That’s led to a processing backlog that in some cases — especially involving applicants from China — 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 no pathway to permanent status, the E-2 visa can offer a faster and lower-cost way for investors to obtain a long-term US 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 US, and can pass a basic test on US history and culture.
The E-2 option doesn’t include a path to permanent status, either as a green-card holder or as a citizen.
The EB-5 program provides a visa, and a path to an unconditional green card, for anyone who invests $1 million to create 10 jobs, or $500,000 to create jobs in rural areas or areas with high unemployment. In practice, most applicants invest $500,000.
Applicants can handle their investment on an individual basis, such as by starting a company, but many prefer to apply through one of the country’s 882 designated regional centers, which pool investors’ resources to fund large-scale projects such as real-estate developments or hotels. 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, until the investor successfully earns a permanent green card. 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 redistributed to other approved projects in order to maintain their application. More than $16.6 billion in invested capital is expected to be redeployed from completed EB-5 projects to new projects by 2020.
Investors who don’t need a 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’s 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. There’s no scope for obtaining permanent status or citizenship via the E-2 route, but in some cases a temporary, renewable visa can provide tax advantages over more permanent options.
How To Apply
Applicants for the EB-5 visa must first identify a suitable project, either independently or — in most cases — through 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 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; as of October 31, 2017, the Immigrant Investor Program Office was processing applications filed in November, 2015. Applicants from certain countries can face an even longer wait due to country-by-country caps: a 2017 report from the USCIS Ombudsman announced that new Chinese investors could face a 10-year delay before receiving EB-5 immigrant visas.
A successful I-526 petition grants investors the conditional right to reside in the US, 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, which takes around six months and is typically filed shortly after receiving the conditional green card. 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.
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 174 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.