September 22, 2014

Foreign Investments

Citizenship for Sale

A visa program that lets foreigners invest their way into permanent residency is getting a new lease on life, thanks to the recession and tight credit.

Amy Keller | 7/1/2009

Louis Haddad (left) and Alfred Zucaro run one of four regional centers in Florida that allow foreigners to invest as little as $500,000 in Florida projects and earn their way toward permanent residency status. “There’s a lot of keen interest in those investors who desire green card status ... This route makes it easier,” Haddad says.
[Photo: Jeffrey Camp]

In 1990, Congress created what’s known as the EB-5 visa program, writing into law the idea that entrepreneurial foreigners could buy permanent residency status — a big step toward U.S. citizenship — by investing as little as $500,000 in a business that creates 10 or more jobs in the U.S.

How EB-5s Work

To qualify for a temporary green card under EB-5, a foreigner must first invest $1 million in a commercial enterprise or a designated regional center in the United States. (The required investment drops to $500,000 for projects in rural areas or targeted employment areas where the unemployment rate is 1.5 times the national average.) At the end of two years, the foreign investor qualifies for permanent residency if the venture creates or saves at least 10 full-time jobs. Three years after that, the investor can apply for U.S. citizenship. Unlike other employment and family-based green card categories, which may have multiyear backlogs, there is no quota backlog for the EB-5 investor category. While there’s no guarantee that investors will make money on their investment, some regional centers offer investors an exit strategy, allowing them to recoup their investment at the end of a five-year holding period during which their money was at risk.
From its inception, the EB-5 program has led a troubled life, lurching through cycles of scandal and political disfavor and attracting only limited interest from foreigners. In 2003, for example, the program, which can grant up to 10,000 visas to foreign investors, attracted only 64. In 2007, one of its best years, the EB-5 program drew around 800 overseas investors. By contrast, a similar program in Canada processed 2,700 foreign investor visas last year that brought $8 billion into that country.

Today, however, thanks to a thirst for investment capital created by the recession and tight credit, the EB-5 program may be getting a new lease on life. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the bureau within the Department of Homeland Security that conducts background checks of foreigners who want to participate, is encouraging the agency to change several of its policies and processes to “stabilize” and “energize” the program.

In addition, Citizenship and Immigration Services has approved requests from at least four Florida groups to set up “regional centers’’ for EB-5 investments — a kind of geographic franchise for collecting foreign investment and funneling it into job-creating businesses.

Tags: Banking & Finance

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