Dreaming of America: The US Immigrant Investor Program

The US has long been seen as perhaps the ultimate relocation destination. Its prosperous and stable lifestyle, rich and varied culture, and world-class healthcare and education systems are just a few elements that set it apart.

But America is not known for providing an easy route for those wishing to permanently relocate. At least, that was until the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program was founded in 1990 to stimulate economic growth through foreign investment. Today, the world’s wealthy investors tread a direct path into the heart of the American Dream – a path you can unlock from only USD 500,000.

What does the US Immigrant Investor Program offer?

Primarily known as EB-5 (Employment Based 5th Preference) but sometimes referred to as E5 (Employment 5th preference), the US Immigrant Investor Program allows you to secure permanent US residency through investment – meaning you can live, work and study in the States.

Let’s review the main advantages of the EB-5 in more depth and evaluate whether this route to a green card is the right one for you.

1. Secure permanent residence in the US: The US offers two categories of visa: immigrant and non-immigrant. The many non-immigrant visas only allow temporary travel to the US for a specific purpose – athletic competition, medical treatment, business activity, and so on. They’re fantastic if you need to travel into the States short-term but don’t offer the same life-changing opportunity as an immigration visa like the EB-5.

There are fewer types of US immigration visas, and the requirements can be more difficult to meet. Unless you’re married to or related to a US citizen, or have an employer to offer sponsorship, a US green card can seem out of reach.

That’s why the EB-5 is so special, because it allows you to secure US permanent residency without meeting stringent requirements or changing your personal situation. That means you can live permanently in the US – building your new life there.

2. Your family can join you: Once you secure a US green card through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, you can apply for permanent residence for your family too. This applies to your spouse and unmarried children under 21.

When granted, this means your family can also live, work and study permanently in the US and enjoy the benefits of their US green card.

3. Unique culture of opportunity and liberty: America is undeniably one of the world’s superpowers, and residents enjoy the opportunities and freedoms this status affords. At the centre of the American belief system are the principles of opportunity, growth and self-improvement. For aspiring investors, this means a lifestyle of upward mobility and autonomy for yourself and your family. Wealth is a great facilitator in every country in the world, but this culture of freedom, innovation and progress is unique to the States. The EB-5 investor visa earns entry into that culture, so you can start defining your own American Dream.

4. Accessible program with minimal eligibility criteria: Given the huge advantages of the EB-5 investor program, you would expect the requirements to be stringent. That isn’t the case. In fact, there are minimal requirements aside from investment.

You need no language skills, no minimum education, no business experience and there are no age restrictions. The only requirement for your investment capital is that it must be legally gained, so inherited, gifted or earned wealth is acceptable. We’ll look at the precise investment criteria in depth below but investment starts from USD 500,000 – surprisingly affordable.

5. The security of world-class healthcare: Although the US faces some criticism over healthcare funding, the standard of healthcare can’t be denied. Many of the best medical professionals in the world work from the US, covering everything from orthodonistry to specialist surgery.

6. High-quality education at lower fees: Another area in which the US excels is education. According to The Times Higher Education World University Rankings, 15 of the top 20 universities in 2017 are from the US. This includes world-famous institutions such as the California Institute of Technology, Stanford, Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

Although international students are also eligible to apply for these universities, the cost of attendance can be much higher for them. Public universities specifically charge a higher international fee for international students, which can be considerably more. Private universities often don’t have separate domestic and international fees, but international students find their access to financial aid is severely limited.

This financial aid can alleviate the financial burden – Yale University estimates costs for 2017-18 attendance at over USD 70,000, for instance. Over the standard 4-year US undergraduate degree, that’s over USD 200,000 – and that’s before you start considering a masters or other postgraduate degree. Or multiple children.

The good news is that EB-5 visa holders are treated like domestic students in this regard. That means you can avoid international fees if applicable, and are eligible for the same financial aid as American citizens. The EB-5 visa can be instrumental in unlocking a better standard of education for your family, to pursue whatever they’re passionate about.

7. Possibility of full citizenship in the future: The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program isn’t only a path to permanent residency. You also have the possibility to convert that residency into full US citizenship in only five years.

When you are naturalised as a full US citizen, you then have all the same rights as any American-born citizen. This includes voting rights, full US protection abroad and a US passport which, unlocking 154 countries on visa-free or visa-on-arrival terms, is one of the most powerful and well-respected in the world. You can also pass US citizenship onto your children by descent, giving your future family the same privileges. 

How does the program work?

Considering the benefits on offer, the process to secure an EB-5 visa is remarkably painless.

To be eligible for a visa, you must invest into a new commercial enterprise. That means any commercial enterprise established after 29th November 1990, or one that has been restructured, expanded or reorganised significantly since 29th November 1990. A commercial enterprise simply means any for-profit activity that facilitates legal business such as a corporation, business trust, joint venture, or holding company.

The minimum required investment is either USD 500,000 within a high-unemployment or rural area, or USD 1,000,000 elsewhere. A high-unemployment area means a zone with 150% the national average rate for unemployment. A rural area cannot be within a metropolitan area, nor can it be on the boundary of any town larger than 20,000 people.

To secure the visa, your investment must create full-time jobs for at least ten employees. If you have invested outside a regional centre (a pre-approved investment area, essentially) then those positions must be direct. That is, a direct job contract between the new commercial enterprise and the employee. If you’ve invested inside a regional centre those positions can be direct or indirect – where jobs are created as a result of but not directly from the new commercial enterprise. For example, indirect jobs created in other companies that serve the new commercial enterprise.

Employees must meet certain criteria to count – but these aren’t stringent. A qualifying employee is anyone authorised to work in the US apart from yourself, your family or anyone holding a non-immigrant visa. These ten jobs must last at least two years and must be full-time “at least 35 hours per week” and permanent. The only exception is job sharing: if two employees job share and the total hours hit the 35-hour requirement then that can count as a single employee. So there is some flexibility in the workforce that you can create.

Minor shifts in emphasis aside, the principle here is really simple: invest into a new commercial enterprise that creates at least ten jobs, and you can secure your EB-5 visa. The only other requirements are some minor fees, a medical examination including any required vaccinations to live in the US, and a short visa interview with a US consular officer.

The US Immigrant Investor Program: Your American Dream

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program is a straightforward and mutually beneficial arrangement that drives investment into the US while offering wealthy investors a path into this prosperous land of opportunity.

The USD 3,816m foreign direct investment EB-5 generated in 2016 is testament to how many international investors take advantage of the program. Are you ready to join them to build a new life for yourself and your family?