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Obtaining an Immigrant Visa: The First Step to Becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident in the U.S.

The first paragraph in the website of the U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs says, “Foreign citizens who want to live permanently in the United States must first obtain an immigrant visa. This is the first step to becoming a lawful permanent resident.”

Immigrating to the U.S., however, is not simple, much more the process that foreign nationals have to go through once they decide which visa program or category they want to qualify into. Though the family-based or employment-based visa categories are the programs that most immigrants apply into, there is another category wherein certain individuals may qualify, the processing time of which is much faster, and the requirements are fewer: the EB-5 visa, also known as the employment fifth preference visa.

The EB-5 Program was approved by the U.S. Congress in 1990 for the purpose of boosting the growth of the nation’s economy through capital investment and job creation by foreign investors.

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program is the easiest way for wealthy foreign nationals (and their families) to obtain a U.S. Green Card. The required amount of investment is $1 million for the creation of a new commercial enterprise and $500,000 if the investment is to be made in a Regional Center.

In accordance with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) definitions, a commercial enterprise refers to any type of “for-profit activity formed for the ongoing conduct of lawful business including, but not limited to:

  • Sole proprietorship;
  • Partnership (whether limited or general);
  • Holding company;
  • Joint venture;
  • Corporation;
  • Business trust or other entity, which may be publicly or privately owned; and,
  • A commercial enterprise consisting of a holding company and its wholly owned subsidiaries, provided that each such subsidiary is engaged in a for-profit activity formed for the ongoing conduct of a lawful business.”

An EB-5 Regional Center (RC), meanwhile, is a USCIS-designated service agent organization with the purpose of helping EB-5 investors complete a project and meet the requirements mandated under the EB-5 Program. There are 1,203 EB-5 Regional Centers all across the U.S.; this includes the 851 regional centers approved by the USCIS on August 1, 2016.

Every year, the USCIS grants 10,000 visas through the EB-5 program. For the first time since 2007, when only 700 EB-5 visas were issued by the USCIS, the annual quota of 10,000 was reached both in 2014 and 2015. More than 90% of those granted the visa were from China.

Aside from China, Russia is another country where a steady flow of those immigrating into the U.S. come from.

Russian willing to invest in the U.S. began to increase in the early 1990s, after the collapse of Communism and after. The plummeting of the Russian stock market and the Russian ruble in 2014, however, has had unfavorable effects on those planning on investing in the U.S. as it made the $500,000 EB-5 investment now cost up to about 50% more in rubles than it did just a few years ago. Fortunately, a lot of wealthy Russians who would qualify under the EB-5 program have dollar and/or Euro currency accounts outside of Russia.

Individuals pursing an EB-5, however, are often able to avoid many of the time delays and strict visa requirements that other hopeful immigrants face in their journey to the U.S.”

Furthermore, “individuals taking advantage of the Immigrant Investor Program can secure a green card and enjoy the following benefits:

  • No language, age, professional experience, or education requirements;
  • No need for direct family members in the United States;
  • No residency requirements in the U.S.;
  • No workplace requirements in the U.S.; and,
  • For individuals investing in Regional Center projects, no daily management / running of a business.”