EB-5 Visa: The Ideal Option for an International Student Interested in U.S. Permanent Residency

The United States’ top-ranked universities, including the esteemed Ivy League, make the country the world’s most sought-after destination for international students. Over a million international students come to the United States on an F-1 student visa to attend a U.S. college or university every year. Unfortunately for these students, F-1 student visa status carries many restrictions.

Foreign nationals residing in the United States on an F-1 student visa can study freely at their university but have limited rights regarding work, being typically restricted to university-sponsored employment. While some exceptions exist for programs that contain a practical component or require internships, an international student’s ability to earn money during their academic career in the United States is severely limited. This lack of work experience also hurts international students in their post-graduation job search, as many have emptier resumes than their U.S. counterparts.

The most ideal solution for international students may be the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. U.S. permanent residency offers a student several advantages before, during, and after their time at university. Green card holders have higher admission rates, can work freely during their studies, can possibly qualify for in-state tuition rates, and can stay in the United States after graduation.

How Can an International Student Make an EB-5 Investment?

In most cases, international students do not possess the required minimum EB-5 investment capital ($1,000,000 or $500,000, depending on the project’s targeted employment area (TEA) designation), but their parents might. Parents often donate EB5 investment capital to their children so they can apply under the EB-5 investment program. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) accepts funds from many types of sources as EB-5 investment capital, with gifts a commonly used and highly established one.

To make an EB5 investment using gifted funds, an EB-5 investor must present an agreement stating that the transaction is a gift and that there is no obligation for the recipient to repay the donor. The EB-5 investor must also provide documentary evidence from the donor proving that the capital originated from lawful sources. Gathering this source-of-funds documentation can prove challenging and time-consuming. For this reason, EB-5 investors are encouraged to consult an EB-5 lawyer to determine the best sources of funds to use.

How to Make an EB-5 Investment from Within the United States

Many foreign nationals make an EB5 investment from their home country. These investors must wait until they obtain their U.S. conditional permanent resident status before they can move to the United States. A smaller number of EB-5 investors who have already obtained temporary residency rights through a different visa program, however, make their EB-5 investment from within the United States.

International students on an F-1 visa fall into this second category. As long as a student was admitted to the United States lawfully, has not committed any crimes that would make them ineligible to apply for permanent residency, and is still covered by valid visa status, they may apply to apply for permanent residency under the EB-5 investment program.

Obtaining U.S. green card status before graduation is the best possible situation for international students who make an EB-5 investment. F-1 international students are severely restricted by their limited window to search for U.S. employment and apply for a work permit. U.S. green card holders, however, have increased flexibility, as they have a permanent right to residency. International students with green cards will also find the job search easier. As U.S. employers are disincentivized from hiring foreign workers, it is significantly more difficult for foreign nationals to obtain employment than it is for permanent residents or citizens.

EB-5 Processing Times

Although the EB-5 investment program has a reputation for slow processing times, an international student should be able to finish their EB-5 investment before graduation. Investors from China face additional challenges and delays. However, investors from any other country should expect to receive their U.S. conditional permanent residency status before their degree.

Moreover, although processing times for I-526 petitions—the first petition filed by an EB-5 investor—were worryingly long in FY2020, USCIS is planning to reduce its adjudication times significantly.