A Detailed Guide to the Immigration Options for Investors
Here’s what we’re going to cover
Acquiring U.S. Citizenship Through Investment
There are several paths foreign nationals might take to obtain citizenship in the United States.
The most convenient of these is investing in a new commercial enterprise (NCE) that produces U.S. jobs and stimulates economic growth.
Such investments take place through the EB-5 and E-2 visa programs, which lead to the possession of U.S. resident status for investors and their dependent family members.
U.S. Investor Visa Options
Foreign nationals have the option of investing in any business of their choice.
Popular investments include those in the hotel, retail, construction, and restaurant industries, as these tend to produce abundant jobs and have a higher return on investment.
Individuals who want to relocate to the United States through an investment can either immigrate with permanent resident status or become non-immigrants with a conditional work visa.
These visas are obtained through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program or as an E-2 Treaty Investor, respectively.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is in charge of overseeing both of these programs. While only the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program leads directly to a Green Card and U.S. citizenship, E-2 applicants can choose to transition into the EB-5 program and thereafter gain citizenship.
The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program
The EB-5 Green Card program takes longer than the E-2 visa option. It also has a higher initial capital requirement, but it gives investors the ability to file for U.S. citizenship five years after becoming lawful permanent residents. An investor’s spouse and dependent children also qualify for Green Cards.
Foreign nationals in the EB-5 immigrant investor visa program can choose to make either a direct or an indirect investment. Regardless of the investment type, each investor must create at least 10 jobs.
- A direct investment is made straight into an NCE. Direct commercial enterprises typically offer greater opportunity for involvement in the day-to-day operations of the NCE, and they can only count full-time positions toward fulfilling the job creation requirement.
- Indirect investments are carried out through EB-5 regional centers—economic entities authorized by USCIS to manage EB-5 funding. Investors in these projects typically have a limited involvement in operations. In addition to standard full-time positions, they can also count indirect employment toward creating the 10 jobs.
After investing in an NCE, a foreign national will need to file Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur. Upon approval, they will receive conditional permanent resident status for two years.
Shortly before the end of this period, the investor must file Form I-829, Petition by Investor to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status, which, if approved, results in a permanent Green Card.
The exact length of the EB-5 approval process varies, but it typically takes several years.
Finding Projects Through the EB-5 Investment Program
A certain amount of reserved visas is set aside each year for targeted employment area (TEA) projects in the EB-5 investment program. TEAs are either rural or high-unemployment areas in need of economic development, and certain kinds of infrastructure also qualify for TEA status.
Twenty percent of the visas are set aside for rural TEAs; 10% for high-unemployment; and 2% for infrastructure projects. Investing in these projects can greatly accelerate the visa approval process for foreign nationals.
Moreover, it can be beneficial to invest through regional centers, which often sponsor commercial enterprises that are located in TEAs, meet the requirements for job creation, and have a balanced capital structure.
E-2 Treaty Investor Process
The E-2 visa is a suitable option for those who wish to live and work within the United States using a renewable, conditional work visa. Such foreign investors must possess citizenship in a qualifying treaty country.
The U.S. Department of State Treaty Countries include Spain, Greece, and Portugal. A foreign national may hold citizenship in said countries by birth, marriage, or through investment programs. Some of the eligible countries with faster E-2 visa systems in place are Grenada, Montenegro, Moldova, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Egypt.
The E-2 non-immigrant visa is valid for five years. Then, it becomes renewable every two years unless the investor renounces the visa or violates program rules.
Investors must be willing to leave the United States and relocate back to their home country promptly if the conditional non-immigrant visa expires.
The E-2 visa requires a much lower investment capital than the EB-5 program, with no specific minimum. The recommended minimum is around $200,000 or more, but this also varies widely between projects.
The E-2 approval process is much faster than that of the EB-5 program and can take up anywhere from a couple of weeks to about six months, depending on the efficiency of the E-2 systems in place in the country of origin. Of course, unlike the EB-5 program, the E-2 option offers only a temporary, non-immigrant visa.
Going From E-2 to EB-5 For a U.S. Green Card
It is possible to obtain a renewable visa for conditional permanent residency through both investment in an EB-5 enterprise or the E-2 investor process, but only the EB-5 immigrant visa can be used to file for U.S. citizenship. It is not possible to receive U.S. citizenship through investment in an E-2 business.
However, after obtaining a renewable visa for residency using an E-2 investment, a foreign national who then wishes to immigrate can choose to invest more money into their enterprise so that it fulfills the specific requirements of the EB-5 program.
Such a transition can only take place after a full year of successful E-2 company operation. The investor must then complete the entire EB-5 process to have their case redesignated as an EB-5 investment visa application.
Requirements For Obtaining an Investor Visa
The necessary steps for an EB-5 or E-2 visa can differ somewhat in each case. It is vital to have all the required documents ready in order to ensure a smooth process and positive outcome. We always recommend seeking the legal counsel of an experienced immigration attorney.
To obtain permanent resident status (a U.S. Green Card) through the EB-5 investment program, an investor must fulfill the following criteria.
- Forms I-526 and I-829 must be approved by USCIS.
- The chosen enterprise must produce and maintain 10 U.S. jobs for a two-year period from the time of initial investment, thereby promoting economic growth.
- The investor must show definitive proof of the legality of funds used for the investment.
- $800,000 is the minimum EB-5 investment for a TEA project; $1,050,000 is the minimum for all others.
- The foreign national must demonstrate direct or indirect participation in the management of the NCE.
The investment must remain at risk the whole time.
Choosing to obtain a Green Card through the EB-5 program may be very beneficial for those who are looking for a direct route to US citizenship by investment.
To receive a two-year renewable E-2 non-immigrant work visa, an investor must fulfill the following criteria:
- The E-2 business must operate successfully for the length of one year while producing five full-time U.S. jobs.
- The E-2 process has no investment minimum, making it attractive to those seeking full financial flexibility. However, the investor needs to be sure they have enough investment capital to ensure that the business is successful, so that it will not only meet the job requirements but return their investment at a profit.
- The investor must own more than half of the company in order to qualify.
- The investment needs to remain at risk.
- The foreign national must be a citizen of a country in a treaty agreement with the United States.
The E-2 process is known to be a relatively fast method of obtaining a U.S. work visa.
Privileges of U.S. Citizenship
As mentioned previously, EB-5 investors who have held permanent Green Cards for five years can apply for US citizenship by investment.
The benefits that come with having official U.S. citizenship, whether by birth or through the naturalization process, are numerous. They include
- The ability to vote in elections on the local, state and federal levels, as well as run for office.
- The option to obtain a U.S. passport.
- Access to federal jobs.
- Access to better healthcare and government benefits.
Responsibilities of U.S. Citizenship
There are also many responsibilities that come along with the benefits of obtaining citizenship, such as:
- The civic responsibility to vote.
- Being subject to local, state and federal tax laws.
- Possible jury service.
- Males between 18 and 25 years of age must register with Selective Services for possible military service.
The Procedure for Naturalization
Naturalization is the process by which a Green Card holder can apply for U.S. citizenship. To become naturalized, the foreign national must:
- File Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, for USCIS approval.
- Have held permanent resident status for at least five years, or have served in the U.S. military.
- Participate in an interview with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- Pass an English language and U.S. civics test.
- Submit fingerprints and demonstrate proof of a clean criminal record.
The whole naturalization process can take over six months, after which the foreign national then swears the Oath of Allegiance and fully accepts their new responsibilities as a lawful permanent resident and citizen of the United States.
Finding More Information on US Citizenship by Investment
Foreign nationals interested in obtaining US citizenship by investment should examine their options closely and be very deliberate in meeting program qualifications throughout the adjudication process.
They would benefit from seeking the advice of EB-5 consultancies, such as EB5AN.
EB5AN may be reached for more information about the EB5 process and regional center sponsorship through email at email@example.com, by phone or WhatsApp at +1(561)386-5356, or on the EB5AN website’s contact page.