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EB-5 visa applications rise in tough economy

For years an employment-based immigration program, known as the EB-5 visa program did not receive a large amount of interest. However, when the United States economy tanked in 2007 and 2008, investor interest in the program changed.

The EB-5 visa program provides immigrants with an opportunity to secure citizenship if they are able to invest at least $500,000 in an enterprise here in the U.S. that creates at least 10 jobs in a community with a high unemployment rate or in a rural area, through an authorized regional center.

Interest has grown in recent years in the program. For example, in 2007, before the financial collapse, only 11 regional centers in the country were authorized to offer visas through the EB-5 program. As of mid-august, that number rose sharply to 171 nationwide. After the market collapse, bank financing for projects dried up. Many business owners and developers renewed their interest in EB-5 visas as a source of capital.

The federal government created the program in 1990, hoping to attract wealthy immigrants from Hong Kong before the colony was transferred from Britain to China in 1997. A number of countries had developed programs to attract the émigrés who were looking to leave the colony before the transfer.

To compete on a worldwide scale, the United States set aside 10,000 visas annually for immigrants, their spouses and unmarried dependants under the age of 21 if they invested $1,000,000 in a business that created 10 jobs. If an EB-5 business development proves successful and have creates ten jobs in its first two year, an EB-5 visa holder can apply for permanent residency in the United States.

The program does carry some risk for the immigrant investors. An EB-5 visa is good for two years. If the project falls through or fails to create, or in some cases preserve, 10 jobs within the first two years, the immigrant may be deported. Some immigrants reportedly have obtained their green card through the program, but lost their investment when a project fell through.

Some critics of the program say it is essentially a cash-for-visa program. Proponents of the program say it is a great method to boost struggling local economies.

The rules remain strict and USCIS is overhauling its rules regarding the program. It is important to speak with a seasoned immigration attorney who is well versed with the complex EB-5 visa rules when considering EB-5 visa issues.

Source: The Bellingham Herald, "EB-5: Flashing some green for a green card," P.J. Huffstutter, Sept. 7, 2011

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