EB-5 visa, the best route to America

Live the American dream and move to the US, a cultural melting pot with a thriving economy, a wealth of opportunities, and one of the highest standards of living anywhere on the planet. The US has long been the preferred choice as the immigration destination for Indians. Many highly trained people have been earnestly exploring employment opportunities in the US that promise and provide career growth and rich returns.

While higher education and employment remain the two main driving forces drawing Indians to the US, admission to a top Amer­ican university or securing a highly-paid job is not adequate to have a secure, permanent tenure in the US. The problem is that study or work visas and even family sponsored visas don’t generally convert to permanent residency /green card status for at least 10 years due to the US quota-based system of approval.

Generally, when people consider the easiest way to get a “green card,” they are searching for the fastest way to gain permanent resident status in the US. While each visa progr­amme has its own rules and regulations, EB-5 visa is by far the fastest way to a US green card for those who qualify. Current processing time for EB-5 approval is only 2-5 years compared with the much longer waiting time for permanent residency under other pro­grammes. In cases where an investment is deter­mined to be of national importance the processing time can be less than a year.

The programme referred to as EB-5 is a category of permanent residency officially titled ‘employment based fifth preference’ by US citizenship and immigration services, the agency of the US government that overseas all types of immigration. The US Congress created the EB-5 programme in 1990 to stimulate the US economy through job creation and capital inv­estment by foreign inve­stors. Under the EB-5 visa programme, individuals can apply for lawful permanent residence in the US for themselves, their spouse and children below 21 years at the time of application, with a minimum investment of $500,000 (approx. Rs 3.3 crore).

These are almost always passive investments in which the individual’s money is invested in a selected commercial project, such as a hotel, medical facility and multi-use development. One requirement of the programme is that the investment must create 10 or more full-time jobs lasting at least two years for American workers. During the two-year job verification period, the investor and his family have all the same privileges of permanent residency. Once the two-year period expires and the investment/job creation has been verified, the employment creation condition is removed from the green card. The investor’s money is returned five years from the date of investment in a qualifying project.

EB-5 visa process: The process involves both the US state department (visa service) and the department of homeland security (USCIS). The main players in EB-5 approval process are the investor, the selected investment (project), the investor’s immigration attorney and USCIS. The investor generally works with an EB-5 specialist who assists in the selection process for a safe, secure project that will meet the job creation requirements of the EB-5 programme and return the investor’s capital in a timely manner. The immigration attorney assists the investor in the application process in filling the forms and helping the applicant evidence that the investment funds come from legal sources and not criminal activity. Once the application is filed the approval process generally takes 24 months though there are certain projects that may be designated for faster approval for reasons of the US government national interest. Once approval is granted the US state department through the national visa centre sets a time for the investor to come to the local embassy or consulate to issue the family a travel visa to come to the US to collect their green cards.

It is important to note that when applying for the EB-5 visa there is no language skills required. There are no minimum education requirements. There is no business or managerial experience requirements.

Investment capital can come from a salary, gift, inheritance, business ownership or any other lawful activity. There is no obligation to live near the location of the investment. The investor and family can live, work and study anywhere in the US.

That American public primary education is free through grade 12 and green card holder’s benefit from lower college and university tuition fees. The visa inc­ludes the investor, spouse and dependent children under the age of 21.

Shift in trend: Traditionally, Indian college graduates have become employed in the US under the H-1B work visa. The American employer must have approval to hire H-1B holders and such approvals are becoming in short supply. Further under H-1B, the visa holder must be continuously employed by the employer. Should the employee become unemployed for any reason he or she must find another employer able to accept H-1B holders or return to their home country.

In recent years, under the Trump administration, the H-1B has become increasingly politically unpopular. Therefore, many H-1B holders have been converting to EB-5 visa in order to ensure long-term job security/viability in the US. Under EB-5 the visa holder can work for any employer or be self-employed, or not work at all and there is no quota or term limit. Therefore, the EB-5 is a much more viable choice for long-term employment in the US.

Currently, more and more Indians graduating from US universities are opting for EB-5 visa, which grants them the most expeditious route to the green card. The demographic profile of Indians applying for  EB-5 visa includes students studying in the US, workers on H-1B visas who are already in the US, parents of pre-college children who want their kids to complete their higher education in the US, business owners looking to expand into the US, and families looking to relocate to the US.

India currently boasts the third largest number of EB-5 investor applicants in the world behind China and Vietnam. It is estimated that the number of Indian investors under the programme will soon grow to become second only to China in terms of applications to the programme. People having the EB-5 US Green Card are in an advantageous position. They have the benefit of flexible employment options at a higher compensation level at market rate rather than dictated by the employer.

Green card holders enjoy virtually the same rights as American citizens including the freedom to travel, work and live anywhere in the US. The children of green card holders can attend top quality public schools tuition free, apply to and attend all US colleges and universities at lower cost than their foreign counterparts. Application for all types of employment, receiving public health and retirement benefits are some of the other benefits, they are entitled to.

All in all EB-5 visa offers the best possible opport­unity for migration to the US.

(The author is managing director of Nysa Capital)