The demand for US visa by Nigerians has been so high in recent years that last year, Nigerian citizens did not qualify for the diversity visa lottery program. Many Nigerians get immigrant visa through their relatives who are United State citizens. But not everyone has an immediate relative that can petition on their behalf. Nonetheless, there is a lesser known visa category that leads to permanent residency in the US – the EB-5 Visa. I had been reluctant to share the information because I felt that the few who can come up with the $500,000 required for the category will have no interest in migrating to the US: They already found green pasture. However, with the rising insecurity in Nigeria, it could well be that there may be people who may want to consider it. Below is an overview of the program.
Below is an excerpt from this US government webiste on the EB-5 visa.
‘The Immigrant Investor Program, also known as “EB-5,” was created by Congress in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. Entrepreneurs (and their spouses and unmarried children under 21) who make an investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States and who plan to create or preserve ten permanent full time jobs for qualified United States workers, are eligible to apply for a green card (permanent residence).
Up to 10,000 visas may be authorized each fiscal year for eligible entrepreneurs.
A person must invest $1,000,000, or at least $500,000 in a targeted employment area (high unemployment or rural area). In return, USCIS may grant conditional permanent residence to the individual.
A person may receive permanent residence based on investment if:
1. They have an approved Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur
2. They are admissible to the United States
3. An immigrant visa is immediately available
An applicant’s Spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21, (known as derivatives) may be included on the immigration petition.’
Evidence Required to Grant the Immigration Petition
To succeed in the permanent residency application, an applicant must support his application with the following evidence:
1. Evidence that he has established a lawful business entity under the laws of the jurisdiction in the United States in which it is located, or, if he has made an investment in an existing business, evidence that his investment has caused a substantial (at least 40 percent) increase in the net worth of the business, the number of employees, or both.
2. Evidence, if applicable, that his enterprise has been established in a targeted employment area. This needs to be proved if the applicant invested only $500,000. He needs not prove this if he invested $1,000,000
3. Evidence that the applicant has invested or is actively in the process of investing the amount required for the area in which the business is located.
4. Evidence that capital is obtained through lawful means.
5. Evidence that the enterprise will create at least 10 full-time positions for U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or aliens lawfully authorized to be employed (The applicant, his/her spouse, sons or daughters, and any non immigrant aliens are not taken into account for this purpose).
6. Evidence that applicant is or will be engaged in the management of the enterprise, either through the exercise of day-to-day managerial control or through policy formulation.
See link for details of the above from the USCIS website.
Many people who are interested in the program worry that they may not be able to run a business efficiently in a country they are new to. But there are a couple of options that allow minimal participation by the investor. One is Franchising. By opening a franchise an investor receives legal permission to use the brand, trademark, and product line or service of an already established company to open new locations which follow the business model of the franchisor – See more at: http://www.hooyou.com/news/news2012/news122812eb5.html#sthash.Nwy0XLGd.dpuf.
An investor could also decide to invest through Regional Centers approved by the United States government. Regional Center is defined as any economic entity, public or private, which is involved with the promotion of economic growth, improved regional productivity, job creation and increased domestic capital investment. Like I said, investing through Regional centers lessens the burden on an investor from engaging directly in the day to day running of the business. Here’s a link to USCIS’s list of approved Regional Centers. Note however that the US does not guarantee a green card or return on investment merely because an applicant invested through a Regional Center. An applicant will still have to prove those conditions listed in the Evidence section before he can be granted a visa. Also see this link from USCIS warning prospective investors of Regional Center Scams. Among other things, an applicant is advised to ensure that a Regional center through which they intend to invest is listed in the USCIS website; to request the investment information in writing; to inquire if promoters are being paid and to seek independent verification on claims made about the investment. The USCIS also warns an investor to be especially careful if an investor makes a definite promise of a green card as that decision lies solely with the USCIS. Prospective investors are also warned to be wary of enterprises that promise a guaranteed investment on return with no risk, and of unregistered investments.
The USCIS emphatically warns that If an investment through EB-5 turns out to be in a fraudulent securities offering, an applicant may lose both his money and his path to lawful permanent residency in the United States. In other words, the USCIS expects every prospective investor to do their due diligence.
Considerations in Making a Decision aAbout an EB-5 visa
Like every important decision in life, one should be careful and weigh his options before deciding whether he wants to go on to make an investment in the United States in return for a green card. Apart from the inherent risk in making such a huge investment on a business he, in some cases, has little or no control over, if granted a Green Card, an investor must establish residence in the U.S. and he must be present in the U.S. at least 180 days/year (unless they apply for a re-entry permit). He must also declare his worldwide income and assets in the U.S. for tax purposes. Moreover, the permanent residency granted initially is only conditional for two years after which it will be reviewed to grant a permanent residency. If a business is still viable after the two years, an investor shouldn’t have to worry. And on a lighter note, one downside to living in the United States is that some lifestyles and luxuries which are easily enjoyed in Nigeria are not readily sustainable here. For example, while one may readily afford a chauffeur and several domestic helps in Nigeria, it is difficult to make enough money to afford such services in the United States. As trivial as this issue may sound, I mentioned it because I have heard many people express concern about it.
On the upside, if granted permanent residency, an investor can live in the U.S. State of his/her choice with his or her family, and does not need to manage the investment business. EB-5 investors may also work for any employer in any position, may operate their own business or they may choose to retire. EB-5 investors and their family members can freely enjoy the many benefits of permanent residence in the U.S. The children of EB-5 green card holders are free to work or to attend the school of their choice, and they qualify for scholarships and in-state tuition.
Finally, Some Trivia
* Canada had a similar program the minimum amount of which was required to be invested was C$800,000. They however terminated the program in June this year.
* UK runs a similar program for a minimum of 1,000,000 pounds
* The US also grant a temporary residency status under a visa type called E-2 visa to people who make substantiate investment in a business in the United States. There is no minimum amount required but most applicants invest around $100,000. However, it has more restrictions and applicants must be from a country with a treaty to that effect with the US. Unfortunately, Nigeria doesn’t have a treaty with US for that visa category.
* The applications for EB-5 visa has been in high demand in recent years that a backlog is anticipated this year. Chinese make up about 80% of the applicants.
So there it is, another option for those looking for a path to residency in the United States.
Disclaimer: The information above is not a legal advice. It is a mere overview of the Eb-5 visa program. I wrote this to get the word out there for those who may be interested to make further research. The only reliable source of information and upon which any decision should be based is the United States government website, USCIS.gov . You may also consult your attorney for more information.