New York Times: "Want a Green Card? Invest in Real Estate"

by Joseph McKeown

Investing in real estate to secure permanent residency status (i.e., a Green Card) in the US has increasingly become big business in New York City. Through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor visa, which was created in 1990 by Congress "to stimulate the US economy through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors," foreign nationals (more than eighty percent from China) are investing billions of dollars into commercial and residential NYC projects, including hotels, condominiums, officer towers, and public works. The New York Times breaks down the investments

Twelve-hundred foreigners have poured $600 million into projects at Hudson Yards; 1,154 have invested $577 million in Pacific Park Brooklyn, the development formerly known as Atlantic Yards; and 500 have put $250 million into the Four Seasons hotel and condominium in the financial district. The list of projects involving EB-5 investments also includes the International Gem Tower on West 47th Street and the New York Wheel on Staten Island.

To qualify for the EB-5 investor visa, foreign nationals must invest $1 million, or in some cases $500,000, and create ten full-time jobs. In certain cases, foreign nationals can invest in projects approved by a US Citizenship & Immigration Services as designated Regional Center. Securing a Green Card through the EB-5 program is generally faster than obtaining one through other employment-based and some family-based routes, although Chinese nationals may now face delays since their country quotas will likely be met, resulting in backlogs of about two years.

The popularity of the EB-5 program has surged in the last four years. In fiscal year 2010, 1,885 visas were issued through the program, and in fiscal year 2013, the figure jumped by 354 percent to 8,564. Last year the entire annual allotment of 10,000 EB-5 visas were used by August, before the end of the fiscal year in October. As the program becomes more popular, it's unclear if Congress will raise the quota or perhaps the investment minimum. The surge in popularity has been attributed to not only the recession which made securing traditional funding and loans difficult to obtain but also the realization that many EB-5 investors require significantly less of a financial return than traditional loans, as EB-5 investors are more concerned about securing Green Cards. It's not only real estate projects benefiting from EB-5 investments—hospitals, ski resorts, and even state turnpikes have seen EB-5 funding as well.

The EB-5 program has faced significant criticism over the years. An Op-Ed in the New York Times once said that ‘’the program is so rife with fraud and corruption that it could actually have the opposite impact and deter investment." Numerous reports have detailed some instances of serious fraud, and if a project fails the investor can lose both the funding and the Green Card. But Peter Joseph, Executive Director of Invest in the USA, defended the program: '''It's a win for the investor, who's seeking to get an immigration benefit, along with a return on their investment, along with the American worker who's able to get to work, thanks to the capital investment coming through the program[.]'''