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"As his son moved through high school, Xiaohong Mu began researching
the immigration policies of Western countries where he believed his boy
would get the best education. The owner of a petroleum-engineering firm in the southwest Chinese
city of Chengdu, Mu considered Australia and Canada before settling on
the United States. America, he believes, will not only prepare his son for future
success, but he also thinks he can find new business opportunities here. Mu and his family will move to Seattle this month under a
little-known but increasingly popular visa program reserved for
foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in an American enterprise. It's a source of money that cash-starved developers across the U.S.
are using to help fund any number of new projects — from ski resorts in
Vermont to utility-line extensions for a new BMW plant in Moses Lake. About $48 million in these investor funds will help finance the state
of Washington's $4.6 billion replacement of the Highway 520 floating
bridge. The relative obscurity of the so-called EB-5 visa program has allowed
it to escape scrutiny at a time debate over immigration in this country
has raged. As developers struggle to get traditional sources of funding for
their projects, use of EB-5 capital is expanding and expected to total
$1.2 billion nationally for 2011, up from $845 million last year. The financiers are wealthy foreigners — primarily the Chinese — who
see an opportunity to gain permanent U.S. residency without the long
wait and complicated processing associated with family and work-related
visas — if they can qualify for those visas at all. "There's a kind of gold rush going on right now — developers trying
to get projects going and a huge group of Chinese with money," said
James Palmer, economic-development manager at the state Department of
Commerce. While the state is not directly involved in operating the EB-5 visa
program, Palmer has made himself an expert of sorts, fielding frequent
calls from area developers and would-be investors around the globe
seeking information about the program. "It's a marriage made in heaven,"
he said. Mu's investment is visible to anyone who has attended a game at
Safeco Field: the second phase of a $155 million office complex going up
just south of the stadium in Sodo. "The first priority is securing the green card," Mu said through an interpreter. "Financial return of the capital is second." - Seattle Times, Dec. 11, 2011.
And here's a podcast featuring expert Stephen Yale-Loehr discussing the origins of the EB-5 immigrant investor program, the importance of
EB-5 regional centers, and ambiguities, complexities, challenges and
opportunities of the program.