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EB-5 investor visa can lead to green card

December 12, 2011 (2 min read)

"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.