Rajkamal Rao

Buy green card fast

Rajkamal Rao | Updated on April 11, 2018

EB-5 visas will not be issued from September 30

Despite non-stop media reports that America has changed for the worse since Donald Trump’s election, the allure of migrating to the country has not abated. For most Indians, the experience is tedious, with a 15-year wait for getting a green card through the H-1B visa route. As Indians get to know the US better, the Employment-Based (EB-5) investor visa has become particularly attractive, as the path to getting a green card can be a lot quicker.

The EB-5 allows foreign investors to “buy” a green card for as little as $500,000 if the funds are invested in a private company’s ‘Regional Center’, which creates at least 10 jobs for US workers. As a bonus, those approved can seek green cards for their spouse and up to three children.

There are four players involved — the EB-5 investor; his/her US lawyer; a private company promoting an infrastructure project in a targeted employment area (TEA) that has high unemployment; and USCIS, the government agency authorised to issue the green card. The minimum investment required is $500,000 if the project is in a TEA, else it is $1 million. Most Indians are betting on TEA EB-5 projects.

First, the lawyer provides proof that the Indian’s investment is sourced from lawful means and the Regional Center project is likely to win TEA classification from the US government. If the government okays the initial petition — a process which can take as little as three months — the investor is placed in line to obtain a “conditional” green card through consular processing. In a period as short as one-and-a-half years, an aspiring Indian can move his entire family to the US.

But there’s a catch. Within two years, the lawyer has to petition the government to remove the conditional constraints on the green cards by providing evidence that the TEA project has indeed created at least the 10 US jobs that the original investment was expected to generate. This is the risky part of the bet. If the project has gone bust or has otherwise proved not to be a job creator, the temporary green cards can be revoked.

Risk to principal

And there’s the investment portion of the bet. The investment is a bilateral agreement between the Indian and the promoter company, and neither the lawyer nor the government has a stake in the deal. If the company’s project fails or it refuses to refund the investment after the typical five years or declares bankruptcy, the Indian has little chance of recovering the principal. As a result of this lack of investor protection, the EB-5 programme has become rife with fraud. In one case, a US company was charged by the SEC with defrauding 700 investors when the intended project — to build a biomedical facility in rural Vermont — never materialised.

This kind of fraud is why the EB-5 has little support in Congress although Ivanka Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, is said to have pushed the EB-5 visa in China for his family’s real estate empire.

For an Indian family desperate to immigrate, even a $500,000 loss is strangely considered bearable by many. The upside — of a chance of permanent life in the so-called land of milk and honey — is evidently much too attractive to give up.

But they better hurry because this visa too is about to come to an end on September 30.

The writer is the managing director of Rao Advisors LLC, Texas

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Published on April 11, 2018