Investor visa program sprouting US jobs nationwide

Updated: 2014-07-08 06:23

By Chang Jun (China Daily USA)

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David Luan chose San Francisco as the first stop for his three-week exploratory tour of the US, which started on June 27. The Shanghai-based businessman will also visit Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Dallas in hopes of finding a project he can invest in.

"Ultimately, I want to immigrate to the US through investment," said Luan, whose businesses include dietary supplement production, real estate and e-business.

Investor visa program sprouting US jobs nationwide

The investment-for-immigration program he referred to — better known as the EB-5 Investor Visa Program — is currently a hot-selling concept among affluent Chinese.

The US Congress created the EB-5 program in 1990 as a way to stimulate the economy and create jobs. The original program was designed to allow foreigners an opportunity to obtain permanent residency by making a $1 million investment in a local US business that also created and retained at least 10 jobs.

The bill was amended in 1992 to include "regional centers" — geographic areas that can be economic entities, public, private or a hybrid of both, which are established to promote economic growth, improve regional productivity, create jobs and increase domestic capital investment.

Regional centers can accept investments of $500,000 in targeted employment areas, mostly in underdeveloped rural areas, to create permanent, high-quality jobs. According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), approximately 90 percent of EB-5 visas come through regional centers and of those last year 80 percent were issued to Chinese nationals.

The dramatic surge in interest from China in EB-5 visas — from 16 granted to Chinese in 2004 to 6,900 in 2013 — is sure evidence wealthy Chinese find opportunities in the US attractive.

"A green card means my son will have access to US universities, and I can flee the heavy pollution in China and live a fuller life in the US," said Luan, adding that he thought the cost of the EB-5 program was reasonable. "Any good stuff comes with a pricey tag, right?"

Since the inception of the EB-5 program, foreign investment has created more than 57,000 direct jobs and generated around $9 billion revenue, the USCIS estimates.

Texas-based Civitas Capital Group, a financial services company focused on alternative investments, EB-5 capital and wealth management, announced on July 2 that the USCIS had approved its establishment of three new EB-5 regional centers covering Northern California, Philadelphia and Washington.

Earlier this year, Civitas had secured approval to operate regional centers in Atlanta, Denver, Miami and New York City. Currently, the company is the manager of 13 regional centers across the US and is the exclusive EB-5 partner for several Texas cities including Dallas, Fort Worth, Laredo and El Paso.

The new regional centers will seek foreign investors to fund a variety of investments, including real estate, infrastructure and healthcare, and facilitate substantial and valuable economic development at essentially no cost to taxpayers in three key economic regions in the country, said Civitas in a news release.

"We've expanded rapidly outside of Texas this year," said Civitas' CEO Dan Healy. "Civitas has become one of the leading providers of EB-5 investment opportunities, offering international investors a strong selection of prospective investments across the US."

Northern California — given its long history of a close relationship with China and its reputation as the birthplace of technological innovation and cultural assimilation — ranks top on the list of popular US destinations for Chinese investors.

Civitas is now spearheading EB-5 projects in the Bay Area and will develop business in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma.

Earlier, regional centers such as the Bay Area Regional Center in Oakland, the New World Regional Center in Union City, Next Bay Properties LLC in Alamo, Silicon Valley California Regional Center in Redwood City, Silicon Valley Venture Investment Regional Center in Mountain View and Synergy California Green Hospitality Regional Center in San Francisco have reported brisk business.

"We seek out markets where our partners have an established track record," said Healy. "We look to uncover investment opportunities that are powerful and compelling to the global investors that we serve."

Contact the writer at junechang@chinadailyusa.com.

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