Investing at least a half million dollars in an American business is one of the fastest routes to a green card. But beginning May 1, that pathway will slow down for Chinese citizens, who in 2014 made up 85 percent of investors awarded this visa, known as the EB-5.
Lead Attorney Jean Chen of the Law Offices of Jean D. Chen, which specializes in immigration law, told NBC News that it usually takes Chinese EB-5 visa applicants around two years to receive green cards from the time they apply. Now, in an effort to rein in the disproportionate number of Chinese EB-5 recipients, the process could take up to three years, since after May 1 there will not be enough visa numbers for applicants, Chen said.
Established by Congress in 1990 to help create American jobs and stimulate the American economy, the EB-5 immigrant investor visa - of which roughly 10,000 are awarded annually - has become an expedient way for Chinese citizens to get a green card and later bring over their families to live in the United States.
Some have put their money into big projects like the Hudson Yards in New York and the Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco, others into chain stores and real estate ventures. Even former New York State Governor David Paterson has traveled to China and used the EB-5 visa program to woo potential investors.
Although caps exist on how many applicants can receive EB-5 visas from each country, the program is “relatively unpopular” outside of China and a few other countries, thus allowing the large number of Chinese EB-5 recipients to exceed the cap, according to a study by Savills Studley, a real estate services firm. And while some have criticized the United States for what they say amounts to a government sale of visas, Chen, whose firm annually handles 150 to 200 EB-5 applications, maintains it is a boon to the country.
“They’ll be creating jobs for the U.S., and it’s good for the U.S. economy,” she said.