News / Economy

Foreign Investors Buy Their Way to US Citizenship

The new SR 520 floating bridge takes shape next to the current bridge in Medina, Washington. Nearly 100 foreign investors, mostly from China, purchased municipal bonds in this project to qualify for U.S. green cards. (Photo courtesy WSDOT)
The new SR 520 floating bridge takes shape next to the current bridge in Medina, Washington. Nearly 100 foreign investors, mostly from China, purchased municipal bonds in this project to qualify for U.S. green cards. (Photo courtesy WSDOT)
Tom Banse
An Idaho gold mine, a proposed wind farm in central Washington state, a new casino in Las Vegas and ski resort expansions in Vermont, all have one thing in common: they're investment vehicles for well-to-do families seeking U.S. green cards.

Under U.S. immigration law, wealthy foreigners can get a green card by investing at least a half-million dollars to create at least 10 jobs in America.

That looked like a good plan to Canadian Jordan Gagner. He and his wife had a problem a few years ago. They needed to relocate to a drier, desert climate. Something like Arizona. At first glance, the prospects for permanently relocating south of the border looked daunting.

"Being a self-employed wealth manager and a teacher, those are two occupations that are not on the top 10 lists of visas being given to foreigners to come down to the U.S.," Gagner said. "Trying to get an executive visa of some sort would've been very hard to do."

Path to citizenship

But then Gagner discovered the immigrant investor visa shortcut. He and a number of other foreign investors chipped in $500,000 each to build an assisted living complex outside Bellingham, Washington. Gagner got credit for creating lots of construction jobs in the midst of the recent recession and the whole family received green cards.

Immigrant investors seeking U.S. visas financed the construction of this office and retail complex called "Home Plate Center" across from Seattle's baseball stadium. (Photo by Tom Banse for VOA)Immigrant investors seeking U.S. visas financed the construction of this office and retail complex called "Home Plate Center" across from Seattle's baseball stadium. (Photo by Tom Banse for VOA)
Bellingham immigration lawyer David Andersson orchestrated the deal. He's made a business out of bringing together developers who need low cost capital and prospective immigrants with money.

"If you have a solid investment and there may be a benefit which exceeds mere return, such as the ability to move your family to America, then an investor may consider a lower return than, for example, a bank," he said.

Andersson was a pioneer in an industry that he says is now experiencing amazing proliferation and growth. The matchmaking companies are officially known as "EB-5 regional centers," so named for the relevant provision of U.S. immigration law. Originally, these investment centers stuck to straightforward real estate deals. But now the options for wealthy, would-be immigrants are much more diverse.

Gold mine

More than 200 immigrant investors from China are financing the revival of 100-year-old gold mines in southwest Idaho. In a marketing video, a former executive of Gold Hill Reclamation and Mining describes how his company reprocesses leftover ore and mine tailings.

A majority of immigrant investors come from China and prospective investors are asking more questions before signing up. This past winter, a Chicago hotel development that attracted backing from several hundred visa seekers was exposed as a fraud.

Other Chinese investors demanded refunds from the organizer of a project tied to a new toll bridge between Seattle, Washington, and its eastern suburbs. They put money into state highway construction bonds, but then had to wait for an unusually long time - 20 months - to apply for their visas because of uncertainty over whether federal officials would approve the novel investment. “Novel” for EB-5 visa purposes, that is.

Mike Mattox and his Lacey, Washington-based firm Access the USA organized that deal. He says, despite those complications, offering municipal bonds could be a game changer.

"If the underwriting is in place, the relationship is in place," Mattox said. "If it is done correctly, it will be very successful. As far as marketing, this is what the market wants."

The owner of a different immigration and economic development firm based in Lynnwood, Washington, thinks there's also a market for wind power investors. The firm invited well-off Koreans to back a proposed wind farm in central Washington state.

But nearby landowner Harland Radomske fears a wind farm next door will reduce the value of his horse and cattle ranch. And that's not all.

"What upsets me is also just the plain fact to realize we have all of this controversy going over immigration, the borders of Mexico, and all of that, issues before the Congress and Senate and so on," Radomske said. "And now we find out unbeknownst, if you’re a rich foreigner, you can buy your way to citizenship."

The wind project developers declined multiple requests for an interview.

Broad support

Despite the general controversy over immigration, the foreign investor program has broad support in Congress. Legislation recently sent to the House by the U.S. Senate would make the program permanent.

Attorney David Andersson acknowledges the visa program accounts for only a small fraction of direct foreign investment. But he says it brings favorable results.

"In creating jobs in your neighborhood and in our state, the unemployment rate goes down," he said. "We have more taxpayers. Therefore, we can have more services. In other words, we have economic development."

The immigrant investor program has an annual cap of 10,000 visas and had never come close to that number before. But the regional center industry group predicts investor visa applications could reach the cap next year.

You May Like

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Nina from: Naples, FL
August 27, 2013 10:48 AM
What most people do not know is that there are thousands of foreign investors who purchase small businesses for less than $500K on the E2 visa. We create jobs for Americans, too, but we have no path to permanent residency (green cards) regardless of how long we are here or how may jobs we create. We must run our own businesses, unlike E-B5 investors, and must constantly renew our visas in our home countries at great expense. WE have to leave the U.S. every 2 years to keep our paperwork in status and we can never plan a future here.

Foreign investors do nut just want to start new businesses, they want to start new lives, but that is only possible for the wealthy. Honest, hard-working people who contribute to the economy but cannot raise half a million are lest out in the cold.
In Response

by: tony from: d.c.
August 28, 2013 9:32 AM

What do you want the U.S. to do? Allow just anyone to come here? What's next, lowering the investment threshold to 200K, then 50K, then 5K? People are okay with status quo when things go well for them, and not so happy when it doesn't.

The business your husband is running is just that- a business to benefit him and his family. In other words he's looking out for his own interests. Why shouldn't the U.S. also look out for its interests?

I recommend to you and others: fix your country. The first step is to make your government officials acccountable. Being disinterested in fixing your community and preferring to just hop across the border isn't the answer.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies


Rates may not be current.