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 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

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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
Nina:

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.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8954
JPY
USD
119.75
GBP
USD
0.6515
CAD
USD
1.2518
INR
USD
61.921

Rates may not be current.