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

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.

    World Currencies

    EUR
    USD
    0.8926
    JPY
    USD
    116.68
    GBP
    USD
    0.6871
    CAD
    USD
    1.3751
    INR
    USD
    67.653

    Rates may not be current.