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 Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

At Boston Bombing Hearing, Sides Spar Over Boat

At final pre-trial hearing, lawyers for suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, prosecutors disagree on whether vessel where he hid from police can be shown to jurors More

Iran Judiciary 'Picks' Lawyer for Detained WP Reporter

Masoud Shafii has been attempting to secure official recognition as Rezaian’s attorney, but is not allowed to see his client in prison 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

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
0.8896
JPY
USD
119.26
GBP
USD
0.6475
CAD
USD
1.2451
INR
USD
61.816

Rates may not be current.