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US Cities Entice Foreign Investors With Green Cards

Investors from China meet in a conference room to discuss investment opportunities, green cards and other pertinent issues, in Lancaster, California, September 2011.

Regions within the United States, hit hard by the economic recession are actively seeking foreign investors to help create more jobs. In exchange, the U.S. government is giving permanent residency, known as green cards, to the investors and their families. Quite a few investors from China are taking advantage of this opportunity.

Just one hour’s drive north of Los Angeles is Lancaster, a city in California’s high desert that’s proud of its abundant sunshine and solar-powered buildings. But Lancaster's deputy mayor said the city also has an unemployment rate of about 17 percent - almost double the national average.

Deputy Mayor Kit Yee Szeto said, "We understand the economic realities make it a little harder for domestic investors to come into Lancaster this time or anywhere in the United States."

Szeto said the city is counting on these investors from China to be one answer to Lancaster’s unemployment problem. Xu Xing Ping is looking for land to invest $100 million in a distribution center somewhere in Southern California. He envisions a hub where Chinese businesses can store their products and move them throughout North America.

"In the future, we hope to create a Chinatown here and bring good businesses from China to the United States," he said.

Xu qualifies for a U.S. visa program called EB-5. It provides a permanent residency card for foreign investors and family members in exchange for at least $500,000 in investments in a rural area or a city with a high unemployment rate. The investment also has to create at least 10 jobs within two years. The majority of the investors under EB-5 are from China.

"Chinese people [have] become very rich. They can afford half a million dollars to be [in] the USA," said James Li. He heads one of the regional centers designated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that promotes economic growth by recruiting investors. Even though the EB-5 program was created in 1990, Li said he has seen more Chinese investors interested in the program since 2008.

"Only after 2008, because of the bad economy and also because of the economy booming [economic boom] in China. Most of the investors, they are not concerned about the return of investment. They are concerned about if [whether] they can get the green card," said Li.

Xu Xing Ping, an investor from China, said, "They think if they can get permanent residency in the U.S. they will be pretty famous back home. They feel it’s a kind of honor."

Xu is a part of a growing class of wealthy Chinese. For him, getting permanent residency is not that important, but he admits it is a nice benefit. A green card will allow him to travel to many other countries without obtaining a visa.

"So for Chinese citizens, the green card is a very important," he said.

Since its inception, more than 34,000 jobs have been created through the EB-5 program. Lancaster officials hope their city will be attractive enough for more jobs and money to come their way.