A lesser-known immigration visa offers international students a path to U.S. colleges and universities — and a green card — but the price is affordable for only a few.
An EB-5, or Immigrant Investor Visa Program, does not restrict where or how much students work off-campus and allows them to stay in the country after graduation, both perks not available to F-1 student visa holders, according to EB-5 Daily, a website that aggregates news about the EB-5 program.
But in exchange for fewer restrictions, EB-5s have a daunting price tag — applicants must invest at least $500,000.
“There are a lot of wealthy international students who come to the U.S., and a lot of them are very motivated [to stay after graduation],” said Ishaan Khanna, a recent college graduate and EB-5 visa holder. “So, for them it makes sense.”
A path to immigration
Khanna came to the U.S. from India on an F-1 student visa to study at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. As graduation approached, he started looking for ways to stay and work in the U.S.
“If I wanted to further my career, being in the U.S., especially close to Silicon Valley, was a no brainer,” said Khanna, who was looking for jobs in the tech sector. He started researching EB-5 visas during his senior year.
The EB-5 visa program was created in 1990 to encourage foreign investment and create jobs for American workers, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
To receive the visa, a foreigner must invest at least $500,000 either directly in a business or in a regional center, which is a private company that pools such investments.
“An EB-5 regional center is an economic unit, public or private, in the United States that is involved with promoting economic growth,” according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). “Regional centers are designated by USCIS for participation in the Immigrant Investor Program.”
Each investment qualifies only if it creates or preserves at least 10 full-time jobs.
The vast majority of EB-5 investors — in 2016, 91.5 percent — have chosen to invest in regional centers. Successful applicants receive a two-year green card that becomes permanent if the investment meets the job-creation standard.
But there is so little oversight of the EB-5 industry that it is open to abuse, critics say.
“I could speak for hours about the corruption in this program,” said Republican Senator Charles Grassley, one of the program’s most vocal critics.
“They [the investors] put up the money and they don’t know what the money is being used for,” said Lsu Khanh Pham, an immigration attorney. “Legally, the money is supposed to go into the venture and create jobs.”
But sometimes, he said, the money is used to pay back previous loans, or it sits in the bank as collateral.
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