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The U.S. “immigrant investor” visa

HDN | 11/20/2009 12:00:00 AM | GARY LACHMAN

Now has never been a better time for Turkish or other foreign investors seeking to gain permanent residency, or a green card, in the United States.

Now has never been a better time for Turkish or other foreign investors seeking to gain permanent residency, or a green card, in the United States. On Oct. 28, U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law an extension of the increasingly popular EB-5 Immigrant Investor Pilot Program. The EB-5 Pilot Program is, perhaps, the most direct path to acquire a green card for those individuals who do not have immediate relatives in the United States or a firm job offer from a U.S. employer.

This unique program offers benefits for both the foreign investor and the United States, creating a win-win situation for all parties. During the midst of a global recession, this program acts as a magnet for attracting foreign investment into many areas of the United States that need it the most, while allowing participating foreign investors the opportunity to become lawful permanent residents and the prospects of a return on their investment. The significant benefits of the program, most notably its clear path to permanent residency in what normally involves wading through a fluid and bureaucratic maze of immigration laws, have been known for some time by many Asian countries, which have made the most proficient use of the program in recent years (South Korea and China, for example). Turkish investors, on the other hand, have been slow to take advantage of the program.

The EB-5 Pilot Program is the most recent – and popular – version of the original EB-5 Immigrant Investor visa program. The U.S. Congress created the fifth employment-based preference (EB-5) immigrant visa category in 1990 for immigrants seeking to enter to engage in a commercial enterprise that will benefit the U.S. economy and create at least 10 full-time jobs. The basic amount required to invest is $1 million, although that amount may be $500,000 if the investment is made in a "targeted employment area,” which is defined as a rural area or area of high unemployment.

Of the 10,000 EB-5 investor visas available annually, 3,000 are set aside for those who apply under the Pilot Program established in 1993 involving a United States Citizenship & Immigration Services, or USCIS, designated regional center. A regional center is an entity, organization or agency that has been approved as such by the Service; focuses on a specific geographical area within the United States; and seeks to promote economic growth through increased export sales, improved regional productivity, creation of new jobs, and increased domestic capital investment. Practically speaking, regional centers are private businesses that allow many different investors to pool their funds in an effort to further their business objectives. As of the time of writing, there are more than 70 different regional centers throughout the United States, involving many different business endeavors, including: projects to rebuild the city of New Orleans after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina; commercial real estate developments; ethanol plants; agriculture projects; development and operation of retirement communities; motion picture and television production projects; and construction equipment manufacturing and sales in California, and elsewhere throughout America.

While the original EB-5 “million dollar” option is still available, the process for the regional center Pilot Program is less complex and may be a better fit for those investors who do not want the day-to-day responsibility of managing a business in the United States. By participating in a regional center, the requirement of creating at least 10 new jobs is met by a showing that as a result of the new enterprise, such jobs will be created directly or indirectly. More than 90 percent of all EB-5 investors choose to invest through the regional center Pilot Program. U.S. citizenship is available after being a green card holder for five years.

There are many benefits for an investor in the Pilot Program. For example, in return for the investment, a green card will be issued to the investor, spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21. While the immigration process for many individuals takes years and is wildly uncertain – under the EB-5 regional center Pilot Program, the processing time for acquiring the conditional green card is generally between 12 to 18 months, although some cases have been processed in much less time. Investors may live and work anywhere in the United States, and there are no age, language, education or previous business experience requirements – the investor must simply have the required capital. Under the regional center Pilot Program, the investor is not obligated to hire U.S. workers or manage day-to-day business operations. The Pilot Program is most appropriate for investors who see acquiring a green card as the real motivating factor for the investment. Each of the designated regional centers are different, and various administrative fees associated with each program normally range from $20,000 to $60,000. For more information on this subject, please contact Gary Lachman or Mike Dye at Lachman & Yeniaras Attorneys at Law.

© 2009 Michael B. Dye is an American immigration lawyer of counsel with Lachman & Yeniaras and Gary Lachman is an international lawyer formerly with the U.S. Department of State, and associate professor at Johns Hopkins University, with a consulting practice in Istanbul. He can be contacted at glachman@lachmanyeniaras.com.

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