Like many countries, the United States offers lawful permanent residency (a green card) to wealthy people, specifically business investors, who will pump money into its economy. (See I.N.A. § 203(b)(5), 8 U.S.C. § 1153(b)(5).) Your spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 can also get green cards, as accompanying relatives.
However, this is not like paying an entry fee to get a green card. You must meet strict eligibility criteria before you can apply for permanent residency this way.
Applicants for a green card through investment (Employment Fifth Preference or EB-5) must not only invest $1 million in a new, restructured, or expanded U.S. business (or $500,000 if it’s in an economically disadvantaged area), they must take an active role in that business. They do not, however, need to actually control the business.
The business can be located anywhere in the U.S., so long as you are actively engaged with it.
You’ll need to plan on having your money tied up in the business for several years. When you first get your green card, your permanent resident status will be conditional for two years. During the 90-day period before the end of the two-year conditional residency, you’ll need to submit a petition to remove the conditions—to show you invested the required amount and created ten jobs. These two years and government processing times result in your money being parked until you finally get your unconditional permanent residency.
It doesn’t much matter where you get the money for the investment—so long as you obtained it lawfully. Gifts and inheritances, for example, are fine. You may even use borrowed funds, as long as you remain personally liable in the event of a default, and the loan is adequately secured (and not by assets of the business you are buying).
The business must employ at least ten full-time workers, produce a service or product, and benefit the U.S. economy. Full-time employment is defined as requiring at least 35 hours' service per week.
As the investor, you do not need any particular business training or experience. Nor does it matter which country you come from. However, the immigration authorities tend to be more suspicious about possible fraud with applicants from certain countries.
Green cards for investors are limited to 10,000 per year, 3,000 of which are reserved for applicants investing in rural areas or areas of high unemployment. If certain caps are reached for individuals from various countries in any given year (which has happened so far for China, India, and Vietnam), you will be placed on a waiting list, based on your Priority Date (the day you filed the first portion of your application).
Fortunately, only principal applicants are counted toward the 10,000 limit. Accompanying relatives are not. Therefore, in reality, many more than 10,000 people per year can be admitted with green cards based on investment.
The real trouble for applicants is that USCIS rejects many more applications than it accepts in this category. That's partly because the eligibility requirements are narrow, and partly because of the category’s history of fraud and misuse. In fact, some lawyers encourage their clients to use their wealth to fit themselves into another category with a greater chance of success. For example, by investing in a company outside the United States that has a U.S. affiliate, the person might qualify to immigrate as a transferring executive or manager (a priority worker, in category EB-1).
Because the EB-5 category is one of the most difficult under which to get a green card, and certainly the most expensive, it’s well worth the investment to gain legal advice before taking any significant steps toward using this strategy. If you try the application once on your own and fail, you might damage your chances of success in the future. What’s more, because you are expected to make the investment first and apply for the green card later, you could waste a lot of money.