How Much Does a Green Card Cost?
How much does a green card (Lawful Permanent Residence) cost? In several years of practicing immigration law, I have never heard anyone ask that question. However, investors seeking to come to the United States and take advantage of the American lifestyle often ask how much money they need to invest to obtain a visa that will lead to a green card. The answer to that question is always the same: “it depends on your objective.”
Many self-made men and women come to the United States via the L-1A visa. They are transferred as an executive of a foreign company to an affiliated company in the United States. The amount of the invest is simply the amount of money necessary to get the business to function, pay salaries and expenses. However, the L-1A visa requires that the executive to be active in the business and perform executive duties. The visa can be extended and eventually an immigrant petition through the US company can lead to a green card. The entire process can take up to several years.
Another investor visa is the E-2 visa for “treaty investors.” This visa exists only for investors with the nationality of a country that has a treaty of commerce and trade with the United States. People from many countries, including Spain, Italy, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Ecuador may qualify for this type of visa. Unfortunately, Brazil and Portugal do not have treaties with the United States that will allow their citizens to apply for an E-2 treaty investor visa. To qualify for an E-2 visa the investor must invest or be in the process of investing a substantial amount of capital. Although there is no set amount, an investment over $100,000 is usually considered “substantial” depending on the type of business. Although an E-2 visa can be extended indefinitely, it does not lead to a green card.
A third, and increasingly popular option, for immigrant investors is the EB-5 immigrant investor visa. Unlike the L-1A and E-2 visas, which are both nonimmigrant visas, the EB-5 visa leads directly to a green card. But, the investment is very much larger than the other options. An approved EB-5 immigrant investor petition allows the investor, their spouse, and unmarried children under 21 to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the United States.
There are two types of EB-5 investments: the traditional investment and an investment in an EB-5 Regional Center. In general, the investment amount for a traditional EB-5 visa is $1,000,000. This money is invested into a business (new commercial enterprise) in the United States which is directed or managed by the investor. The investment needs to create at least ten full-time jobs at the business. If done correctly, the investor will initially receive a green card valid for two years. At the end of the two years, the investor must prove to immigration that the money is still invested in the business and the ten full-time jobs have been created. This is not an easy task!
The minimum investment amount may be lowered to $500,000 if the business is (1) in a “targeted employment area” meaning an area where the unemployment rate is at least 150% of the national average, or (2) in a rural area. But, as anyone who has ever owned a business can tell you, $500,000 is not a lot of money to start a business and maintain ten full-time workers.
REGIONAL CENTER. By now, almost everyone has heard of the EB-5 Regional Center. People have debated whether investing in a Regional Center is the equivalent of buying a green card. I can tell you from experience, no one can buy a green card (at least not a real one).
Regional Centers are businesses which have been approved by US Citizenship and Immigration Services to accept EB-5 investments. There are over 250 regional centers throughout the United States and the vast majority of them require the lower investment amount of $500,000. Each regional center can have one or more projects in which they are accepting new investors. Some of these projects can include construction of hotels, expansion of ski resorts, creation of biomedical research facilities, and many other types of business ventures. Some regional centers have a long track record of success, and others are complete failures.
The choice of which regional center to invest in is extremely important. Similar to any other type of investment, the investor can lose everything if the business fails. Some things to think about when considering which EB-5 regional center project to choose include: What is the total amount of money that the project needs? How many investors have already put in their money? What other sources of capital does the project have access to? What is the history and track record of the regional center? How many jobs need to be created for the total number of investors?
After choosing and investing in a regional center, the investor must prove to the immigration service that the source of his funds is legal. This is done to discourage money laundering and investments from narco-traffickers and terrorists. After approval of the immigrant investor petition, the investor and his or her family can then apply for their green cards.
There are many benefits to the EB-5 Regional Center program. The investor does not have to work for the business or even live in the same state. This is great for investors who want to retire in the United States, or for those with families who want to take care of their children while they attend school. Additionally, it is great for US businesses. It is a good source of financing and leads to greater job creation. Everyone wins!
So, what how much does a green card cost?