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The EB-5 visa is a way to get a green card and permanent residency through investment. Picture: SUPPLIED/SABLE INTERNATIONAL
The EB-5 visa is a way to get a green card and permanent residency through investment. Picture: SUPPLIED/SABLE INTERNATIONAL

Wealthy South Africans considering moving to the US and seeking permanent residence are applying for the EB-5 investment visa, but impending changes to the requirements will push up the costs significantly – possibly cutting off this option to enter the country for many would-be émigrés.

Immigration and international investment specialists Sable International has taken a closer look at the issue.

“The new regulations propose increases to the minimum investment levels to obtain the US EB-5 visa, from $1m (about R15.2m) to $1.8m for direct investments and $500,000 to $1.35m for investing in projects in target employment areas (TEAs),” says Sable International director Andrew Rissik.

“Investors seeking to obtain a US green card via the EB-5 programme should be advised that the new regulations, with higher costs, are set to become effective 30 to 60 days after publication in the US Federal Register, so we anticipate that they will come into effect at the end of October.

“Investors wishing to use the existing rules and get in at the  lower investment level are advised to move quickly on their decision,” says Rissik.

“South Africans who have the money are looking at the EB-5 visa, because it’s the fastest way to get US residency for a family, you can work anywhere, you have access to an excellent education system for your children, and after five years you can apply for citizenship.

“We are seeing a high number of high-net-worth individuals changing from considering a backup plan to wanting to move overseas. They like the US because there is less of a cultural barrier and their children are guaranteed a good education,” he says.

What is an EB-5 visa?

The EB-5 visa is a way to get a green card and permanent residency through investment. The EB-5 investor visa programme allows foreigners who invest in a US business to obtain a green card and become lawful permanent residents, and eventual citizens, of the US. The investment can lead to a green card for an investor to permanently live and work in the US with his or her spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21.

The EB-5 visa programme is operated by US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The programme was established by the US Congress in 1990 to facilitate increased investment in the country's economy.

EB-5 visa investment requirements

To meet EB-5 investor visa requirements, foreign investors must make an at-risk capital investment in a for-profit US business entity. The required investment amount varies depending on which project you invest in.

If you invest in a TEA, the investment is $500,000; if you invest elsewhere, the minimum required investment is $1m. EB-5 investments must lead to the creation of 10 full-time US jobs for at least two years.

“For foreign nationals with the necessary capital, the EB-5 programme can be an excellent way to obtain permanent resident status in the US. Unlike other immigrant visa options, the EB-5 visa requires no US employer to act as a sponsor, nor does it require any specialised knowledge, skills, or experience,” says Rissik.

The EB-5 visa process

There are four general steps that investors must complete to become US permanent residents through the EB-5 visa programme.

The process involves first finding a suitable business project to invest in and ensuring that it meets the investor requirements.

Applicants must then invest the required capital in that project. The investment must be $1m or $500,000 if the project is situated in a TEA. These investments are often made into an escrow account.

An immigration attorney then provides proof of this investment by filing an I-526 petition with USCIS, which then typically informs applicants whether their I-526 petition has been accepted after 12 to 18 months. Most regional centres will refund your investment if your I-526 is denied.

The third step of the EB-5 application process is for applicants to become two-year conditional residents of the US so they can implement the project funded by their EB-5 investment. EB-5 investors are eligible to become US residents once their I-526 petition has been approved by USCIS.

The final step in the EB-5 visa process is for applicants to become unconditional permanent residents by removing their two-year conditional status.

Investors, their spouses and their unmarried children under the age of 21 can then permanently live and work in the US and have the option of becoming US citizens after five years from the date they received their initial conditional residency.

“It’s a complex process but it’s the most efficient way to obtain a US green card for a family, and we take our clients through every step — our US-based partners have successfully moved more than 600 families there,” says Rissik. 

For more information visit the Sable International website, email cbi@sableinternational.com or call +27 (0) 21 657 1584.

This article was paid for by Sable International.