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Washington's EB-5 green card program comes under scrutiny

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There are many ways for an immigrant to obtain a green card. But one way is restricted only to immigrants who are prepared to invest substantial sums of money in job-producing projects in the United States. It is called the EB-5 program after the class of visas that immigrants can earn under it. While the EB-5 program is booming and is slated for aggressive expansion, questions remain about how fairly it treats investing immigrants.

The program is designed for the mutual benefit of immigrants and American businesses. But in practice immigrants and businesses do not always see a benefit. Under the program, immigrants receive temporary residency if they invest in business ventures. If the venture produces at least 10 jobs per $1 million investment--or per $500,000 in certain locations--within two years, the immigrants obtain green cards.

But some immigrants report that they gave money to projects that quickly went under, leaving them without green cards or their investment. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is the agency responsible for approving immigrants' EB-5 applications. But the agency does not vet potential projects. According to USCIS's director, the agency does not "get into the business models."

Advocates for EB-5 immigrants say that promoters of business investments sometimes make inflated claims about the success of the project and the number of jobs it will create. This can lead to few investors receiving green cards. While investing in any business naturally carries some risk, USCIS data reveal that only 42 percent of immigrant investors obtained permanent residency over the course of the EB-5 program.

Some immigrant investors who were refused green cards have filed lawsuits against the USCIS. Although USCIS has made it a goal to improve the program, immigrants seeking green cards through the EB-5 program should protect themselves by knowing their rights under the program and by carefully selecting their investments.

Source: Bloomberg, "Coming to America Costs $500,000 With Job Plan Prone to Failures," Dune Lawrence, Mar. 22, 2012.

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