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Immigration Planning for Chinese Parents with EB-5

The EB-5 Program provides a significant opportunity for investors seeking to immigrate to the United States to create a better future for their children. The growth of the middle class combined with the stressors of increasing competition in education, pollution and other environmental issues, and the limits imposed by an authoritarian government have created a booming market for U.S. visas among wealthy Chinese families. As such, investors often base their immigration and investment strategies on the needs of their children.

The EB-5 Program is a promising option for these investors. Under the regional center model in particular, an investor must invest $1,800,000 in a new commercial enterprise, but this required amount drops to $900,000 if the enterprise is located in a targeted employment area, meaning an area with a low population or a high unemployment rate. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) maintains a list of designated regional centers, which are monitored to ensure they fulfill the goals of the EB-5 Program and comply with U.S. laws. The investment must result in the creation of ten fulltime jobs in the area, and the investor is not required to manage the enterprise directly but must play a role in policy formulation as a voting partner.

This model offers several advantages to Chinese investors who wish to immigrate to the United States for the sake of their children, as it requires little direct involvement from the investor and costs less than other investment programs such as the EB-1C visa. Although USCIS does not release its approval rates for the adjudication of EB-5 visa petitions, investors who work with experienced regional centers, counsel, and other partners to adhere to the program requirements can achieve permanent residence in the United States as well as a return on their investments.

This article outlines the factors affecting Chinese investors’ decisions to emigrate and provides a case study to illustrate the type of situation in which the EB-5 Program could be a viable option to achieve a family’s goals.

Why Investors Choose to Immigrate to the United States

 Prior to choosing an immigration strategy, potential investors should consult with an attorney experienced in the requirements and benefits of U.S. visa programs to determine which might suit their unique goals and circumstances. The following points should be addressed as part of this exploration process:

  • Why do the investors hope to immigrate?
  • How much money can the investors access for this process?
  • Do the investors have children?
  • If so, how many, and how old are they?
  • Do the investors wish their children to attend school in the United States?
  • Do the investors wish to conduct business in the United States?
  • If so, do they wish to play an active or passive role in managing the business?
  • Are the investors familiar with U.S. cultural practices, and do they speak English?

The EB-5 regional center model, described above, is well suited to investors who wish for their children to be able to immigrate but who may not themselves wish to immigrate or directly manage a U.S. business. The case study below illustrates the circumstances under which this may be the best option.

The Case of Mei Chan

Mei is the CEO of a successful computer manufacturing company in Beijing which has multiple employees. She and her husband have an established social circle and lifestyle in China and do not wish to emigrate, and Mei additionally feels she would be unable to branch out successfully to the United States given her inability to speak English and her unfamiliarity with the business culture overseas. However, Mei and her husband have one son, Ling, who attends university in Los Angeles and wishes to remain in the United States after completing his studies. His parents want to help him achieve this goal.

Ling has majored in business, meaning he will face fierce competition for jobs after graduation as well as the additional hurdle of finding an employer who will sponsor his H-1B nonimmigrant visa and thereby allow him to remain in the United States. Also of concern are his chances of being selected as part of the annual H-1B lottery process USCIS uses to determine which visas will be adjudicated when demand outstrips supply, as it has done recently. Because of this, Ling would rather prefer to remain in the United States as a permanent resident and explore his own options for starting a business, so Mei has considered expanding overseas to allow Ling to apply for an L-1 visa and then permanent residence through the EB-1 Program.

However, this strategy is not ideal given that Mei would prefer to avoid doing business in the United States because of her unfamiliarity with that market. Ling and Mei would additionally have to build up the U.S. branch of the company for at least one year to allow Ling to qualify for a green card under the EB-1 Program, and doing so might not be possible given the challenges Mei would face in the initial expansion process. As Ling would have fairly little experience as a recent graduate at that point, Mei would likely have to make multiple trips to the United States to oversee the hiring of new employees, establish an office, and generally manage the launch of the U.S. branch. The cost of this expansion would be monumental, much more than the $900,000 or even $1,800,000 required for the EB-5 Program. However, direct investment through the EB-5 Program would pose similar issues, given that one of the requirements of that model is a willingness to directly manage the new commercial enterprise.

Given these circumstances, the EB-5 regional center model is the best option for Mei and Ling. To fulfill the requirements of the program, Mei can gift her son $900,000 to invest in a new commercial enterprise in a targeted employment area through a designated regional center, and Ling would therefore be able to file for an I-526 petition for conditional permanent residence. Taking on a more passive role in the management of the enterprise through the regional center would additionally allow Ling to gain valuable business experience and would avoid the issue of Mei having to take on a managerial role in the United States. If Mei and her husband later decide, perhaps in their retirement, that they wish to join their son in the United States, Ling could sponsor their green cards through an immediate relative petition.

Mei is representative of thousands of Chinese parents who wish to help their children achieve a better life in the United States. As a wealthy potential investor, Mei would have several options in terms of pursuing immigration, and she would most definitely consult with a qualified U.S. immigration lawyer to discuss which programs would benefit her and her son and allow them to meet their respective goals. Because the sole purpose of Mei establishing a business in the United States in this case would be to allow Ling to pursue a green card, the EB-1 and EB-5 direct investment options are not well suited to her needs, as she has no desire to immigrate herself or to manage a business abroad. A knowledgeable attorney would therefore recommend the EB-5 regional center model, which meets all Mei and Ling’s investment and immigration criteria.

The regional center model is therefore ideal for the significant proportion of Chinese EB-5 investors who share these goals. Such investors can benefit from speaking with an attorney to learn more and further explore their options.