The United States is the most sought-after destination for students around the world, with top-ranked Ivy League colleges and other highly esteemed institutes dotting the country. Every year, thousands of foreign nationals enter the United States on an F-1 student visa to pursue a four-year university degree and, hopefully, obtain a job in the United States upon graduation. But the reality is that life as an international student can be difficult.
Those residing in the United States on an F-1 visa may study freely at the university they have enrolled in, but they have limited rights regarding work, generally restricted to taking on employment positions specifically offered by the university. Exceptions do exist for programs that require internships or contain a practical component, but for the most part, an international student’s earning options during their academic career in the United States are limited. This also disadvantages them in the post-graduation job hunt, equipping them with emptier resumes than their U.S. counterparts.
The best solution for international students in the United States looking to improve their status in the United States and procure a richer learning environment is to obtain a U.S. green card through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. U.S. permanent resident status offers a student numerous advantages before, during, and after their university studies—they can enjoy an easier admissions process, potentially qualify for in-state tuition rates, work freely during their studies, and stay indefinitely in the United States even after graduation.
How to Make an EB-5 Investment During College
In most cases, youth themselves don’t possess the amount of capital needed for an EB-5 investment ($1.8 million or $900,000, depending on the targeted employment area, or TEA, designation of the project), but their parents might. Parents routinely donate EB5 investment capital to their college-aged children so they can sponsor their own one-way ticket to the United States. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) accepts funds from a number of sources as EB-5 investment capital, and gifts are a highly established and commonly used one.
All that is needed to make an EB5 investment through gifted funds is to present an agreement specifying that the transaction constitutes a gift and that the recipient is not obliged to repay the donor, along with documentary evidence from the donor that the capital originated from lawful sources. Gathering source-of-funds documentation for the EB-5 investment process can be challenging and time-consuming, and it may be wise for the donor to first consult an EB-5 lawyer to determine the best sources to use.
EB-5 Processing Times
The slow processing times of the EB-5 program are no secret, but in most cases, an international student should be able to complete their EB-5 investment prior to graduation. Investors from backlogged countries—as of February 2021, China and Vietnam—may face additional challenges and delays, but investors from any other country should receive their conditional permanent resident status before their degree.
Additionally, while processing times for I-526 petitions—the initial petition an EB-5 investor must file—have been worryingly long in the late 2010s and beyond, proposed reform legislation promises to hasten USCIS adjudication times. Presented by long-time EB-5 allies Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy, the bill aims to, among other measures, reduce processing times, tighten security regulations, and reauthorize the EB-5 Regional Center Program for five years, a far cry from the short-term reauthorizations the program has seen since FY2015. Though not passed as of February 2021, EB-5 industry leaders are optimistic that the bill will see the light of day.
Making an EB-5 Investment from Within the United States
Most foreign nationals who make an EB5 investment do so from their home country, waiting until they obtain U.S. conditional permanent resident status before becoming eligible to make the move to the United States. A minority, however, engages in an EB-5 investment from within the United States, having already obtained temporary residency rights through another visa.
International students fall into this category—nothing prohibits F-1 international students from participating in an EB5 investment and applying for associated permanent resident status. As long as a student’s status remains valid, they have not violated any conditions thereof, they were admitted to the United States lawfully, and they have not committed any crimes that would render them ineligible to apply for permanent resident status, they may apply to switch their F-1 status to permanent residency under the EB-5 program.
Obtaining U.S. permanent resident status prior to graduation is the ideal situation for international students involved in an EB-5 investment. While F-1 international students have a limited window to find employment in the United States and apply for a work permit, U.S. green card holders can take a more leisurely approach, knowing they have the permanent right to residency in the United States. The job search is also easier for those with a green card—employers are disincentivized from hiring foreign workers, making it significantly more difficult for them to obtain employment than it is for citizens and permanent residents.