All around the world are foreign nationals dreaming of a life in the United States. Unfortunately, for most, the dream is unattainable—but for a select few, it can become a reality. The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program has been the key to the United States for thousands of foreign investors, who have earned green cards for themselves and their immediate family members through largely passive EB-5 investments. But for many, U.S. permanent resident status isn’t the ultimate goal. Many have their sights set on U.S. citizenship.
Permanent residents in the United States enjoy most of the same rights and freedoms as U.S. citizens, including the right to live, work, study, or travel anywhere in the United States. With a green card, children can also attend U.S. public school, and the admissions process to U.S. colleges is usually significantly easier. However, green card holders cannot vote or run for federal office, and they face restrictions on how much time they can spend abroad. U.S. citizens can also petition to bring family members to the United States much more quickly than permanent residents.
Making an EB-5 Investment
Only permanent residents can apply for naturalization, so the first step for any foreign national is to obtain U.S. permanent resident status. The EB-5 program makes this relatively simple and easy compared to other immigration pathways. An investor must take care to fulfill certain EB5 investment criteria, but with proper due diligence, most applicants succeed with their EB-5 investments.
The minimum EB5 investment amount is $500,000, if the project is in a targeted employment area (TEA). The amount doubles to $1,000,000 if the project does not quality for TEA status. An investor must also provide evidence of the lawful sources of the capital and maintain it at risk for the entirety of the investment period. Issuance of permanent resident status is contingent on the creation of at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers. If an EB-5 investor fulfills these requirements, they will earn green cards for themselves as well as their spouse and any unmarried children younger than 21.
Requirements for U.S. Naturalization
An applicant must satisfy several requirements before they are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. The most important one is the acquisition of a green card, which is the most challenging step for most immigrants, potentially taking more than a decade. Those who have made EB-5 investments, on the other hand, can often receive their green card in just two years.
After obtaining permanent residency rights, a foreign national must reside in the United States for at least five years to be eligible for citizenship. Travel abroad is permitted, but permanent residents must be careful—spending more than six months out of the country at a time could jeopardize their green card status. Additionally, a permanent resident must have spent at least 30 months of the past five years physically in the United States to qualify for naturalization. While EB-5 investors initially receive two-year conditional permanent resident status, these two years count toward the five years of permanent residency necessary for naturalization eligibility, allowing EB-5 investors to start working toward eligibility for U.S. citizenship as soon as they enter the United States.
Just like the EB-5 investment visa itself, the U.S. naturalization process is open to both an investor and their accompanying family members, meaning the entire family can obtain U.S. citizenship in just five years from the initial relocation to the United States. Consulting with an experienced EB-5 immigration attorney is always encouraged, however, to determine the best course of action for you, your family, and your goals.
The Naturalization Process
Upon living in the United States on a green card for at least five years, an EB-5 investor may submit Form N-400 to initiate the naturalization process with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). An applicant may file the petition from any state, but they must have resided in that state for at least three months before submitting the form.
The next step is to set up an interview with USCIS and undertake the citizenship exam. Applicants must demonstrate at least a basic ability to use English and fundamental knowledge of U.S. history and government structure. These factors will influence USCIS’s adjudication of an N-400—following the interview and exam, USCIS will issue a decision. If an applicant’s petition is approved, they must take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States, and that’s it—they’re finally U.S. citizens and may enjoy all the rights that come along with U.S. citizenship.