Why this US visa option is so popular among South Africans

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Applications for the EB-5 US Investor Green Card Programme requiring a minimum of R7.6 million approximately ($500,000) have more than tripled and are up by 346% according to Nadia Read Thaele, director of LIO Global, a specialist firm in residence and citizenship by investment programmes.

This, she said, is ahead of the expected increase in the required minimum from $500,000 (R7.6 million) to $900,000 (R14 million).

The US remains a top choice for emigration and the programme offers a relatively easy route to citizenship within a five year period.

A main benefit is that candidates can retain their SA citizenship as the US permits dual citizenship, she said. There is also no language, age, education, managerial or skill requirements.

An American passport is one of the most desirable, offering visa-free travel to over 180 countries.

While investment into residency programmes over the last five years as a ‘Plan-B’ option and to gain easier access to international destinations for business and leisure has risen notably, the rising pessimism about the economic future in the country has accelerated emigration and residency programme applications over the last year, Read Thaele said.

Most applicants are concerned about their children and a big advantage of the programme is access to top quality education as children can study at US universities at same rates as US nationals.

The programme allows family investors to include their spouse and unmarried children (under the age of 21) in their application and the investor and his/her immediate family may live, work or start a business anywhere in the US.

The EB-5 programme is operated by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and offers two investment options:

Option 1 – Create a New Enterprise – invest $1 million (R15 million) in a new commercial enterprise, or $500,000 (R8 million) in a targeted employment area (can include certain rural areas and zones with low unemployment). Must employ at least 10 qualified US workers in direct employment and the applicant must actively manage the policy formation and day-to-day activities of the enterprise.

Option 2 – Invest in a Regional Centre – by far the most popular. Invest $500,000 (R8 million) in an at-risk US job-creating centre which creates employment for at least 10 US employees.

This option has no requirement for day-to-day management and can instead elect to be a policy-maker. Only centres approved by the USCIS qualify which makes it easier for the investor since the centre would already have demonstrated its job creation. 90% of US Eb-5 applicants select this option, Read Thaele said.

Read Thaele said that the US has a complex immigration process with stringent requirements.  One aspect to bear in mind is that the EB-5 investor’s capital investment is placed “at risk” with no guaranteed return and hence in-depth due diligence should be done.

The two biggest risks in the process involve choosing a Regional Centre that has a strong reputation and track record in returning funds to investors, and secondly investing in a Regional Centre that meets the requirements of the programme. If the Regional Centre chosen does not meet the requirements, you won’t get your green card, she said.

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