The Rise in Popularity of the EB-5 Program among South Africans

The US-government approved employment-based (EB-5) program is the fastest and safest way for South Africans to gain permanent residency in the US. It is proving popular, despite the price-tag of $500 000.

The US Department of State recently published data showing that there were 91 green cards issued to South Africans for the federal fiscal year ending September 30, 2018. This represents a 72% increase on the previous year when 53 green cards were issued. Bear in mind that this data represents green cards issued; given that it takes between 18 months to 2 years for South Africans to get their green card, these numbers most likely represent people who applied in 2016. By all accounts, however, the numbers would have grown considerably over the past two years. Despite the growth, South Africa still remains a small part of the overall EB-5 market, which has a 10,000 annual statutory quota. China, Vietnam, India, South Korea, Taiwan and Brazil are the biggest markets.

Foreigners who invest in the program are required to contribute $500 000 of capital with a view to investing in an approved business that must create ten permanent jobs in the process. These approved businesses are located in designated areas called “Regional Centers, and in high unemployment zones within those areas called Targeted Employment Areas (TEAs). The ‘prize’ for putting one’s capital to work in the US is the much-coveted Green Card for the investor (as well as their spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21). All family members are eligible to qualify for US citizenship after a period of approximately five years of permanent residency. It generally takes no longer than two years to receive the initial Green Card.

The federally approved program seeks to target high-net-worth individuals who can contribute towards the US economy and bolster employment. Cost aside, barriers to entry are negligible – including requirements that one simply has to prove that the funds come from a legitimate source and one does not have a criminal record. Neither age nor educational requirements are taken into consideration and medical check-ups are non-invasive (such as being screened for TB).

Potential investors should apply as soon as possible. If the program is substantially reformed, new legislation or regulations could mean fewer visas being issued from next year onwards (7 000 instead of 10 000) – and the investment amount is likely to be higher (at least $1m). Some of the other proposed changes include increased filing fees (an additional $12 500 per petition), a requirement to create 12 jobs rather than the current ten, and a 120-day moratorium on new applications if legislation drafted last year (but never filed) is passed. The program is currently in limbo due to the partial government shut down, although at the present time the US immigration agency is still accepting petitions, but holding them for adjudication.

LCR’s current EB-5 investment offering, the Four Seasons Surf Club Hotel in Miami, Florida is an attractive EB-5 proposition for those looking to make the most of their American dream. This project has already received multiple I-526 approvals, which represent the completion of the first stage of the EB-5 immigration process for existing investors. These approvals have come in only 14 months – versus a current average I-526 approval time of between 21 and 26 months. In addition, the iconic Four Seasons branded and operated hotel and 150 luxury residences is government approved (USCIS exemplar approval) and currently on track to create over 9,000 EB-5 qualifying jobs.

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