Wealthy Foreigners Buy Their Way to US Citizenship

    05 September, 2013


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Economics Report.

    What do these four things have in common: a proposed wind farm in the American state of Washington, a gold mine in Idaho, a new casino in Las Vegas and ski resort expansions in Vermont. They're all investment vehicles for wealthy foreigners seeking green cards to live in the United States.

    Under American law, foreigners can get such residency if they invest at least 500,000 dollars to create at least 10 jobs in the country. Here is an example of how the program works.

    A few years ago, Jordan Gagner and his wife needed to move from their home in Canada to a drier climate, like Arizona. At first, the possibility of moving south of the border permanently seemed unlikely.

    "Being a self-employed wealth manager and a teacher, those are two occupations that are not on the top 10 lists of visas being given to foreigners to come down to the U.S."

    But then he heard about the immigrant investor visa. He and several other foreign investors offered $500,000 each to build an assisted living center in Bellingham, Washington. Mr Gagner was credited with creating lots of jobs during the recession and his whole family received green cards.

    Immigration lawyer David Andersson organized the deal.

    "If you have a solid investment and there may be a benefit which exceeds mere return, such as the ability to move your family to America, then an investor may consider a lower return than, for example, a bank."

    Mr Andersson has led the way in an industry he says is growing quickly. Companies that  bringing together investors and possible borrowers are officially known as "EB-5 regional centers." The name comes from the part of the immigration law that set up the immigrant investor visa.

    Some Americans have expressed concerns about the program. Landowner Harland Radomske first heard about it when a group of wealthy Koreans were invited to invest in a wind farm on land next to his property. He feared a wind farm would reduce the value of his ranch, and there was more.

    "We have all of this controversy going over immigration, the borders of Mexico, and all of that issues before the Congress and Senate and so on. And now we find out unbeknownst, if you're a rich foreigner, you can buy your way to citizenship."

    The wind project developers refused many requests to tell the side of the story. Yet, even with the disputes over immigration, the foreign investor program has a lot of support in Congress. There is also a move to make the program permanent.

    And that's the Economics Report from VOA Learning English. I'm Mario Ritter.