Posted on March 24, 2009

US to Woo Millionaire Immigrants

Veronica Uy, Inquirer (Makati City Philippines), March 19, 2009

MANILA, Philippines–Following the footsteps of Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the United States is now stepping up efforts to attract millionaire immigrants who can help stimulate its badly battered economy by investing and creating jobs, learned Thursday.

The US Department of Homeland Security, particularly its Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, issued a set of recommendations to “stabilize and energize [its] employment creation immigration visa (EB-5) program.”

The report noted that while the US Immigration Act of 1990 allocates 10,000 fifth employment-based (EB-5) immigrant visas to investors and their family every year, less than 1,000 have been used. Between 1992 and 2004, a total of 6,024 such visas were issues, or an average of 500 a year.

“This underutilization is caused by a confluence of factors, including program instability, the changing economic environment, and more inviting immigrant investor programs offered by other countries,” said the report issued March 18.

The law created the new category for immigrants who are required to create at least 10 full-time jobs by investing at least $500,000 for commercial enterprises in a rural area or targeted employment area; otherwise, the minimum qualifying investment is $1 million.

Earlier US government assessments of the program predicted that 4,000 millionaire investors and members of their family would sign up, bring in $4 billion in new investments, and create 40,000 jobs every year.

“In recognition of the present turmoil in the US economy, it is incumbent upon USCIS to take all necessary and appropriate steps to facilitate a healthy, vigorous, and smooth-running employment creation immigrant visa program,” it added.

Thus, the Ombudsman proposed that the USCIS make it easier for millionaire immigrants enter the US.

Among its specific recommendations were to facilitate earlier deficient applications, standardize adjudications, and assign more people to the EB-5 Administrative Appeals Office.

The Ombudsman also suggested rules that will promote stakeholder and investor confidence, as well as make the adjudicatory processes more predictable.

“The underutilization of the EB-5 visa category is principally caused by significant regulatory and administrative obstacles, as well as by uncertainties that undermine investor and stakeholder confidence,” the report said.

For faster decisions, it also suggested that foreign investors be offered a “Special Handling Package option . . . for a higher fee.”

The Ombudsman said priority must be given for the review and processing of all EB-5 petitions from the regions, and suggested that the US Departments of State and Commerce promote the EB-5 program overseas.

“Given current economic conditions, by adopting these recommendations USCIS will send a message that it accepts, understands, and will implement Congress’ intention that the EB-5 program serve as an employment creation engine for our nation,” the report said.

The United States stands to lose high-skilled immigrant entrepreneurs and science and engineering workforce due to protectionist measures it is putting in place in the wake of the economic recession, cautions a latest study.

The survey comes in the context of the large banks, such as Bank of America, and other US companies reducing plans to hire foreign national students due to concerns over political backlash amidst growing US job losses.

The Kauffman Foundation study released yesterday indicates that lessening the number of foreign national students in US jobs may be detrimental to the economic health of the country by accelerating the return of talented immigrant students to their home countries.

“Policymakers are misguided if they believe these talented next-generation entrepreneurs and innovators threaten US jobs. They, in fact, offer the promise of more jobs by building successful, high-growth companies–either in their own businesses or those for which they work,” said Robert E Litan, vice president of Research and Policy at Kauffman.

The study, conducted by Duke University professor and Harvard researcher Vivek Wadhwa, surveyed 1,224 foreign nationals currently studying in US institutions of higher learning or who had graduated by the end of the 2008 academic school year.