EB-5 visa: an overview
EB-5 visa is an immigrant visa issued by the United States authorities. It is granted to foreign nationals who invest at least $800,000 in a US business and create jobs in a Targeted Employment Area — an area with high unemployment.
EB-5 visa holders are allowed to live, work and study in the US for the period of visa validity.
If the application is successful, an EB-5 visa is granted to a South African citizen for a conditional 2-year period. During this period, an EB-5 visa investor has to stay in the US for a minimum of a year. Otherwise, the visa will be revoked.
Then, the investor and their family members receive a Green Card, an equivalent of permanent residence in the United States. After another five years, the Green Card holder can apply for US citizenship.
An applicant invests independently or through an EB-5 Regional Center, a company licensed by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 95% of applicants choose the second option. Immigrant Invest only works with the most reputed Regional Centers.
7 benefits of an EB-5 visa for South African citizens
South African citizens choose to obtain an EB5 visa for many reasons.
1. Quick relocation to the USA and creation of a safe haven. An EB-5 visa permits investors and their families to reside legally in the United States, one of the most developed countries and the world’s number 1 economy. Investors don’t need to wait until their conditional Green Card issuance. They can immediately move to the USA once their visa application is approved.
With an EB-5 visa, the investor and their family members can go to the USA anytime, even if the borders are closed for foreigners. It is especially useful in instances of political instability, health hazards, or threats to safety.
2. Citizenship in 7 years. An EB-5 visa is an immigrant visa, opening an opportunity for US citizenship. After two years of residence in the US, the investor is eligible for permanent residence, also known as a Green Card in the United States. After another five years, the investor and their family can apply for US citizenship.
3. Visa-free travel. With a South African passport, you can enter 105 countries visa-free. At the same time, the US passport grants you visa-free access to more than 180 countries. Among them are the Schengen area countries, the UK, and Japan.
4. Opening US bank accounts. EB-5 visa holders can open bank accounts in various currencies, such as dollars and euros. Investors can earn interest on savings or use the account for international transactions.
5. Access to education and healthcare services. EB-5 visa holders can get health insurance and treatment in American healthcare facilities. The US is a global hotspot for medical tourism, with foreigners frequently visiting specialists like gynecologists, oncologists, plastic surgeons, and resuscitators.
Children of investors have the privilege to attend US schools free of charge. They are also eligible for university scholarships. The US has international schools that award International Baccalaureate (IB) diplomas.
6. Potential investment return. The EB-5 visa program doesn't guarantee a return on investment. However, it is possible after 5—7 years; the amount depends on the project specifics.
7. No sponsorship requirements. Usually, when foreigners apply for a US visa, they need someone to sponsor them. For example, an employer ready to hire this person or a relative for cases of family reunification.
Investors applying for an EB-5 visa don’t need to have a sponsor. The only requirement is to fulfill the program’s criteria.
Requirements for obtaining an EB-5 visa
Investors participating in the EB-5 visa program invest in the country’s economy and have to create at least 10 jobs for US workers.
The projects for investment can be located both in Targeted Employment Areas and outside them. The sum of the investment depends on the location of the project:
- $800,000+ in a project in the Targeted Employment Areas;
- $1,050,000+ in a project outside the Targeted Employment Areas.
Construction works usually have to start before an EB-5 visa is issued. This way, the US immigration authorities are more confident about the investor’s intentions.
The investor has to pay a Regional Center of choice an administrative fee of $70,000. Other expenses include Due Diligence, health insurance, registration and state fees.
To be eligible to participate in the EB-5 program, the investor must meet several requirements:
- be over 18;
- have no criminal record;
- not be under US sanctions;
- have a legal source of income and be able to prove it.
The program also applies to the investor’s close family members: a spouse aged over 18 with no criminal record and unmarried children under 21.
Risks associated with obtaining an EB-5 visa
If everything goes well, an investor gets his Green Card and a full return on investment. However, it’s worth keeping in mind three issues that may arise:
- The chosen project does well but hasn’t created enough jobs. In this case, the investor can get their investment back but will not get a conditional 2‑year Green Card.
- The project has created enough jobs but faces financial difficulties. In this case, the investor gets a Green Card but doesn’t get an investment return.
- The worst scenario is when the project hasn't created enough jobs and is not doing well financially. In this case, the applicant can lose all the investment and a Green Card.
You may also lose money if your application is rejected in the first place. The thing is, you need to make an investment before filing a petition for an EB-5 visa. There is a chance you won’t get your money back if it gets rejected, but that’s not a likely scenario.
Another risk is connected with the performance of Regional Centers if you apply through them. Although they are approved by USCIS, it doesn’t control them and therefore doesn’t protect the investor. So if the project doesn’t comply with laws and a Regional Center is either a failure or a fraudster, the investor will not receive an EB-5 visa.
How to obtain an EB5 visa as a South African citizen: step-by-step procedure
1. Pass a preliminary Due Diligence check
Immigrant Invest conducts a preliminary Due Diligence check to help an investor prepare for the main Due Diligence. This evaluation spots possible setbacks early on.
The check is executed by Certified Compliance Anti Money Laundering Officers who are well-versed in the intricacies of Due Diligence across various countries. The process is entirely private, with the investor only providing a copy of their passport.
2. Submit the documents
Immigrant Invest lawyers provide an investor with a list of documents required for an EB-5 visa petition. The investor collects the original documents and gives them to the lawyers. Specialists then translate and notarize documents.
The required documents are the following:
- passport copies;
- birth certificates;
- marriage certificates or proof of single status;
- evidence of investment, any court decisions against the investor within the last 15 years;
- tax returns and bank statements for the past 7 years;
- business ownership proof;
- business licenses;
- proof of other income;
- financial statements for each business;
- evidence of the legality of investment sources.
The investor submits the documents to a Regional Center and a US immigration lawyer who assists with the petition process.
The Regional Center also provides the investor with a document package for the project, including a cover letter, business plan, economic report, and proof of the center's activities.
3. Fulfill investment obligations
Before applying for an EB-5 visa, the investor picks and invests in a project.
The Regional Center takes the responsibility to create 10 jobs and informs the investor about the project, its potential profitability, and associated risks.
4. Apply for an EB-5 visa
Aided by an immigration lawyer, the investor submits an I-526E petition, the formal name for the EB-5 visa application. The lawyer ensures document accuracy and assists with form completion.
Documents are usually submitted to the US consulate in the investor's home country or a nearby country. If the investor is already in the US, for example, on a work visa, documents are submitted to USCIS.
5. Wait for the application to be processed
Since the EB-5 visa program is quota-based, it takes time for USCIS to review applications. This process usually takes 3–4 years per applicant.
6. Get a conditional Green Card
Once USCIS approves the EB-5 visa petition, the investor can travel to the US and submit an I-485 petition for a conditional Green Card.
USCIS schedules biometrics collection and may interview an applicant. The process typically takes six months, after which conditional Green Cards are granted to the investor and their family.
7. Get a Green Card
Two years after the approval of the EB-5 program petition, the investor can apply for a US Green Card that grants permanent residency. The investor files an I-829 petition with USCIS to lift restrictions on obtaining permanent residence.
The EB5 visa processing time is 3 years for South African citizens.
EB-5 visa for citizens of South Africa: in brief
An EB-5 visa is an immigrant visa to the USA granted to foreigners in exchange for a business investment of $800,000+ and creating at least 10 jobs.
A conditional EB-5 visa is given for 2 years. After this period, its holder can apply for permanent residency and, after 5 more years, for US citizenship.
There are many advantages that an EB-5 visa can offer its holders: a right to live, work and study in the US, the creation of a safe haven, visa-free travel to 180+ countries, opening bank accounts, and access to education and healthcare services.
The process of acquiring an EB-5 visa takes around 5 years. The investor must collect a package of documents, undergo Due Diligence checks and file 3 petitions for an EB-5 visa and a conditional Green Card.
Frequently Asked Questions
An EB5 visa is an investment visa issued by the United States to foreign nationals, including South African citizens. It allows investors to obtain a residence permit by making a business investment in the US economy.
It is relatively hard to obtain an EB-5 visa. The applicant must invest at least $800,000 in a business and create at least 10 jobs for qualified Americans. However, the risks diminish drastically if an applicant works with a trustworthy agent.
There is an opportunity to get an investment return; however, it is not guaranteed.
The US authorities issue approximately 10,000 EB-5 visas per year.
Yes, South Africans can get a Green Card. When participating in the EB-5 visa program, they first obtain a conditional Green Card for 2 years. After that, they can apply for permanent residence, an equivalent to an ordinary Green Card.
To get an EB-5 visa, you need to be over 18, have no criminal record, not be under US sanctions, have legal income and be able to prove it.
The investor can add their spouse and children to the application.
The average obtainment period of an EB-5 visa is 5 years. However, each case is individual, so the process can take less or more time.