Every week, on average, three Indians are signing up to shell out half-a-million dollars each to have a go at living the American dream, through a sponsored 'invest in the US and get a green card' program called the EB-5.
The EB-5 Investor Visa program provides an opportunity for immigrant foreign nationals and their immediate family (children up to the age of 21) to obtain US green cards and permanent residency in mainly two ways.
Through the first route (direct investment), one can invest a minimum of $1 million, start a business from scratch and create 10 full-time American jobs.
The second way (regional center program) is simpler and requires a one-time investment of $500,000 (Rs 3.4 crore) into a government-approved EB-5 business that creates 10 or more full-time American jobs in rural areas. One can also redeem the investment after five years.
"We have signed up 210 investors in a very short time and 42 are Indians," said Rogelio Caceres, co-founder & CMO of LCR Capital Partners, an investment cum immigration consultancy that invests applicants' funds into companies such as Dunkin' Donuts and Four Seasons.
"For EB-5, we have witnessed interest from top executives at companies including Bain, Reliance, Aditya Birla and McKinsey apart from business families. These guys do not want their kids to face uncertainty while looking for jobs in the US," said Caceres. He attributes the current rush for EB-5 to two factors: uneasiness over the Trump administration's take on H-1B and the expiry of the EB-5 visa program in April.
Last month, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) proposed significant changes to the EB-5 Investor visa program that includes raising the minimum investment amount from $500,000 to $1.35 million.
However, LCR Capital is not the only one lapping up investments from well-heeled Indians for the EB-5 Investor Visa program.
Other similar organisations such as US Immigration Fund, CMB and EB5 Capital are also active in the space.
"While approvals of US visas through other routes have been stagnant over the years, the number of approvals for Indians through the EB-5 route is growing by around 30% yearon-year," said Caceres.
The program comes with a catch though. If the funds are invested in a venture that fails to create jobs, the green card may get rejected. After making the investments, applicants are usually issued the visas within two years.
Starting from a base of $300 million of EB-5 capital in 2009, the program has seen high growth and attracted funds of around $7 billion in 2015. But compared with China, which saw 8,156 visas issued in the 2015, India witnessed 111 visa approvals in the same period.
The total numbers for 2016, which immigration consultants said could be higher, will be released in March.