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Wed 4 Sep 2019 12:57 PM

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Surge in Gulf applicants for US scheme offering citizenship amid price increase

The price to apply for the EB-5 visa investment scheme will increase by 80% in November

Surge in Gulf applicants for US scheme offering citizenship amid price increase
The EB-5 visa for Immigrant Investors was created by the US Immigration Act of 1990 as a way of encouraging foreign investment in projects across the United States.

There has been a huge surge in Gulf residents applying to take part in an American scheme offering the chance to earn citizenship, ahead of new reforms due to come into effect on November 21, which will increase the cost of applying by 80 percent, according to industry experts in Dubai.

The EB-5 visa for Immigrant Investors was created by the US Immigration Act of 1990 as a way of encouraging foreign investment in projects across the United States.

At present, for a minimum investment of $500,000, investors can apply to be part of the scheme, which can lead to a green card and the chance of full American citizenship after five years.

Last month, the EB-5 Modernisation regulations were introduced, meaning that, from November 21, the minimum investment amount for projects classed as targeted employment areas will increase from $500,000 to $900,000. At the same time, the minimum investment for non-targeted employment area projects will increase from $1 million to $1.8 million.

This has led to a surge in applications as potential investors look to get their paperwork filed before the November 21 deadline.

“I have seen almost more than 100 percent surge in applications as it has been out there now for nearly a month,” Preeya Malik, managing director of Step America, a Dubai-based firm which offers the EB-5 visa scheme, told Arabian Business in an interview on Wednesday.

“People are getting to know about it and it is the first time since 2015 they have written a price increase into legislation. If we were getting five applications every week, now we are getting five people almost every other day. People who have been sitting on the fence, this has been the deciding factor to move forward,” she added.

Higher cost bracket

The majority of applicants coming from the GCC are in the higher cost bracket, which are projects in metropolitan districts – or those classed a ‘non-targeted employment areas’ – which are keen to use the scheme to encourage overseas investments.

Targeted employment areas are classed as areas in the US which are economically challenged and have an unemployment rate more than 150 percent of the federal average.

There has been talk over the last few years of an increase in the cost of participation in the EB-5 scheme, which led to a dramatic increase in the number of approvals from the GCC, which collectively rose 564 percent to 93 approvals – a majority of them expats - in 2018.

A total of 54 UAE residents were approved for the programme in 2018, a 350 percent jump from the year before. Neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which saw just a single approval in 2017, recorded 15, a 1,400 percent increase.

Malik said the nationalities looking to take part varied a lot, but the motivation was usually the same, to support their families and children and help them to obtain a green card or passport in the US.

“We have a lot of Arab clients, Pakistani, Indian, but definitely the same in that they are wanting to do it for their children, that is the same no matter the nationality,” she said.