NEW YORK – Immigrants in the US waiting in line for permanent residency know well enough the huge financial drain it is, with a slew of annual invoices by lawyers, frequent filing fees for renewals of applications, work permits, and updates of health records by the Department of Homeland Security.
The process begins from the time when an immigrant has not even landed on the shores of the country; busy packing his bags as a student, or prospective worker. This money is what helps the immigration processing wing of the DHS survive comfortably as an individual entity without help from the federal government. No scare of furlough for those employees during a shutdown.
There are no independent studies of how much money is doled out by legal immigrants annually towards their dream of acquiring a Green Card or renewing an H-1B visa, and subsequently, the large number of government and private jobs it helps to retain and create in the US.
But to give an insight into the huge financial investment reaped by the US from India through just one visa incentive scheme, the EB-5 visa, here are some mind boggling numbers: in the last three years, from fiscal years 2016 to 2018, a total of 908 Indian nationals got a provisional Green Card by paying a minimum of $500,000 (only base amount being calculated; fees for lawyers and other costs not being calculated here) for investment ventures as stipulated under the EB-5 visa program. That amounts to a grand total of just under half a billion dollars: $454,000,000.
In comparison, India’s current foreign exchanges reserves stand at just over $402 million.
The EB-5 visa, created by the Immigration Act of 1990, provides a route for immigrant Investors to get an almost instant Green Card by investing $500,000 to $1 million to finance a business in the US that will employ at least 10 American workers, for two years minimum.
Most immigrant investors who use the EB-5 program invest in a DHS sanctioned targeted employment area which has a minimum investment of $500,000. Outside projects have a price tag of $1 million. The EB-5 program is intended to encourage both ‘foreign investments and economic growth’. It includes investing in even commercial and residential buildings in several states.
Coming back to those numbers, in fiscal year 2016, a total of 149 Indian nationals got a Green Card under the EB-5 visa (which includes family members too of an investor), according to figures released by the Department of State. That number swelled to 174 in fiscal 2017, and as of September 2018, another 585 Indians got a Green Card, which translated to 6% last year of the total number of visas given.
In comparison, 7,516 Chinese nationals got a Green Card from the EB-5 visa route in fiscal 2016. It went up marginally in fiscal 2017, with 7,567 Chinese gaining a permanent foothold in the US, before it scaled back drastically in the 2018 fiscal, with only 4,642 individuals starting a new life in a new country.
Even then, the 2018 fiscal numbers constituted a whopping 48% of the total Green Cards given that year to Chinese nationals. They topped the EB-5 list, with Vietnam in 2nd place, and India 3rd in the list. For the record, a total of 1,495 Vietnamese got Green Cards in the last three years.
What it translates to is that a total of 19,725 Chinese ended up paying the astronomical sum of almost $10 billion in the last three years to Uncle Sam to carve out a new future: $9,862,500,000.
Now, here’s some further good news, for the US, at least: the minimum amount of $500,000 is likely to be soon hiked up to $1.35 million, with new laws for EB-5 visa in the offing. For those who invest in projects outside the mandate of the DHS, the $1 million price is likely to be hiked to $1.8 million.
It’s not yet known but the US may reduce the wait time for prospective EB-5 visa buyers, which is currently backlogged by around three years for Indian nationals. Otherwise, lawyers and sceptics say, it would mean the death knell of the EB-5 visa, render it too costly plus make it unattractive with a long wait time.
But for a lot of people in India and China even that time-frame and escalated price would seem attractive to help sons, daughters and relatives emigrate to the US, or plan an enterprise here themselves.
The question to be pondered is: all this is happening even as the US is tightening control and restrictions on all other traditional legal visas for Indian nationals, like the H-1B, F-1, H-4, L category, among others.
And, not to forget, engaging in bitter trade wars with China and India.
Requests for more evidence to substantiate H-1B applications have risen, extensions for the same are facing uphill battles; work permits are in the process of being rescinded for H-4 holders; and students from India are wary of making an investment to come here and study, only to find out that they are at the mercy of a lottery in an ever increasing pool of candidates, for their first job. That first job too is proving elusive to get, what with harsh rules by the Trump administration to dissuade employers from hiring foreigners, sponsoring them for a work visa.
Earlier this month, President Trump put an end to the Generalized System of Preferences for India that allowed it to export $5.6 billion of products duty-free to the US, in 2017. Trump’s grouse was that India denied “equitable and reasonable” access to its own markets for some America-made products. India claimed it made only around $190 million in profit from those exports.
Well, President Trump, for all your jibes of India being a “tariff king”, here’s another brutal truth: all these immigrant ‘exports’ and their money is helping America thrive.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)