Immigrant Investor Programs around the World: How the U.S. EB-5 Program Stacks Up
The number of countries with immigrant investor programs has increased dramatically over the past decade. Countries with such programs are located all over the globe, including Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. What these programs have in common is the exchange of residency rights or citizenship for a sizeable investment in that country’s economy. Investors from around the world have been showing increased interest in these programs, reflected by the growing number of investor visas issued each year.
Countries differ most significantly depending on the type of investment required to secure residency. There are two main categories. The first category consists of countries like the U.S., Singapore and the Netherlands, that require applicants to invest in the private sector in order to stimulate the economy and create jobs. A small subset of this group is admitting applicants solely on the basis of purchasing private property in that country. This option is most common among countries—such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Latvia—whose property markets were hit hardest during the 2007-2008 economic crisis.
The second group consists of countries requiring investors to give money directly to the government in the form of a nonrefundable fee or low-interest loan (i.e. purchase of government bonds). The receiving state uses these funds for economic development and other public interest purposes. This group consists of countries in the Caribbean, Malta, the United Kingdom and Australia. 
In addition to the type of investment, countries also differ dramatically with respect to the minimum threshold amount. For instance, as of 2014, the Dominican Republic required an investment of approximately USD $100,000, while Austria required about USD $10 million.  Eligibility requirements also vary, with some countries’ programs stipulating a minimum and/or maximum age, a certain minimum net worth (e.g. Canada currently requires applicants to have a net worth of $10 million), and the investor’s place of origin.
The more popular programs tend to be in traditional immigrant destination countries, such as the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Naturally, the most popular destinations can afford to charge the most for their programs. As of this writing, the UK’s minimum threshold is GBP $2 million and Australia’s is $1.5 to 5 million, depending on the type of investment. The U.S. investment minimum is significantly lower—currently at USD $500,000 in TEAs and $1 million in non-TEAs. However, unlike the UK and Australia, the U.S. only allows investments in a private sector entity. Whereas the UK admits applicants who invest in government bonds and Australia allows money to be placed in federal or state bonds, managed funds, Australian companies, or in a combination of those assets; the U.S. EB-5 program requires that the investment be made solely in a private-sector business. Indeed, EB-5 applicants must demonstrate that their investment is “at-risk,” with no guarantee that the initial capital contribution will be returned to the investor in the future.
While the U.S. Congress is considering program reforms, the U.S. is not the only country altering its immigrant investor program. Though Congress has not significantly modified EB-5 laws or regulations of the EB-5 since the Program’s initial enactment in 1990 (and the subsequent addition of the Regional Center Pilot Program in 1992), many other countries have reformed their counterpart programs over the past decade by raising the investment threshold, modifying acceptable investment categories, and/or requiring riskier investments, among other changes. According to the International Law News, a publication of the American Bar Association,
Trends among immigrant investor programs over the years demonstrate that they are moving away from conservative real estate investment options and becoming focused on ensuring that the investment is “at risk” and one that can stimulate the economy and create jobs. There may be several reasons for this shift within immigrant investor programs. Governments want to avoid the negative stigma that comes with public perception that the government is essentially selling green cards to wealthy foreign investors. An “at risk” investment, similar to a risky decision to invest in the stock market rather than simply depositing funds into a bank account, is a concept that all investors can relate to and understand.
Canada, the U.S.’s friendly neighbor to the north, is one such country making this shift. Canada had a longstanding immigrant investor program that admitted applicants on the basis of purchasing a 5-year government bond for $800,000. This program was terminated and replaced in 2015 with the Immigrant Investor Venture Capital pilot program, which requires a non-guaranteed (“at-risk”) investment of $2 million over 15 years.
If reforms are passed, the U.S. EB-5 program may move in the same direction as many of its counterpart programs, particularly if the investment threshold is increased, which seems probable. However, there is a good chance that the investment threshold will still remain lower than that of Canada, the UK, and Australia. In addition, with its rebounding economy, culture of innovation, and world-class educational institutions, the U.S. is likely to remain one of the world’s most attractive destination countries for investors.
 International Law News, http://www.americanbar.org/publications/international_law_news/2014/fall/immigrant_investor_visas_emergent_trends_around_world.html; http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323372504578466311602710742; http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/04/world/asia/australia-china-immigration/; https://www.gov.uk/tier-1-investor/overview; http://www.loc.gov/law/help/investor-visas/australia.php
 http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/cana...ram-1.2875518; http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/business/iivc/index.asp
This post originally appeared on e-Council. Reprinted with permission.
Lauren A. Cohen, Esq. a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, is an attorney licensed in both the U.S. and Canada, and is an active AILA member. Lauren is a sought-after speaker with a stellar track record of success. Lauren has first-hand knowledge of the visa process, having herself immigrated from Canada. After spending several years working as corporate counsel in various industries while delving into the field of immigration law, Lauren decided to combine her legal knowledge and business acumen. The result is e-Council Inc., a company focused on designing professional Business Plans and offering a wide range of ancillary services for all types of business visas, with a special focus on turnkey EB-5 solutions for direct investment and regional center cases.