The Pacific Northwest is the latest region to benefit from
the federal government's Immigrant Investor Program, which is designed to help
stimulate job growth and economic development in rural areas and other
communities struggling with high unemployment.

The Program essentially offers wealthy foreign entrepreneurs
the opportunity to obtain permanent visas, or green cards, in return for investing
in commercial enterprises as identified by the United States Citizenship and
Immigration Services (USCIS) agency.  The
visas awarded through this Program are commonly referred to as EB-5 visas, "employment-based
visa, fifth preference" (there are four other categories of employment-based
visas, E-1 through E-4, each with their own specific requirements). A foreign national
who invests at least $500,000 in a business and creates or preserves 10
permanent full-time jobs within two years is eligible to receive a green card,
which allows the investor and his or her family to permanently work and live in
the United States.  An investor can also
qualify for an EB-5 visa by investing $1,000,000 in a commercial development
anywhere in the U.S. and creating or preserving 10 permanent full-time jobs.

The Immigrant Investor Program has been around for about two
decades, but it has only recently become one of the more attractive options for
investors and wealthy citizens of other countries to obtain permanent visas
because of the thriving economies of many countries throughout Asia and South
America.  China, especially, has seen a
rapid expansion of its higher-income classes as the prosperity and economic development
of the last few years has left the country awash in cash, much of it in the
hands of the country's newly-minted millionaires and billionaires.  A growing number of wealthy foreign nationals
from China, Asia and elsewhere are taking advantage of the EB-5 investment
program to obtain permanent residency visas by parting with a relatively small
portion of their considerable wealth and disposable income.

In order to qualify for the EB-5 visa, the foreign investor
must file various applications, petitions and other paperwork with the USCIS in
order to get the process started.  Most
immigrant entrepreneurs use U.S.-based development teams to facilitate the
application process and to manage the commercial enterprises - restaurants,
shopping centers, hotels, even schools or farms - in which they have invested;
these USCIS preferred arrangements are called Regional Centers.  There is a bonus for the foreign
entrepreneur even before ground is broken on an EB-5 project: conditional visas
are granted to the investor and his or her family once an EB-5 application has
been approved; a permanent visa will replace the conditional visa once the
requirements of the Program (i.e., job creation) are satisfied.  Moreover, an EB-5 visa holder can apply for
citizenship after five years.

Oregon has benefitted from an infusion of millions of
dollars in foreign investment through the Immigrant Investor Program in recent
years.  Construction on a $50 million
dollar hotel development is set to begin later this year in the Pearl and
Riverplace districts of Portland, and both are nearly entirely financed by
wealthy investors from Asia.  The hotel
projects were put together by an Oregon-based development team, and while the
hotels are the first two EB-5 enterprises to arrive in the state, they are most
certainly not the last. 

Another EB-5 development group led by an executive in Oregon
has attracted $22 million in financing from Chinese investors for two other
commercial enterprises, and there are many more in the pipeline awaiting USCIS
approval.  These projects, along with the
Pearl and Riverplace hotels and other EB-5 proposals expected to gain approval in
the near future will bring nearly a thousand jobs to Oregon in the next two
years.  On the other side of the
investment equation, dozens of families from China and other Asian nations will
receive green cards.

Over $1 billion was invested through the EB-5 Program
nationally last year, and that number will rise as the USCIS implements new
steps to expedite the reviews.  The
competition between cities and states for those foreign dollars will also
intensify, as representatives from communities throughout the country make
their pitch to foreign entrepreneurs looking for the best return on their
American investments.