How to Get Citizenship by Investment in the United States: Step-by-Step
People are often surprised to learn that there are routes for foreign investors and entrepreneurs to get citizenship by investment in the United States.
The United States has multiple investment-based visa categories that can lead to lawful permanent residency (a green card) and can eventually lead to U.S. citizenship.
In this guide, I’m going to discuss how to get citizenship by investment in the United States.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me directly at Michael@AshooriLaw.com. I’m very responsive to emails and would be happy to answer your questions.
1. Introduction to US Citizenship by Investment
2. Citizenship by Investment Through EB-5 Visa
3. Citizenship by Investment Through E2 Visa
4. Citizenship by Investment Through EB1C Visa
1. Introduction to US Citizenship by Investment
The United States has visa categories for investors to live and work in the USA based on making an investment in a US company. These visa categories can be divided into 2 main groups: 1. Immigrant visas and 2. Non-immigrant visas.
Immigrant visas lead to lawful permanent residence (a green card). Conversely, non-immigrant visas are temporary and do not directly lead to a green card.
It is very important to know that there is no visa category that directly gives you citizenship to the United States. To become a US citizen, you must go through the process of naturalization. Naturalization is only available to lawful permanent residents (green card holders). So as a general overview, the process of getting citizenship by investment in the United States actually requires you to first get become a lawful permanent resident and then naturalize when you are eligible to.
2. Citizenship by Investment Through EB-5 Visa
The EB-5 visa is an investment-based immigrant visa. Because the EB-5 visa is an immigrant visa, successful applicants are eligible to get a green card for themselves, their spouse, and their unmarried children under 21 years old.
The general idea of the EB-5 visa is that it requires you to invest at least $1 million into a US company. In some cases, the EB-5 rules allow you to invest a reduced amount of $500,000. Also, your investment must lead to the creation of 10 full-time jobs for US workers. Based on this investment, you qualify for a US green card.
EB-5 Visa Requirements
The EB-5 visa has 6 basic requirements:
- Invest in a New Commercial Enterprise
- Invest a minimum of $1 million (or $500,000) in the New Commercial Enterprise
- Your investment must lead to the creation of 10 full-time jobs for US workers
- Your investment must be “at-risk”
- Your investment funds must have been obtained lawfully
- You must engage in the management of the new commercial enterprise.
1. Invest in a New Commercial Enterprise
What is a New Commercial Enterprise?
A new commercial enterprise is a for-profit business that was formed after November 29, 1990, that conducts lawful-activities.
- For-profit means that the business’s purpose is to generate a profit. Examples of businesses that would not meet this requirement include non-profit organizations.
- The business must be engaged in lawful activities. [nothing illegal]
- In some cases, businesses formed on or before November 29, 1990 will qualify as “New Commercial Enterprises.”
Examples of Qualifying Investments:
- Starting a business
- Purchasing an existing business
- Investing in a regional center
- Invest in an existing business
2. Invest a minimum of $1 Million in the New Commercial Enterprise
As an EB-5 investor, you are required to invest a minimum of $1 million dollars in the business you choose to invest in.
There is an exception which allows you to invest a reduced amount of $500,000 if the business you invest in is located in a Targeted Employment Area.
- Targeted employment areas are areas of high unemployment or ‘rural areas’ as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act.
3. Investment Must Lead to the Creation of 10 Full-Time Jobs for U.S. Workers
Your investment must create 10 full-time jobs for qualified workers.
- Full time means at least 35 hours per week
- Qualified workers include U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and other immigrants authorized to work in the US
4. Investment Must be At Risk
Your funds must actually be committed to the EB-5 business. The funds must resemble an investment and not a debt arrangement.
Your funds must be subject to gain or loss. This means that you cannot be guaranteed a return on your investment.
5. Lawful Source of Investment Funds
Your investment funds must have been obtained lawfully. The funds cannot be earned through any unlawful/illegal activity.
The lawful source of investment funds will be proven by submitting various documents including tax returns and bank statements along with your EB-5 petition.
Your investment funds can come from a gift or inheritance, but you will have to show how the funds were obtained lawfully by the party gifting or bequeathing the funds.
6. Engage in the Management of the New Commercial Enterprise
To qualify for an EB-5 visa, you are required to engage in the management of the EB-5 business. This requirement is to ensure that the EB-5 investor isn't just a passive investor.
You can prove that you have sufficient engagement in the management of the EB-5 project in either of two ways:
- You can show that you are engaged in the day to day management of the business.
- You can show that you are engaged in the policy formation of the business.
You can prove that you have sufficient engagement in the management by submitting a statement of your job title and your job duties.
If you are investing in a regional center, you will likely be classified as a limited partner. You can prove that you sufficiently engagement in management of the business by showing that you have the rights typically given to limited partners, including voting rights.
Now that we’ve discussed the requirements for an EB-5 visa, lets discuss how an EB-5 visa can lead to US citizenship
The Process of Turning an EB-5 Visa into U.S. Citizenship has 3 main stages:
- Conditional lawful permanent residency
- Removal of Condition
1. Conditional Lawful Permanent Residency
As I mentioned earlier, the EB-5 visa is an immigrant visa category. Therefore, successful EB-5 visa applicants are eligible to become lawful permanent residents.
However, before becoming a lawful permanent resident, an EB-5 investor first becomes a conditional lawful permanent resident for a 2-year period.
This period of conditional permanent residency is designed to allow the EB-5 investor to fully satisfy the requirements of the EB-5 visa, including keeping the investment funds at-risk and creating the 10 full-time jobs for US workers.
2. Removal of Condition
Within 90 days before the expiration of your 2-year period of conditional lawful permanent residency, you are eligible to apply to have the condition removed from your green card to become an unconditional lawful permanent resident.
At this stage, you are required to demonstrate that you have kept your investment funds at risk and that you have created 10 full-time jobs for US workers.
Upon approval of your Form I-829 you are officially an unconditional lawful permanent resident.
The last step to get citizenship by investment through the EB-5 visa is to naturalize. Naturalization is the process of applying to become a US citizen.
Lawful permanent residents are eligible to naturalize after a minimum of 5 years of lawful permanent residency.
For EB-5 investors, the 2-year period of conditional lawful permanent residency counts toward the 5-year requirement.
So as an EB-5 investor, you may be eligible to naturalize as early as 5 years after becoming a conditional lawful permanent resident.
Keep in mind, there are other requirements to becoming a U.S. citizen. Here are some:
- During the 5 years period as a lawful permanent resident, you must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 2 and a half years without any single absence longer than 180 days.
- You must pass a United States Civics examination
- You must demonstrate good moral character
- You must take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States
Now that we have discussed how to get citizenship by investment through the EB-5 visa, lets discuss 2 other visa categories.
3. Citizenship by Investment through E2 Visa
The E2 visa is a non-immigrant visa for investors. The basic concept of the E2 visa is that it allows someone to start a business in the United States, make a substantial investment in that business, and based on their investment, they can live in the US and work for their business.
Because the E2 visa is a non-immigrant visa, it is temporary and does not directly lead to a green card. To go from E2 visa to citizenship, you must first apply for an immigrant classification to get your green card. Once you have a green card, you may be able to naturalize once eligible.
The process looks like this:
- E2 Visa --> 2. Green Card --> 3. Naturalization
E2 Visa Requirements
To get an E2 visa, there are 8 main requirements:
- You must be a national of a country with an E2 treaty with the United States.
- You must have the intent to depart the US once your E2 status ends.
- You must make a substantial investment in a US company. (I typically recommend at least $100k)
- Your E2 business must be an active, for-profit business.
- The business that you invest in cannot be considered a marginal enterprise.
- You must be entering the United States to direct and develop your E2 business.
- The source of your investment funds must be lawful.
- Your investment must be irrevocably committed to the E2 business and must be at risk. This means that the funds should actually be spent. They should not just sit in the business bank account.
How to Get US Citizenship by Investment Through E2 Visa
The E2 visa is a non-immigrant visa, so it is temporary and does not lead to lawful permanent residence. To become a US citizen, you must first become a lawful permanent resident (green card holder). Once you are a lawful permanent resident, you can then naturalize once eligible.
So, after getting your E2 visa you must apply for an immigrant visa category. One category that works well for E2 investors is the EB-5 visa. By going from an E2 visa to an EB-5 visa, there are multiple advantages.
Remember, the EB-5 visa requires you to make a minimum investment of $1 million (or $500,000 in some instances) in a US business and also requires you to create 10 full-time jobs. If you already have an E2 visa, and you plan to use your E2 company as the company for your EB-5 investment, then you may be able to count the jobs you’ve already created and the funds you’ve already invested toward your EB-5 visa. See my guide on going from an E2 visa to green card for a more detailed explanation.
This is a highly complex area of immigration law. Feel free to email me directly at Michael@AshooriLaw.com with any questions.
4. Citizenship by Investment Through EB1C Visa
Another way to get citizenship by investment in the US is through the EB1C visa. The EB1C visa is an immigrant visa for multinational managers and executives. Because the EB1C visa is an immigrant visa, it qualifies you, your spouse, and unmarried children under 21 years old for a green card.
The basic concept of the EB1C visa is that it allows a foreign company to transfer a manager or executive to the United States to work for a US branch office, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of the foreign company.
If a foreign investor satisfies the requirements of the EB1C visa, they can either start a business in the USA or purchase an existing business and transfer themselves to the US company.
The basic process of getting citizenship through EB1C looks like this:
- Get green card through EB1C --> 2. Naturalization
EB1C Visa Requirements
The EB1C visa has 5 main requirements:
- There must be a qualifying relationship between the foreign company and the US company. The foreign company and the US company should either have a parent/subsidiary relationship, an affiliate relationship, or one company should be a branch office of the other.
- You must have worked for the foreign employer for at least 1 continuous year during the preceding 3 years prior to filing the EB1C visa petition.
- You must have worked for the foreign company as a manager or executive.
- You must be coming to the United States to be working full-time for the US company as a manager or executive.
- The US company must have been doing business for at least 1 year prior to filing the EB1C petition.
How to Get Citizenship by Investment Through the EB1C Visa
This process is highly complex so as a general disclaimer, I will be simplifying the process to explain it more clearly. If you have any questions, please email me at Michael@AshooriLaw.com.
For foreign investors, if you satisfy the requirements for the EB1C visa, you may be eligible to either start a business in the United States or to purchase an existing business and transfer yourself to the US company to work as an EB1C manager or executive. Once you obtain your green card through EB1C, you may then be eligible to naturalize after you’ve been a lawful permanent resident for at least 5 years and satisfy the other requirements to naturalize.
- The US business should either be a parent or subsidiary of the foreign company, a branch office of the foreign company, or an affiliate of the foreign company.
- You must have worked as a manager or executive for the foreign company.
- You must have worked continuously for the foreign company, full-time, for at least 1 year within the 3 years prior to filing the EB1C petition.
- You must be coming to the US to work full-time for the US company as a manager or executive.
- And the US company must have been operational for at least 1 year before you file the EB1C petition.
There are multiple ways for foreign investors and entrepreneurs to get citizenship by investment in the United States. In this guide, we’ve discussed 3 separate routes to do this: 1. EB-5; 2. E2; and 3. EB1C.
In the United States, there is no visa that gives you citizenship. Instead, you must first become a lawful permanent resident (green card holder). Once you have a green card, you may be eligible to naturalize to become a US citizen. Naturalization is the process of becoming a US citizen. As a green card holder, you are eligible to naturalize after a minimum of 5 years of lawful permanent residency.
If you have any questions over the material discussed in this guide, please email me directly at Michael@AshooriLaw.com. I’m very responsive via email and would be happy to help you.
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Michael Ashoori, Esq.
U.S. Immigration Lawyer
I’m a U.S. immigration lawyer and I help families, professionals, investors, and entrepreneurs get visas, green cards, and citizenship to the United States.
Since starting my law firm, I’ve helped hundreds of people from all over the world with their immigration needs. I’m very passionate, hard-working, and committed to my clients.
Got a question? Send me an email.