Persons with the financial means for investment and wishing to relocate their families to the United States will find the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Programme as an attractive pathway to obtaining an American green Card and eventually applying for citizenship.

This programme is considered one of the most straightforward and fastest routes to securing lawful permanent residency in the USA.

Introduced in 1990 by the American Congress, the EB-5 programme aims to stimulate economic growth and the creation of jobs for American workers.

To qualify under the EB-5 program, an investor can invest a specified minimum amount of capital into a new commercial enterprise generating at least ten full-time jobs for American employees. The investment enables the investor and their immediate family members to gain permanent US residency.

This residency status offers several privileges and rights similar to those of US citizens including:

  • The liberty to live and work across the US.
  • Access to US healthcare and education systems.
  • Comprehensive protection under US law.
  • The ability to travel internationally with ease.

As mentioned, it also sets the stage for eventual US citizenship.

Each year, a set number of EB-5 visas are allocated, with a cap that restricts any single country to a maximum of 7% of the total visas to prevent monopolization by applicants from countries with high demand, e.g. China. This system leaves ample opportunity for nations with lower application volumes, such as South Africa.

Benefits of the EB-5 Green Card for South African Investors

There are several pathways for foreign nationals to get permanent residency in the US, granting them the right to live and work in the country without limitations.

The investment threshold for the EB-5 program requires an investment into a New Commercial Enterprise (NCE) is set at $800,000 for projects within Targeted Employment Areas (TEAs) or $1,050,000 for projects outside of TEAs.

A core requirement of the EB-5 initiative is the generation of employment. Each investment must lead to the creation of at least 10 permanent, full-time positions for eligible U.S. workers, which must be maintained for a minimum of two years.

The EB-5 programme generally offers two investment options:

  • direct investment in an EB-5 project, or
  • investment through a regional centre

Regional Centres are entities designated to sponsor real estate projects of significant scale and oversee EB-5 investments into qualifying New Commercial Enterprises (NEAs). This model is mostly favoured by South African investors.

EB-5 Green Card Application Process

The initial step towards gaining permanent residency in the US via the EB-5 program is selecting an eligible EB-5 project and regional centre.

For investments in projects located within a Targeted Employment Area (TEA), the investor is required to deposit the minimum investment of $800,000 into the regional centre’s investment pool.

The investor must prove that the investment funds are personally owned and have been acquired through lawful means, such as earnings, dividends, gifts, inheritance, real estate sales, or stock transactions.

Thereafter, the investor must submit documentation to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS serve as the federal agency overseeing the EB-5 program under the Department of Homeland Security, primarily through a designated immigration lawyer.

In the submission, the investor needs to verify that:

  • A necessary investment has been made in a project that meets the EB-5 criteria.
  • The investment, if at a minimum amount of $800,000, is a project situated within a TEA.
  • The investment funds were obtained legally.
  • The investment will result in the creation of the required number of jobs applicable.

Following approval initially, the investor is eligible for an EB-5 visa and must undergo a required health screening.

For persons residing outside the US, a special immigrant visa application must be filed with the U.S. Department of State.

Investors already in the US on a non-immigrant visa are required to file the appropriate application form I-485.

After the medical check and obtaining the EB-5 visa, investors can relocate to the US as conditional residents, a status that is valid for two years.

To remove the conditional status, investors must file further documentation with USCIS within 90 days before the expiry date of the two-year Green Card. Approval of this petition grants the investor and their dependents lawful permanent residency and permanent Green Cards in the U.S.

South African EB-5 investors are eligible to apply as US citizens after living in the U.S. for five years.

The two-year conditional residency also counts toward this time requirement.

South African EB-5 Investors criteria & foreign exchange control

In addition to fulfilling the criteria of the EB-5 program, South Africans must navigate the foreign exchange controls implemented by the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), which monitors the movement of capital into and out of the country.

South African citizens aged 18 and above are allowed to transfer up to R 1 million abroad without needing a tax clearance from the South African Revenue Service (SARS) or SARB’s approval. This limit can be extended to R 10 million annually (if SARB clearance is obtained and a tax clearance certificate is granted for foreign investments).

For investments surpassing the R 10 million, South Africans are required to seek special approval from both SARB and SARS.

The EB-5 program’s minimum investment requirement of $800,000 for projects in a targeted employment area (TEA) is approximately R 15 million, exceeding the R 10 million threshold.

However, investing in an EB-5 project in the U.S. offers South Africans the opportunity to earn returns on an active investment, along with the possibility of a timely capital return if the project is low-risk.

Given the significant financial implications of migrating to the USA from South Africa, prospective investors will be guided by a designated immigration lawyer with extensive experience in the EB-5 industry.

EB-5 investors should engage with an experienced foreign exchange intermediary based in South Africa to ensure full compliance with SARS and SARB regulations.

Employing these strategies not only facilitates the transfer of investment funds but also ensures that the investor and their family members maintain eligibility for EB-5 visas, in line with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services guidelines, assuming all funds are legally sourced and accordingly documented.

Starting with the EB-5 Process

South African nationals can contact us to learn more about the options leading to an EB-5 Green Card and introduction to required projects and immigration attorneys to assist.

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