The number of foreigners applying for an American visa by investing US$1 million has nearly tripled over the past year.
The U.S. State Department says in the 2009 fiscal year that ended Sep. 30, the number of applicants who obtained EB-5 visas jumped from 1,443 to 4,218 with around 70 percent from Korea and China.
The program was first launched 20 years ago, but potential investors and businesses were often dissuaded by the U.S. government's slow and inconsistent administration of the complex rules.
But the Washington Post reports that the surge is due to cash-strapped businesses and local governments hit by the economic downturn trying to attract wealthy foreigners by issuing immigrant visas coupled with a gradual streamlining of procedures.
Under the investment visa program, immigrants who can show after two years that their investment has created or preserved at least 10 American jobs are granted legal permanent residency in the U.S. along with their spouses and children.
The minimum required investment is $1 million, but $500,000 can also suffice when investing in a regional center or establishing businesses in areas designated as economically disadvantaged.
The program is receiving rare bipartisan support from Congress since it creates jobs in the U.S. at a time when many are being lost. Backed by strong political support and rising demand the number of EB-5 visas is expected to jump again this year.