An increasing number of Koreans are immigrating to the U.S. through an investment program as the U.S. has loosened immigration restrictions in order to boost its economy hit hard by the global economic crisis.
In 1990 the U.S. government began granting permanent residency, or green cards, to immigrants who invest over US$1 million in the country, and in 1993 it introduced an immigrant investment program dubbed "Regional Center EB-5 Program" which offers green cards to those who invest at least US$500,000. The number of agencies which file applications for the immigration program on behalf of clients tripled to around 60 to 70 last year from 23 worldwide in 2008.
Immigration through investment is a popular option especially among parents seeking to have their children educated in the U.S., as the parents and all children aged 21 or under are able to receive green cards. Various benefits come with permanent residency, such as lower tuition fees for U.S. residents. Between 2006 and 2008, 1,454 Koreans obtained green cards via the program, the highest number among 67 countries that participated.
China topped the list last year with 1,979, but Korea was in second with 903, which was a 30 percent increase from 693 in 2008. Over US$1 billion was invested in the U.S. through the program in 2008, with Koreans estimated to have contributed at least $400 million or 40 percent of the total.
"I decided to apply for the immigration program with the children's education in mind, although we still live in Korea," said a mother who obtained a green card last July. "I tell other people that immigration through investment is the easiest and quickest way to get a green card."
According to immigration agencies, two thirds of Koreans who have applied for the program do not live in the U.S. but rather travel between there and Korea for business.