Land of opportunity

10 Dec 2020 by Business Traveller Middle East
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U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to immediately lift travel bans impacting some countries in the Middle East will create fresh opportunities for Arab families to invest in the United States and to make it their home or place of work or study

 The Covid-19 global pandemic has had a massive impact on the aviation, travel and tourism industries and human migration generally. As flights are cancelled, so have been consular appointments throughout the Middle East as families compete to obtain visas to travel abroad.

As doors shut for access to the West, many families question their ability to transverse and roam freely. Aside from government mandated lockdowns, isolation within the confines of apartments, the inability to roam free and take flight has caused families to seriously consider the value of access. Access in the sense of crossing borders with less hindrance, access to greater healthcare should the family see an emergency, or access to future prosperity for later generations – all of which has come under question since the start of the pandemic and the inability to catch that flight abroad.

There are nevertheless some consistencies with Middle East travellers, notwithstanding the Covid-19 pandemic. Whether it is in the face of economic market vulnerability, geopolitical tensions between nation states, or the effects compounded by the pandemic, at some point families do ponder about greater access to the West, namely the United States. The more developed Middle Eastern countries have a high concentration of expats that made bold moves by leaving their motherland in seeking job opportunities for the betterment of themselves and their families. Notwithstanding, there is a looming understanding within expat communities that they cannot stay permanently, whether it be due to local regulations or personal desire. Should they then move back to India or Syria? Would their children flourish in their previous Eastern homeland? If not, where to and how?

Understanding this vulnerability, a cottage industry of migration experts in the Middle East has been providing solutions for travellers seeking new lands for future, and perhaps, permanent prosperity. Although there are companies that provide a pay-to-play scenario in which Caribbean passports are delivered to those seeking greater border access for visa-free travel, we examine a team of U.S.-licenced lawyers at The American Legal Center in Dubai and their vision of providing permanent access for families to the United States.

Biden Presidency promises new immigration opportunities

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has in recent weeks unveiled his transition team and has promised immediate changes that would affect Middle Eastern travellers and prospective immigrants to the United States. President-elect Biden has vowed to include Muslim Americans in every social and political aspect in his administration. This is crucial for many of the clients at the American Legal Center in Dubai as outgoing President Donald Trump’s travel exclusions affected citizens of many Middle Eastern countries.

Biden has informed Middle Eastern and Muslim civil rights organisations that he intends to revoke the travel ban impacting travellers from the Middle East. He understands that the doors have been shut to Middle Eastern travellers, that aside from the pandemic or the disparity in obtaining travel visas, there needs to be a greater discussion of inclusively from those of Middle Eastern descent. The positivity from the Biden camp has caused an explosion of interest for families residing in the Middle East but now looking to gain U.S. residency.

This new page for America will pave a path of new residents from the Middle East. As parents continue to send their children to U.S.-based colleges and universities, they are now more inclined to allow them to stay and embark on their careers and perhaps the commencement of their own families in the United States.

The American Legal Center in Dubai is dedicated to helping clients gain the right to live, study and work in the U.S. The common thread behind most of the clients coming from their Dubai offices is the desire for parents to enable their children to embark on studies in the U.S. and seek employment there in the long term. Unfortunately, the process of achieving requires residency and the ownership of a Green Card. Thus, parents are undertaking the EB-5 U.S. investment residency programme to enable their children to forge their futures in the country.

Aside from the ability to stay and work, there is a lot of value to unlock for students with a Green Card. Including, but not limited to the ability to have the Federal and State government coverage of all university expenses such as tuition, housing, books, transportation – all costs necessary to sustain the student. Moreover, the student would avail prospects of paid internships at world class laboratories, gain relevant work experience, which would all bolster their ability to gain admission to top graduate schools.

About the EB-5 programme

The United States EB-5 Immigrant Investor Programme was created by U.S. Congress in 1990 with the intent to promote regional economic growth through the injection of foreign capital into the U.S. economy and creation of jobs for American citizens. Under the EB-5 programme, an investor and their qualifying dependents, which is composed of the investor’s spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21, have the opportunity to obtain the U.S. green card and a path to obtaining the U.S. citizenship by way of making an investment of $900,000 in a new commercial enterprise in the U.S.

Congress’s original thought behind this programme was that entrepreneurs from abroad would start their own grand businesses in the U.S. and hire many new Americans. In reality, this belief fell short as the process became too involved for businessmen to make such a big investment that would be tied to their immigration status – there were simply too many strings involved, such as employing over 10 U.S. citizens and ensuring their employment over a series of years.

Nevertheless, a solution was passed by congress whereby foreigners seeking U.S. residency for themselves and their children could then invest passively into a new business enterprise project, many of these businesses being commercial real estate in nature, and whereby the job creation requirement would then be met by the actual construction of the project. Congress amended the EB-5 programme and created the EB-5 Regional Centre Programme in 1992 which would allow investors to qualify by investing $900,000 passively through regional centres that host these types of construction projects and that are specifically designated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This form of passive investment for the sake of the family residency and Green Card has been the predominant method in which investors navigate through this government programme today. Director of The American Legal Center in Dubai Shai Zamanian and his team have actively been guiding families through this EB-5 process for nearly a decade.

Want to know more? Shai Zamanian, Director of the American Legal Center in Dubai, tells BTME why now is the right time for investment and immigration to the U.S.

Q: Why invest in the U.S.?

The United States remains one of the world’s most dominant countries in terms of economic growth and standard of living. Most people wishing to relocate to the United States are keen on creating a better future for themselves and their families. There are many reasons as to why people immigrate to the U.S., including but not limited to a life of ample opportunities, a chance to live in a developed country, and easier access to what many refer to as the ‘American Dream’. Of the top five benefits of relocating to the U.S. include (1) access to the best healthcare system in the world, (2) access to the best academic institutions providing top quality education, (3) enjoyment of economic stability as the U.S. has the strongest economy in the world, (4) access to excellent career opportunities, and (5) the ability to travel to and enjoy different locations, with 50 different states in the country.

One of the main reasons applicants invest in the U.S. is for the benefit of their children in terms of unlocking the various education benefits that the programme provides. The U.S. provides the best quality of higher education in the world as evident by the fact that 16 out of the top 20 best universities are U.S. institutions. As a green card holder, investors and their qualifying dependents will be considered as U.S. persons and thereby can take advantage of the same educational benefits as that of a U.S. citizen. In line with its public policy, the U.S. government endeavours to ensure that every student has access to education irrespective of their socioeconomic status. As such, the U.S. government provides student loans, grants, and scholarships to its students to ensure that they have the means to fulfil their studies.

Q: How does the residency by investment programme work?

The United States EB-5 Immigrant Investor Programme (known as the EB-5 programme) provides an opportunity for investors and their qualifying dependents to obtain U.S. permanent resident status with a minimum investment of $900,000 in the United States, which must create a minimum of 10 full-time jobs for U.S. workers.

As the programme has a number of specific eligibility and filing requirements, it is highly recommended that foreign nationals seeking to invest via the EB-5 programme consult an advisor and seek their services in taking their application forward.

An advisor will assist in providing a number of investment options for the foreign national. Once a qualifying project is chosen, the investor will proceed with transferring the investment amount and required fees to the project. The advisor will simultaneously be working on collating the required documents from the investor and putting together the application to be submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in Washington, District of Columbia (DC). The application that will be submitted to Washington, DC is known as the I-526 petition. There are many intricacies involved in completing and submitting the I-526 petition and therefore the assistance of an experienced advisor is greatly valuable throughout this process. Especially from The Middle East, the applications look quite different as many jurisdictions operate under no income taxes or tax free altogether. These nuances that pertain specifically to The Middle East can confuse officers reviewing the petition in Washington D.C., thus certain templates and legal documents would need to be provided.

Once the investor’s I-526 approval comes through from Washington, DC, the investor will either apply for a visa from a U.S. consulate or embassy, such as the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, or apply for adjustment of status if they are already in the U.S. at the time of I-526 approval. The investor will thereafter receive their green card and will be considered a U.S. citizen.

Q: What are the investment options?

Prospective investors participating in the EB-5 programme are required to invest a minimum of $900,000 in a new commercial enterprise (i.e., a project) that meets the requirements of the programme. Choosing the right project is not a task to be taken lightly by investors. As previously mentioned, USCIS had designated certain organisations, known as regional centres, to provide investors with investment opportunities and facilitate the funding of such EB-5 projects. As of November 3, 2020, there are 674 approved regional centres. At the American Legal Center, we ensure to only work with the top six regional centres, which are those that have a track record of repaying their investors on time and have had thousands of green cards approved. Within the portfolios of the regional centres, our advisors conduct great due diligence in ensuring that all documentation is properly in place. With the recent effects of the pandemic, we generally do not recommend our clients to invest in the hospitality sector. As there has been a robust demand for residential sales in the U.S., and with the central bank and the Feds keeping the interest rates quite low and the reduction of the price for mortgages, we are currently advising our clients to invest in residential projects, for example.

Q: What makes the U.S. programme competitive?

While there are many different investment immigration programmes available, the U.S. EB-5 programme remains one of the most competitive given the flexibility that it provides. As compared to other programmes, such as the Quebec Investment Immigration Programme offered in Canada, the EB-5 programme does not require a minimum net worth from investors. Additionally, the U.S. programme is more flexible as it does not require an offer of employment or family sponsorship, the investor does not need to have any specific educational or business background, the investor does not need to have a certain level of language skills, and an adult child may apply for the programme using funds gifted by their parents.

Q: Why is now the right time?

With the shift in presidency taking place in January 2021, the time for investment and immigration to the U.S. is ripe. President-elect Joe Biden, unlike his predecessor, has always taken a pro-immigration stance and has announced that within his first 100 days in office, he will repeal the travel ban on Muslim-majority countries. Over the past few years, the travel ban has affected many investors in restricting them from their plans to invest in the U.S.

With Biden’s promise of the travel ban being lifted in the first quarter of 2021, these foreign nationals will no longer be restricted and as such, this is the right time for them to start their EB-5 application process and start their migration journey to the U.S.

Q: What impact has the new presidency had on this programme?

Lifting the travel ban is the most anticipated immigration policy change the world is waiting for from the U.S. It has been a tumultuous four years for U.S. immigration and Joe Biden’s promise to lift the travel ban in his first 100 days in office is the steadiness we have been waiting for. It is the first change needed to indicate a move in a positive direction for the U.S.

In war torn countries such as Syria and Iraq, citizens are reliant on countries such as the U.S. for refuge. People flee their countries in hopes of obtaining protection and in pursuit of a higher standard of living than the one currently available to them in their countries. The travel ban prevents the ability for people to seek asylum or refuge. President-elect Biden has promised a number of positive changes to the immigration landscape of the U.S.

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