However, there is a little-known fast track for applicants with money. Lots of money. These days a million bucks buys you a spot at the head of the line.
A little-known option due to expire in September allows immigrants who are willing to invest at least $500,000 in distressed areas of the country an instant temporary visa. Provided an investment succeeds in creating 10 jobs for American workers, the temporary visa can be converted to a permanent green card.
It's known as the EB-5 visa, and a bi-partisan group of lawmakers is uniting to try and have the program saved.
It's appears to be effective. According to the July / August issue of Fortune Small Business, a total of 945 EB-5 immigrants invested more than $400 million in US-based ventures in 2008.
Legislators and fans of the program say that EB-5 is a terrific means to infuse struggling areas of the country with much-needed capital.
"It puts us on the map," says Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. "EB-5 gives foreign investors the opportunity to consider a market that they probably wouldn't look at otherwise."
The hardships borne from the recent global economic meltdown have been keenly felt in many regions of the country, especially the manufacturing sector. Distressed areas that succeed in acquiring 'regional center' status from the US government suddenly have the capacity to market local ventures to overseas investors, who in turn become equity partners.
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The EB-5 visa program is a major driver of this initiative.
Critics say that EB-5 is unfair to the everyday Joe who has to horde his pennies to fund his application, not to mention the extended wait times. They decry that the privileged few are allowed to buy their way to the front of the queue.
Legislators and local officials, however see the value inherent with the infusion of capital and creation of jobs, which in turn helps to spur the local economy. To them, the benefits outweigh the unfairness.
EB-5 is but one option in the pursuit of an immigration green card. The process to secure citizenship immigration is complicated, whichever road is taken. The involvement of a citizenship greencard lawyer is an important consideration.