Angelique Brunner, president of EB5 Capital, a D.C. firm that coordinates EB-5 investments, said investors are far more interested in obtaining green cards than big returns.
State Department officials said they are on track to issue a record number of visas this year — more than 9,000, close to the annual limit of 10,000 mandated by Congress, out of a total of 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas.
More than 70 percent of those are going to Chinese investors, with many also coming from South Korea, Taiwan, India, the United Arab Emirates and Canada.
The program requires foreigners to invest $1 million, unless a project is in a rural area or a place with a particularly high unemployment rate, where the required investment is $500,000. The vast majority of visas issued are for the lower amount.
Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which oversees the program, said the number of staff members reviewing EB-5 applications has grown from 10 to 50.
Mayorkas said he has added economists and business lawyers to review complex applications and hopes to shorten application processing times, which can take more than a year. That would help make the United States more competitive with Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and other countries that have similar programs.
The U.S. hotel industry has been especially enthusiastic: Marriott International has raised $500 million in EB-5 capital; Hilton Worldwide has raised $100 million.
“I understand why the government has really pushed this,” said William B. Fortier, Hilton’s senior vice president for development in the Americas. “It’s come out of nowhere in the past couple of years as a real help to get things going in this industry.”
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and his predecessor, Adrian Fenty, have eagerly courted EB-5 investors.
When Gray traveled to China last summer seeking financing for projects in the District, he received a symbolic check in Shanghai for $40 million, the amount that 80 Chinese EB-5 investors had invested in City Market at O, a huge hotel, grocery, retail and restaurant development near the Washington Convention Center.
Richard Lake, a partner in Roadside Development, which is developing the project, said the $330 million complex eventually will raise about $95 million from EB-5 investors and create 2,400 jobs.
Officials said that more than 300 investors, mainly from China, have put up more than $150 million for four D.C. projects, including City Market at O, the Marriott Marquis, a Hilton hotel development on New York Avenue and a hotel on E Street that will include a fire station.