Despite discouraging modifications to the investor visa programs offered by the US and Hong Kong, all options are not yet lost for those who want to use the investment route to obtain citizenship or residency in these two countries.
Last month saw Hong Kong scrapping its Capital Investment Entrant Scheme, a move that disappointed many potential investors. On the other hand, the EB-5 program in the US, which requires a minimum investment of US$ 500,000, reached its annual cap for the first time last year due to an increased demand of these visas among the rich Chinese. Consequently, this year only 700 EB-5 visas will be given out.
However, businessmen still have other options they can use to move to Hong Kong or the US. The “entry for investment” visa offered by Hong Kong does not require any fixed amount of investment, rather a candidate is expected to submit a business plan and “make a substantial contribution to the Hong Kong economy”. Through this program, an entrepreneur can become a permanent resident of Hong Kong in seven years.
However, this option is not open for mainland residents of China, who may have to consider using the “admission scheme for mainland talents and professionals” to get visas to Hong Kong. About 11,000 Chinese nationals got into Hong Kong this way last year, according to immigration office reports. A Chinese national wishing to start a business in Hong Kong needs to show that s/he has sufficient funds for the successful running of the business along with proof of business connections in Hong Kong. According to Catherine Lau, a Hong Kong immigration lawyer, the “criteria is not easy to fulfil” but those who qualify can stay in Hong Kong for seven years, and are eventually eligible for permanent residency and citizenship of Hong Kong.
Similarly, the US also offers certain visa programs for businessmen which, though initially are in the form of temporary worker visas, in due course lead to citizenship. A big advantage of these programs is that there is no cap on the number of visas issued every year.
One such option is the L-1A visa offered by the US, which allows you to take your local business to America along with one or two of your employees. The visa prerequisites take into account business operational needs and don’t impose restrictive investment requirements.
“Entrepreneurs don’t like to spend money – they want to leverage their brains and innovation and connections,” says Reaz Jafri, immigration expert in the US. The L-1A visa allows entrepreneurs to test whether their business ideas will work in the US or not, and allows them to extend their visas for up to seven years if things go as planned, eventually leading to green cards as well.
Similarly another US visa option to consider is the O-1, which is aimed to attract people with extraordinary abilities in the fields of sports, arts, or science. The visa requires one to qualify in at least three out of eight criteria, like being featured in media, or working in a critical capacity in a top company, or making an original contribution in a particular field. Once accepted, a visa is issued in just a few weeks. An O-1 visa allows you to stay in the US for three years, and can be extended in three-year increments indefinitely as long as all the requirements are met.
These kind of entrepreneur visas are offered by many countries, including the ones that offer expensive immigrant investment visas. The entrepreneur visas generally require smaller amounts of up-front investments. The important thing to show is your ability to start and run a business. “It’s a second level of investment visa classes, which is a lot more complicated, but in some ways, could be cheaper and faster for people,” says Mark Lanning of Hong Kong immigration firm.