Be Careful What You Wish For: A Cautionary EB-5 Story

By David North on July 22, 2020

This is a story about how one alien got a green card through the EB-5 route, and found out that he was getting more of the American way of life than he bargained for – and is reported to have given back the card.

Since most of this comes second- (or third-) hand to us there will be no names, but we have no reason to believe it is not true. It is too odd not to be true.

Since this is another story about the questionable use of the EB-5 program, it carries with it the usual indicia: it took place in California; everyone involved has a Chinese name; the alien's ability to secure the green card rested on some controversial practices; and the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the program, played a totally passive role.

It also had an unusual angle – this time it was the alien who was outmaneuvering the citizen, whereas normally it is the other way around.

As background, the EB-5 (the fifth of the Employment-Based immigration categories) program rewards aliens with a family-sized set of green cards when the alien makes a suitable investment in the eyes of DHS, which does not guarantee the investment. Most of these investments are pooled ones, but in this case it was one of those unusual $1,000,000 deals in which the alien promises to make such an investment, and then manage that investment as well.

The alien's U.S.-based immigration lawyer created an agreement in which the alien lent the citizen $1 million, taking nominal control of a restaurant; that establishment was to be managed, in fact, by the citizen for five years, with the investment characterized in such a way that it would produce EB-5 green cards for the alien, his spouse, and their two children.

Things did not work well for the citizen; he said he lost $700,000 while managing the place, and ultimately state courts ordered the loan plus $300,000 to be repaid to the alien. (His pitch to the state courts that they should not be enforcing the payment when the transaction appeared to violate the federal EB-5 law fell on deaf ears.)

Things worked fine for the alien, he and his family got their green cards and no one at DHS noticed that this was a loan, not an investment.

And then came the kicker. The alien, evidently a man of wealth, discovered that once he secured an American green card, he also was covered by the U.S. tax laws on his world-wide earnings.

He did not like that, rejected the status coveted by others, but seemed to arrange for his wife and children to keep their green cards.

So the alien and his family got a set of green cards for an investment that they did not, in the end, actually make. Whether the family members can keep their green cards is an interesting question, but stripping such people of the cards is not something that happens frequently.

We may never hear the end of this sad story, but if we do, we will share it.