A few weeks ago I wrote about wealthy East Asian women who give birth in the United States so that their children may be granted US citizenship automatically. Lately, the US media has also paid some attention to another easy path to residency and citizenship for wealthy foreigners: the investor visa. National Public Radio reported on it yesterday, and the New York Times did a feature on it late last year. While both of those stories profile British investors, demand from investors from Mainland China is so high that the State Department anticipates setting a cut-off date for applications from Chinese nationals so that it can keep up.

Under the EB-5 visa scheme, a foreign investor may get permanent residency in exchange for a $1 million investment, or a $500,000 investment in a rural or high-unemployment area. This is significantly more generous than equivalent investor schemes in other major English-speaking countries of immigration. The equivalent investor scheme in New Zealand requires a NZD 1.5 million (USD 1.25 million) minimum investment, while the United Kingdom wants GBP 1 million (USD 1.57 million) and Australia a whopping AUD 5 million (USD 5.2 million). None of these schemes grant permanent residency automatically. Canada used to have a similar program, with a minimum investment of CAD 800,000 (USD 793,000) and automatic permanent residency, but has suspended it for the time being.

The openness of US immigration policy toward wealthy investors contrasts starkly with the restrictiveness with which it treats undocumented low wage labor migrants. Even if they had a million dollars, people living in this country without authorization cannot buy a pathway to legalization or citizenship, whereas people with no connection to the country at all are welcomed in with few questions asked.

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