NEW DELHI — As confusion looms over the future of the H-1 visa program, an investment-facilitating firm is targeting rich Indians with the EB5 visa, popularly known as the "Golden Visa," that promises a faster route to U.S. citizenship.

The U.S. Immigration Fund, which launched its Indian operations this year, is confident that affluent Indians who invest $500,000 or more in a Targeted Employment Area — creating 10 or more jobs — under the EB5 visa program, will get U.S. citizenship in a shorter time compared to the H-1Bvisa program.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called for stricter norms for issuance of H-1B visas, largely availed of by Indian IT firms. A private member's bill was also introduced earlier this year in Congress by Democrat Zoe Lofgren which seeks to increase the minimum salary of an H-1B visa holder to $130,000 from the current minimum of $60,000.

“With the H-1B environment becoming tougher and tougher, demand for EB5 has gone up,” Andrew Graves, USIF's director of business development in India, told IANS. “Indians are becoming more aware of the EB5 visa program.”

Introduced by the U.S. Congress in 1990, the EB5 visa program allows an individual to invest $500,000 in either of two TEAs — a high unemployment area in a U.S. metropolis or a rural area outside of a metro — or $1 million in a non-TEA area that can create 10 or more jobs.

Earlier this month, Congress extended the program, which has seen much controversy over the merits of its applicants, till Sept. 30.

Graves explained that once an application is filed for an EB5 visa program, the applicant has to fill in a I526 form under a U.S. attorney after which he or she gets a temporary U.S. Green Card for 16 months.

Once the conditions are met, around two years later, the applicant has to fill in the I829 form which leads to lawful permanent residency in the U.S.

“So, the EB5 offers a certain way for U.S. citizenship within roughly five years,” Graves said.

The USIF clams to have a proven track record of 100 percent approval rating from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on all adjudicated projects.

It has 24 projects in the real estate sector to its credit with $3.2 billion in EB5 capital that includes 6,400 investors.

China is the largest beneficiary of the EB5 visa program, accounting for 75.6 percent or over 7,500 visas.

India is sixth on the list with 149 visas after Vietnam (334), South Korea (260), Taiwan (205) and Brazil (130). But Graves feels that Indians can make it to the second spot after China.

“We are 100 percent sure that India will occupy a strong second place after China,” he said.

Given the uncertainty over the H-1B visa program, more and more Indians graduating from U.S. universities are opting for the EB5 visa for U.S. citizenship.

The advantage: If an H-1B visa holder is fired from his or her job, he or she will have to leave the U.S. along with family, whereas once permanent residency is attained, he or she is no longer dependent on others for staying in the U.S. as long as the person is law-abiding and renews the Green Card on time.

The question then becomes, how can a fresh Indian graduate in the U.S. afford to invest a minimum of $500,000 to apply for an EB5 visa?

“It usually comes as a gift from the family,” Graves said, indicating that only the more affluent Indians can afford the Golden Visa.

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