21 May 2013

The ins and outs of getting a US green card

Reaz H. Jafri
Partner | US

Although many families are prospering in China today, immigration statistics suggest the US continues to lure away mainland professionals and entrepreneurs.

According to the US State Department, nearly 1.3 million non-immigrant visas and about 40,000 immigrant visas (“green cards”) were issued to people from mainland last year. Of these, 190,000 were F-1 visas issued to students. South Korea was the second biggest recipient, with 40,000 F-1 visas.

Many reasons motivate such moves, from alarming pollution levels on the mainland to better education for their children.

How easy is it for a family to obtain an F-1 visa for their child? If they secure a place at a reputable university or school, it’s not difficult. A student visa is issued once a person is admitted into a US college or other private secondary school for a full-time course. A great benefit of this visa is that the student can remain in the US after graduation for at least 12 months to work in his or her field.

Let’s take a situation where the father is a university professor and the mother a businesswoman. What must they consider before moving?

The easiest work visa to secure is the H-1B but it has one serious drawback: an annual quota of just 65,000. Guess what? The quota for fiscal year 2014 (October 1, 2013 to September 30, 2014) has been reached. But universities and research bodies are usually exempt from this quota, so the father may qualify if he gets a job in academia.

The mother may be able to obtain a work visa through in the L-1A category, which is for an executive or manager, or L-1B , which is for someone with specialised knowledge of a Chinese firm’s products or services. The main requirements are that the Chinese firm must have been operating for at least a year, and the employee must have been in the job for at least one year within the previous three years. The L-1A is easily converted to a green card.
The easiest way to get a green card directly is through family – a spouse or adult child who is a US citizen.

Another way is to be sponsored by a US employer or through the EB5 programme, an investment-based green card, which requires applicants to invest US$1 million (or US$500,000 in an area of high unemployment) in a stand-alone business or US government-designated “regional centre” (RC) that will create at least 10 jobs for Americans. If it is a direct investment in a company, then the company must create at least 10 jobs per investor. If it is an RC, then indirect jobs are calculated into that equation. But getting an RC designation does not guarantee a green card.

But some may not realise that green-card holders are subject to US taxation based on their income worldwide. This also applies in some visa categories. So families should do their homework before uprooting themselves.

The article was originally published in South China Morning Post on 21 May 2013.

Reaz H. Jafri Partner | New York

Category: Article