Investor Story: Vietnamese-born French citizen uses EB-5 to retire in the U.S. -

Investor Story: Vietnamese-born French citizen uses EB-5 to retire in the U.S. Staff

By Marta Lillo

It was early 2018 when Hanh, 65, a Vietnamese-born French citizen, began his EB-5 journey to reunite with his children, who were studying at college in the United States. 

“My two kids were sort of getting settled in the U.S. They were in university, and my daughter was finishing Medical school, and my son had just graduated from his master’s degree and was getting a job,” he said.

Traveling back and forth from China, where he worked, became taxing for him and his wife. He was also about to retire and needed to figure out what to do next.

“Every time, you could only stay for a maximum of three months, and in a year, you can only stay for less than six months,” said Hahn, a business consultant. “I was still working at the time, so it was OK, but I was approaching the retirement age. And I thought, ‘Well, I probably have to find a place to settle.’ Because I’m a French citizen, I could have gone back to France, but it didn’t make a big difference. If I decided to leave China and come to the U.S., it would be OK.”

Getting a U.S. green card through the EB-5 investor visa program was the logical option for Hahn. After discussing it with friends and Lam Pham, CEO of Oxx Global, he found out that he could invest in the US to get a green card.

“I had been to the U.S. many times but had never done business there, so it seemed quite complicated. Thanks to these friends who introduced me to this EB-5 program and a Regional Center that already had some projects in good standing, I found it quite interesting, and we decided to go for it,” he said.

Selecting the right EB-5 project requires trust

The EB-5 project Hahn selected is a commercial center currently being built in Houston, Texas. “The project made sense. Since I knew the people involved in the project, I felt confident to invest my money in it. It was good both from a financial and also from a residency point of view.”

Hahn still conducted a thorough due diligence, drawing on his business and finance expertise. “I went through a lot of documentation. I didn’t have the time to go and visit the site itself, but I had seen many similar investment projects because of my work, so I looked at the return on investment, the risks, and the factors that you need to take into account to assess that it is a good project; how to estimate the business plan, the return on investment, things like that”.

However, the trust he placed in the project owners was the deciding factor. “It’s more important to know the background of the project owners so that you can trust them.”

A successful EB-5 application despite COVID

With the project ready, they started their application in early 2018, gathering all documentation. “I expected that it would be a relatively long and sort of heavy process. What I did not expect was the additional delay due to COVID.”

The pandemic struck in the middle of his application processing. “Being a French citizen, I was told at the beginning it could probably have helped because not that many French people wanted to come to the U.S. compared to the number of Chinese or Vietnamese. But we started just before the pandemic, so it was delayed for a few years.”

Hahn decided to move to France to wait out the pandemic and the processing of his application, which presented some challenges. “My [I-526] form was approved after I had moved back to France. But there was some confusion because my approval was sent to [China field office] Guangzhou. So, it took some time to redirect it to France.”

Because he had left Vietnam as a boy, right after the war, the most convenient option was to file as a French citizen. “The fact that I was born in Vietnam also may have had some impact on the pace at which the file was advancing. But the good thing is that at the end of the day I had my interview in France, which was quite practical.”

However, his Vietnamese background did provide some challenges. For the I-516 form, “I had to submit a police certificate from China, which is normal as I have been living there for quite a while. But a more funny thing was to get a police certificate for the time I lived in Vietnam, which was when I was a small boy, like 40 to 50 years ago.  I also submitted my French citizenship certificate, which the French government gives you based on your original birth certificate. But we got a message saying that the French certificate was not acceptable. That they needed verification from the country of birth. Luckily, I had my old Vietnamese birth certificate, and they accepted it.”

That, however, was not the end of the story. “When we went to do the interview at the U.S. embassy in France, I took all my documents, including the Vietnamese birth certificate and they said they didn’t want that one, that they needed the French certificate. I think the country where you were born is still a very important factor in the EB-5 process compared to the country where you are a citizen right now.”

Despite these challenges, Hahn says that apart from COVID’s impact on his application, “the process was quite fine and interesting.” 

Hahn’s application finally moved forward once the pandemic ended, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approving it last year. He now lives in California and is planning to file for the I-829 form for removal of conditions on permanent resident status. 

As for advice to other EB-5 investors, Hahn is adamant that “good bookkeeping” of personal and financial documents will make a difference in their applications and understand their motivations to pursue this investor visa.

“If you are an investor who is looking mostly for an opportunity to get a residency permit in the U.S., the most important factor is if you are willing to take the risk on the investment.

But if you’re more interested in the financial aspect of it, then you should probably have some financial background.”

** To protect the investor’s privacy, the name has been changed.

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