Chinese investor avoids EB-5 visa retrogression using cross-chargeability
By Fang Tian, EB5 Investors Magazine Staff
Michael Guo, a Chinese native who applied for EB-5 after the visa retrogression started, is one of few mainland China-born investors who managed to go through the EB-5 process without any delays. Because he is married to a Malaysian, Guo was able to bypass the Chinese EB-5 visa backlog and receive his green card 22 months after submitting his application.
Thanks to his wife, Gao could apply for EB-5 using cross-chargeability, a feature in the U.S. immigration system that allows a petitioner to use a spouse’s country of birth that has visa number availability. Unlike China, Malaysia has no EB-5 backlog. Guo was able to dodge the waiting-line bullet of visa retrogression.
The couple met in graduate school in the United States, fell in love and got married.
“Everything happened naturally,” said Gao.
THE START OF THE EB-5 JOURNEY
Guo’s EB-5 journey started before he met his soulmate. He was mentally prepared for the backlog when he started the EB-5 process but he didn’t let it deter him.
“I knew there was going to be a wait,” he said, “but I still decided to give it a try.”
Guo came to the U.S. in 2012 as an international student with a desire for a high-quality education. He was admitted to the University of California, Los Angeles, as a graduate student studying architecture. Although challenging, he found the classes very fulfilling.
However, career prospects for a foreigner in the U.S. didn’t look as promising as Guo expected. In order to stay and work in the U.S. after graduation, he had to find a company that could not only offer him a job, but was willing to sponsor him for a work visa.
Guo and his parents felt the urgency to pursue other options.
“My parents learned about EB-5 through their friends who immigrated to the U.S. that way,” Guo said. “Although we were not sure how many years we had to wait, we knew we had to do it.”
Like every investor who set sail on an EB-5 adventure, Guo and his parents felt overwhelmed by the EB-5 process and the many choices along the way.
“There are tons of projects out there,” he said. “It is hard to nail down the right one.”
Fortunately, Guo’s parents had friends who had already completed the process successfully. Thanks to recommendations from acquaintances, they were able to narrow down their candidate pool to five real estate projects. That’s where Guo’s professional background came into play. As an architecture major trained in both China and the U.S., Guo knew which projects stood a better chance of success.
“You have to understand what the game plan is,” Guo said. “Some projects are hotels. Some are residential buildings. Some are infrastructure. Every type has its own pros and cons.”
Guo personally appraised the feasibility of each project and studied each project’s business plan. He also spent time reading through project documents to compare the structure of capital stack and exit strategies.
“That’s how you should evaluate,” he said.
EB-5 compliance was another key factor in Guo’s due diligence. He knew a successful project doesn’t always mean an approvable one. What he valued the most were a developer’s track record and previous experience. In the EB-5 space, investment safety and immigration success are equally important.
“Are they established developers or are they newcomers in the EB-5 arena?” That’s the question Guo bore in mind when he called every regional center and developer in his candidate pool.
“I was looking for a project that has already started and supported investors’ I-526 applications,” Guo said.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT PATH AND PROJECT
After intense market research, Guo made an investment in the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington hotel, located at Seattle’s Southport. The project was sponsored by the Seattle Family Regional Center.
Right before Guo filed his I-526 application, he was informed by his immigration attorney of cross-chargeability. Guo was surprised to find out he met the criteria.
“It just worked out,” Guo said.
Guo filed his I-526 application in September 2015 immediately after his graduation. Then he found a company to sponsor him for an H-1B work visa, which allowed him to work as he waited for his EB-5 adjudication. By July 2017, only 22 months after he first embarked on the EB-5 journey, Guo and his wife received their conditional green cards.
Currently working and living in Los Angeles, California, Guo and his wife say they enjoy how easy their green cards allow them to return to the U.S. after trips abroad.
“We both travel a lot for work. Now we don’t need to worry about visas anymore,” Guo said. “We just enter the border and don’t need to wait in queues.”
Although Guo was lucky enough to get a work visa, he said being a green card holder gives him more career opportunities and greater flexibility. He is not tied to the employer who sponsored his H-1B, nor is he subject to the strict employment rules that apply to H-1B visa holders. Switching jobs for a better wage and a brighter career is also easier. As a permanent resident of the U.S., he now has access to a broader job market.
“Having permanent residency is definitely helpful at this moment,” Guo said.
Guo’s meticulous market research on EB-5 also paid off. The project he invested in was completed in 2017, with all required jobs created. Guo is currently preparing to file his I-829 application that removes the conditions of his two-year temporary green card.
With greater mobility, better career prospects and a promising future in front of him, Guo is satisfied with how his EB-5 journey turned out.
“There are a lot of opportunities available out there,” Guo said. “We are quite happy with the outcome of our EB-5.”