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By Bernard Wolfsdorf & Joe Barnett
South Africans are surging towards the popular United States EB-5 Immigrant Investment Visa program ahead of possible price increases that will likely place the EB-5 program out of reach for many other than for the uber-rich. NES Financial, the leading EB-5 financial brokerage in the US, has estimated a 600% increase in EB-5 petition filings from South Africans this fiscal year from three years ago.
US EB-5 lawyer and former South African Bernard Wolfsdorf commented, “I have filed more South African cases in the past year than I have processed in the past 10 years. I think it is the fact that the investment amount could increase soon from $500,000 to $1.8m that is driving many South Africans.” However, Mr. Wolfsdorf, Past President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, speculated that there are other factors such as the stable US economy, excellent business environment, and outstanding educational opportunities that are luring many south Africans to invest in the US “The currency swing has convinced many South Africans I speak to that foreign investment in the US makes sense,” said Wolfsdorf.
The Tier 1 top ranked U.S. immigration law firm Wolfsdorf Rosenthal LLP has now set up a South African focused website and is regularly sending experienced lawyers to meet with South Africans and explain their immigration options. Wolfsdorf adds, “While on the one hand I am sad many are choosing to leave, my hope is that, with global investment, many will continue to run and expand their South African companies and that the foreign investment will benefit South African trade and exports and create jobs in South Africa. Other countries such as China and Korea have many immigrants and they drive trade with the “mother country”. “I expect to see many South African immigrants continue to develop trade and commerce with the US as this huge influx continues,” said Wolfsdorf.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative confirms that US goods and services trade with South Africa totaled an estimated $18.9bn in 2018. Exports were $8.4bn; imports were $10.5bn, creating a trade deficit with South Africa of $2.1bn in 2018. Some of the top imports from South Africa into the US include precious metal and stone; iron and steel; vehicles; and agricultural products like tree nuts and fresh fruit. However, the strong dollar greatly benefits trade and prices for many South African goods are high.
Other factors leading South Africans to choose the US is the fact that Australia and the United Kingdom have been less welcoming to immigrants recently, so while the US has been in third place as a choice, that is likely to change soon, said Wolfsdorf. In fact, Australia is becoming less and less friendly to immigrants on a personal level, with many Australians believing it’s time for its liberal immigration policies to end. The country is implementing visa crackdown measures to limit work visas and ensure that foreign workers have the right skills and occupational licenses to conduct business. Additionally, with Brexit causing uncertainty, many South Africans have decided to look towards America for a Plan B.
Joseph Barnett, a partner of the law firm who specialises in EB-5, is now making his second trip to South Africa in the past six months and explained, “I really enjoy meeting with South Africans – they are so friendly and hospitable and so hardworking. I am sure this is the main reason most South Africans seem to do so well in the US” Attorney Barnett adds, “The EB-5 Visa remains popular because there is no US employer sponsorship requirement, no education requirement, travel throughout the visa process is relatively simple, and because South Africans can choose to live wherever they desire once obtaining the green card. In short, the opportunity to live the American dream is open to anyone able to invest $500,000.”
South Africans should be aware that regulations first proposed in 2017 have now reached the final stage of the rule-making process, review by the US Office of Management and Budget, before being finalised. The time to act is now.
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