I have recently returned from Moscow – full of impressions and full of wonder. Having lived and practiced US immigration law there for many, many years, I thought that I had seen it all. But Russia never ceases to amaze; Winston Churchill’s words about Russia – that Russia is a “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” – still ring true even today.
One “takeaway” from my trip was that interest in immigration to the US and the EB-5 program is certainly growing. This was obvious from the number and sophistication of the businessmen that I met. While the number of EB-5 investors will never reach the level of the Chinese or Koreans, EB-5 is still in its nascency in Russia. Discontent with the general political situation, as seen in the large protests after the elections, and the desire to provide for a better future for their families certainly motivates many. This trend was highlighted by a couple of recent articles in the press. Russians Leaving the Country in Droves;
I see at least two reasons for the lack of the development of the EB-5 program in Russia to date. The main problem is that there is a lack of information about Regional Centers. Many of the businessmen that I met with sought advice on where they should invest their money. Which RC is the “best”? Which is the most “reliable”? Which will provide a good return on the investment? A quick search of the Russian search engines turns up mention of very few RCs, with Russian-language information particularly scant. There have been very few EB-5 seminars conducted.
The second related problem is that, unlike China, Russia has no established network of reputable immigration consultants or agents. There are hundreds of travel agencies and a few visa consultants, but their visa advice ranges from the amateurish to the outright fraudulent, with many providing bogus documents. (I know because their clients come to us for legal advice after the consular officer discovers the fraud.)
There are of course other factors at play in the relatively minimal Russian interest to date in EB-5: Russian short-term mentality; high US taxes; US physical presence requirements for obtaining US citizenship; and the recession in the United States. The list goes on.
But the US remains attractive to Russians. Education for their children; political stability; lack of institutionalized corruption; cheap real estate; visa-free travel; and economic opportunity – all are factors cited by Russians in pursuing an EB-5 investment. Russia is an untapped EB-5 market, full of potential. It is now up to RC representatives and EB-5 entrepreneurs to seize that potential.