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Chinese account for over 80% of US investment visa applications

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 18:15

[HONG KONG] Mainland Chinese account for over 80 per cent of people awaiting visas that bestow US citizenship in return for investment, showed findings by real estate services firm Savills Studley, who said the trend is pushing up demand for commercial property.

A rising number of Chinese are applying for EB-5 visas, where non-citizens put at least US$500,000 into a business in the United States, as they seek to park their wealth offshore - in part to escape the impact of an anti-corruption drive at home.

Australia has a similar scheme for those investing over US$4 million, with 90 per cent of applicants from China. Australian property has long been popular among Chinese but investment has accelerated since the start of the anti-graft campaign last year.

In the US, Savills Studley said over 6,400 people are on the waiting list for an EB-5 visa, and that it expects this year's allotment for Chinese applicants to be reached by September, compared with late August last year.

There were almost 10,700 EB-5 visas issued last year, up 25 per cent from 2013, with mainland Chinese accounting for 85 per cent of recipients versus 81 per cent a year prior, Savills Studley said.

The US property services firm said the rise has become an important source of capital for developers, with Chinese investment in US commercial real estate jumping 78 per cent from a year earlier to US$5.7 billion.

The EB-5 program is also driving up prices of residential property, real estate agents said. Many Chinese immigrants with EB-5 visas make a living collecting rent in less expensive states such as Texas and North Caroline, they said. "Some of them don't speak English and cannot find a job, so they buy four or five houses to generate rental income here, where housing prices are cheaper but can still give them a 6 to 7 per cent yield," said Houston-based agent Gladys Wang. "This is the third wave of immigrants; they're the upper-middle class and no longer the most wealthy ones from China."

REUTERS