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Does the U.S. offer "Golden Visas"?

Updated: Nov 03, 2023  | Tags: Golden Visas, ESTA for Business

Immigration programs across the world are as varied as the countries themselves, and one type that has garnered attention is the so-called "Golden Visa". This term refers to a residency-by-investment program where foreign nationals can secure residency, and, in some cases, citizenship. However, citizenship is in exchange for making substantial financial investments. So, does the U.S. have a similar program? This article explores that question and delves into the U.S. immigration system's unique aspects for investors and business visitors.

Understanding the "Golden Visa" Concept

The "Golden Visa" programs typically require significant financial investment in a country's economy, such as purchasing real estate, making a large donation to a national development fund, or creating jobs through business investment. Countries like Portugal, Malta, and Cyprus have been known for their Golden Visa programs, which provide a pathway to permanent residency or even citizenship.

These programs primarily aim to attract foreign capital and boost the economy. However, they have also been criticized for potentially facilitating money laundering and tax evasion, and for their potential to be exploited for less-than-noble intentions.

The U.S. Approach: EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program

While the U.S. doesn't have a "Golden Visa" program in the same sense as some European countries, it does have a pathway for investors, known as the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. However, there are distinct differences that set the U.S. EB-5 program apart from typical "Golden Visa" programs.

The EB-5 program, established in 1990, allows foreign investors to apply for a U.S. visa by investing a significant amount in a commercial enterprise in the U.S. and creating or preserving at least ten full-time jobs for qualifying U.S. workers. The minimum investment amount is $1.8 million, although this can be reduced to $900,000 if the investment is made in a targeted employment area.

Approved EB-5 investors, including their spouses, and unmarried children under 21 years old, are eligible to apply for a green card, which grants permanent residence in the U.S. Unlike the "Golden Visa" programs of some countries, the EB-5 program emphasizes job creation and doesn't offer immediate citizenship.

Why the Difference?

There are several reasons why the U.S. has chosen this approach instead of a straightforward "Golden Visa" program:

1. Emphasis on Job Creation

The U.S. EB-5 program puts a strong emphasis on job creation. The requirement to create or preserve at least ten full-time jobs for qualifying U.S. workers ensures that the investment has a direct positive impact on the U.S. economy.

2. Stringent Oversight

The U.S. program involves strict oversight and rigorous checks on the source of the investment funds. This scrutiny helps prevent issues such as money laundering, which concerns critics of some Golden Visa programs.

3. Delayed Access to Citizenship

Unlike some Golden Visa programs, the U.S. program doesn't provide immediate access to citizenship. After maintaining their status as permanent residents for a certain period, and fulfilling other requirements, EB-5 investors may apply for U.S. citizenship. This delay serves to confirm the investor's commitment to the U.S.

4. Limited Availability

The number of EB-5 visas available each year is capped, unlike some Golden Visa programs, which can make the U.S. program more competitive and selective.

Is ESTA the easier alternative to enter the U.S. for business purposes?

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an online system that determines the eligibility of individuals to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Approved ESTA applications are valid for two years, or until the passport expires, and cover multiple entries into the U.S.

The is an integral part of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows citizens of 41 participating countries to travel to the United States without a visa for up to 90 days. While the VWP covers both tourism and business, this article will focus on the business-related activities permissible under an ESTA.

Permissible Business Activities Under ESTA

An ESTA can be used for a variety of business-related activities. However, it's important to note that the program is intended for short-term stays, and does not permit individuals to establish residence or engage in long-term employment in the U.S. Here are the main permitted business-related activities:

1. Consultation with Business Associates

Travelers can use their ESTA approval to meet with business associates based in the U.S. This could include discussing potential deals, contracts, collaborations, or simply building and maintaining business relationships.

2. Attend Conferences or Seminars

Professionals can attend educational, scientific, or business conferences or seminars. This enables the exchange of knowledge and ideas and the building of international networks.

3. Short-Term Training

Under an ESTA, individuals can undergo short-term training. However, this does not cover gainful employment or long-term job placements. The training should be part of an exchange of ideas or professional development, not a disguised form of employment.

4. Negotiate Contracts or Agreements

ESTA allows travelers to negotiate contracts or trade agreements, make business deals, or handle other business transactions.

5. Purchasing Property or Goods

Travelers can also use an ESTA to purchase property or goods, including attending trade shows or exhibitions to scout for products.

The bottom line on using ESTA for business

The ESTA offers flexible options for business travelers from participating countries, covering a range of activities. However, it's critical to remember that the VWP and ESTA are intended for short-term, nonimmigrant visits and do not permit long-term employment or residency. For longer stays, more complex business activities, or employment, a more appropriate visa category should be pursued. As always, it's recommended to consult with an immigration expert or attorney to understand the best options for your specific circumstances.


While the U.S. doesn't offer a "Golden Visa" program in the exact mold of those in some other countries, its EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program does provide a pathway for foreign nationals to gain permanent residence through significant economic investment. However, the U.S. program places a stronger emphasis on job creation, rigorous vetting of funds, and a clear path to citizenship only after a period of permanent residency. These characteristics reflect the country's broader approach to immigration, which balances economic benefits with concerns about security, economic impact, and the principles of U.S. citizenship.