Trump triggers surge in Arab demand for U.S. investor visas

How Trump's travel ban hits this South Dakota doctor
How Trump's travel ban hits this South Dakota doctor

Wealthy Arabs are rushing to sign up for a U.S. program offering investors green cards for cash as they try to beat a crackdown on immigration by President Trump.

Three companies in Dubai offering legal advice on immigration say they have witnessed a spike in demand for U.S. investment visas since Trump's travel ban -- now blocked by the courts -- on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries.

"We've received a greater number of inquiries and client enrollment since the commencement of the Trump presidency," said Preeya Malik, managing director at Step America, a firm that provides consultancy services on U.S. investor visas. "Investors can see how immigration laws are shifting rapidly and are looking to finalize their options before any new rules take place."

Known as EB-5, the immigration program hands out green cards to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 and create 10 jobs in the U.S. The program caps the number of visas issued annually at 10,000.

Since 2011, nearly 83% of the EB-5 visas issued went to Chinese investors. Less than 2% went to people from the Middle East, according to industry association Invest in the USA.

But with Trump likely to unveil a new executive order on immigration any day, interest from the region is surging.

"We were selling access but access is no longer the issue here. It's guaranteed access," said Sam Bayat, managing director at Bayat Legal Services.

'We are inundated'

Step America says they've had a 60% increase in inquiries and 40% more EB-5 applications submitted since the travel ban was announced.

Arton Capital, which specializes in 12 investor visa programs around the world, said January was a very busy month. The firm saw inquiries handled by their Dubai office increase by 200% compared with the same time last year. It expects February numbers to be even higher.

"There are only 12 of us here in Dubai and we are inundated every day with inquiries, particularly from people from this region," said John Hanafin, CEO of Arton Capital.

Related: Indian tech graduates fear America may shut them out

One of those seriously considering applying is Mohamed Azedin. Born in Egypt, the father of three children under the age of 16 has been living for 20 years in the United Arab Emirates, where he is a senior project manager in a real estate company.

He wants to move his family to America to get a better education for his children and sees the EB-5 program as the only way of doing that.

"I need something reliable, strong [that] can protect my family," he told CNNMoney.

Applicants want guarantees

Azedin's family already has a five-year U.S. visitor visa but is looking for the greater security an investor visa may offer. Still, he wants assurances that his EB-5 status -- if approved -- will be guaranteed.

"How can you guarantee that you are protected under this program... If it's okay then 100% I'll sign tomorrow," Azedin said.

Trump's targeting of seven countries with his first executive order -- including Iraq -- means others want to wait for more clarity before applying.

mohamed azedin quote

Luay Al Azzawi is a doctor from Iraq who now works in Dubai.

Like Azedin, he wants to move to America to give his son the chance of a better future. He says he applied for the U.S. refugee program six years ago and did not hear back.

"I'm looking for another way. Once Trump issued the latest policies I became more worried about my son."

Now he's considering the EB-5 program but is worried that his status as an Iraqi may complicate his application.

Higher cost ahead?

"The approval of our application is not guaranteed. The probability of rejection for us is higher and I don't want to put my money [at] risk," Al Azzawi said.

A requirement of the EB-5 program is to put the $500,000 upfront when applying even though approvals may take at least 12 months.

Related: Silicon Valley's impossible balancing act with Trump

Investors considering applying for an EB-5 visa may have another reason to sign up soon.

In December, Congress extended the program with its current minimum investment requirement of $500,000. It is due to review the program again in April, and could decide to increase the requirement to at least $800,000.

The Trump administration has plans to make changes to a host of visa programs, but the EB-5 was not included in the draft executive order seen by CNN.

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