DUBAI // UAE residents are willing to invest millions to secure an investor class of the American green card.
The EB-5 is available to people who can invest US$500,000 (Dh1.8 million) or $1m in a business without borrowing.
The application process includes extra costs of about $65,000 in non-refundable fees to US lawyers.
But it is proving particularly popular among those who come to the UAE to escape turmoil at home, using it as a base from which to gain quicker US citizenship.
The Middle East is the second-biggest source of the EB-5 immigrant entrepreneur or investor visa category.
Immigration consultants and lawyers say there is a growing demand for the category among UAE residents, particularly Iranians, Pakistanis and Indians, and Arab expatriates from Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Syria.
Sam Bayat, managing director of Bayat Legal Services, said the number of people applying was low but would rise because Canada's immigration in the business category has been closed for two years.
"When they [Canada] open again, it is expected to be more expensive," Mr Bayat said. "Investment in the UK is at least £1m (Dh5.8m), while France is €10m (Dh48.9m). So the US is more attractive."
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services allow 10,000 EB-5 investors a year.
The embassy in Abu Dhabi could not reveal exact figures but said processing those visas was a "very minor part of consular work".
Mr Bayat estimated about 100 were processed each year in the UAE.
Arton Capital, a global financial advisory with a branch in Dubai, has said it is planning to start offering the EB-5 immigration services from February 1.
"We have seen a 50 per cent increase in the region from 2008 for the investor category because of political instability and financial crisis," said Armand Arton, chief executive and president. "The Middle East is the second-largest source of clients for the EB-5 category."
Mr Arton said that in November last year, the US exempted Iranians willing to invest in approved EB-5 projects from its financial sanctions, boosting the numbers of investor visas from the UAE.
"The US government is helping them leave Iran faster and come to the US faster," he said. "The UAE is becoming a hub for wealthy citizens from problematic countries who go on to migrate to other countries."
For residents such as Mr Ali, EB-5 means a better future, stability and the promise of good education for his children.
"The US is a dream country," said the businessman, who declined to reveal his full name. "I invested $560,000 in a government bond in Baltimore. I am now waiting for my interview at the US consulate.
"It is not a lot of money for me since I am investing in my children's future."
Mr Ali said he planned to settle in California once the visas for his family of five came through.
"Most Iranian businessmen are looking to go to the US. They want a better life," he said.
Green cards are usually obtained through a lottery system, along with a work visa, or by family sponsorship. Obtaining the card can take as long as 10 years, and once you have it, becoming an American citizen can take another five.
But an investor can be granted a temporary green card in 18 months and citizenship five years later.
"It's an expedited green card," said Mr Bayat. "Once the application is approved by the US consulate and when the investor arrives in the US, they get a temporary green card. In the 21st month, the investor can apply for a new green card."
The permanent green card is obtained only after the investor has fulfilled the terms of his visa, which are to invest in an existing or new US company and create 10 jobs.
Mr Bayat said the fast-track process was made more attractive because proof of record is required only for the investment money rather than a full disclosure of all assets.