Nepali emigrants are beginning to establish close-knit, flourishing communities in the U.S. One of the largest is in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of New York City, where immigrants have opened businesses and created jobs. Among the first Nepali immigrants to arrive in the area was Mohan Gyawali, a community organizer who opened a nail salon called Mt. Everest. Many immigrants after Gyawali have started their own businesses, most commonly restaurants and nail salons. Future entrepreneurial immigrants can take advantage of the U.S. State Department’s EB-5 investor visa program by starting their own business or investing in an existing business, creating jobs in the U.S. for fellow Nepali community members and thus significantly increasing remittance dollars returning to Nepal.
In today’s increasingly global society, emigration is on the rise in Nepal. World Bank reports that in 2010, a staggering 3.3% of Nepal’s population emigrated, a total of approximately 982,200 people. The United States is one of their top five destinations, in addition to India, Qatar, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. Many emigrants have high levels of education with 5.3% of the population with a post-secondary education emigrating in 2000. This shift in emigration is contributing to a wealth of economic benefits for Nepal, as Nepali immigrants to the U.S. are becoming more successful and sending money back home.
In Nepal, remittance makes up 23% of the nation’s entire Gross Domestic Product (GDP); this rate puts Nepal among the top five countries where remittance significantly contributes to GDP. Various surveys cite Nepal’s high remittance rates as a factor in creating lower poverty rates and a higher standard of living.
Remittance to Nepal was estimated at 3.5 billion USD by 2010, and the rates are steadily increasing with more and more Nepali immigrants in the U.S. sending money back to their homeland. In fact, the World Bank estimates that global remittance rates to developing countries will be over 300 billion USD in 2012. This capital is becoming an ever more important source for Nepal’s foreign exchange, especially as national income from exports is decreasing.
Although immigration to the U.S. and remittance rates are increasing, there are still several obstacles immigrants must overcome. The most commonly available US visas are obtained through the Electronic Diversity Visa (EDV) system, where potential immigrants enter a lottery to obtain a Green Card. The goal of the program is to encourage immigration to the U.S. from countries with low immigration rates, thereby increasing the ethnic diversity in the U.S. Nepal currently receives the ninth highest number of EDVs with 4,259 winners, but the number of visas available internationally is limited and the application process is overwhelming. Even if an individual applies, there is no guarantee he or she will secure a visa, so the process can be incredibly frustrating and unpredictable. Would-be immigrants may have to apply multiple times before winning a visa; some applicants never get a visa despite trying in vain year after year. Furthermore, visas from the lottery do not ensure employment, housing, or services for immigrants, which means many people find themselves working low-paying or unskilled jobs in the U.S.
While this is a common process for Nepali emigrants heading to the US, an alternative to the uncertainty of the lottery system is available through the U.S. State Department’s EB-5 investor visa program. The EB-5 visa is an alternative immigration choice developed for successful businesspeople and entrepreneurs around the globe. Essentially, an individual can make an investment of at least one million dollars into a business in the U.S. and receive a Green Card. EB-5 visas have been available for two decades, but the program has become increasingly popular in recent years. The number of applicants around the world continues to grow considerably, tripling between 2008 and 2010. EB-5 can prove to be an excellent source of remittance dollars for Nepal’s economy while helping Nepali entrepreneurs to truly realize their potential, a win-win situation.
While thousands of applicants take an interest in the EB-5 program, the complexity of the application process can be daunting. “At the very least the applicant should have an immigration lawyer,” says Alexander Aginsky, Managing Director of Aginsky Consulting Group, a leading expert in the U.S. immigrant-investor program, “but what these applicants really need is a professional financial advisor that can help make sound investments and guide through the application process.” From starting a business to investing into real estate, or even establishing a U.S. branch of their current company, investors have no shortage of options as long as the investment is at least one million dollars and creates ten jobs. The level of involvement in the business is at the investor’s discretion, allowing the investor to maintain a large degree of freedom.
Various factors motivate investors to pursue the visa: some are looking to flee their home countries for safety, others are unsatisfied with the corruption and bureaucracy widespread in emerging economies, and some are seeking further opportunities for growth. “At some point, these businessmen just can’t take it any longer,” says Aginsky, “they may love their homeland, but eventually they realize that the best thing for their families and their businesses is to emigrate.”
Numerous benefits are available to investors who attain EB-5 visas. An investment of this type is a personal exit strategy to hedge against economic volatility and political instability, common in developing economies. Prudent businesspeople apply for the U.S. immigrant investor program to stay ahead of the game, diversifying their portfolios and minimizing exposure to local economic swings. The program is advantageous to the families of investors as well; visas are provided for the investor and his or her immediate family, ensuring a wealth of opportunities for future generations.
While emigrant numbers continue to increase, remittance has not increased proportionally. Remittance from successful entrepreneurs will be a critical contributor to Nepal’s economy and EB-5 is a perfect mechanism for such entrepreneurs. EB-5 will allow innovators and businessmen in Nepal to utilize the latest technologies not available locally and market and sell their products to the world’s most dynamic markets. Their significant investments will generate income that, in turn, can return to Nepal in the form of remittance.
Whether an investor’s motivations stem from a desire to protect capital from economic uncertainty or unstable political conditions, increase diversity of investments, provide greater opportunities for family members, or take advantage of growth opportunities, the EB-5 investor visa provides an opportunity for a stable course toward U.S. residency while significantly increasing the amount of capital being remitted to Nepal.
Written by Clare Eisenberg and Yurop Shrestha. Authors can be contacted at email@example.com