Merit-Based Visa Categories: A Strong Constant in Uncertain Times

By David Cantor

Throughout the span of four-years, the United States immigration framework has faced unprecedented times. The main governing entities – the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Department of State (DoS) – have made distinctive regulatory changes in order to carry out various, larger policy-oriented goals, namely rooted in national security and economic concerns.

Overall, it has been challenging times for many US visa holders and prospective applicants across visa categories to plan, as well as determine the path of least resistance based on your priorities and goals.

Despite the seemingly endless challenges and uncertainties we have faced, there seems to be one US immigration pathway that has proven both reliable and promising for qualified applicants – merit-based visa categories.

In essence, applicants that qualify will be receiving a US visa based on their own qualifications and achievements. While it helps, you do not need to have won the Nobel Peace prize – rather, you should consider this if you have specific professional experiences that seem novel and unique.

There is also no limit on the “type of profession” – and at Davies & Associates we have represented a diverse range of clients, including but not limited to: Foreign Medical Professionals (i.e. doctors, nurses, researchers), Academics and Professors, Business Executives and Entrepreneurs, Artists, Engineers, and much more.

Generally, you should be considering a merit-based visa category if you are able to provide some of the following:

  • Publications & citations of your work;
  • Proof that you have been recognized for your work (i.e. awards);
  • Evidence that you have achieved a higher-level degree and that you are established in your respective profession;
  • Notable letters of recommendation from others in your industry attesting for your qualifications;
  • Membership of relevant associations, boards and professional organizations related to your work;
  • And other core documentary proof demonstrating that you’ve risen to a certain level of expertise in your field.

Now, these are really general terms for what you should be considering for merit-based visa categories, and obviously there is a lot more due-diligence and work that goes into a prospective application. If you believe you may qualify, we would be glad to provide a more detailed consultation, and request that you complete one of our merit-based questionnaires.

For those that do qualify – merit-based visa categories present numerous advantages. To begin with, you are essentially being granted a visa based on your own achievements and expertise.

Some visa categories do not even require you to have a job-offer or an employer sponsor in the United States, so you are actually petitioning yourself (read more about the National Interest Waiver program). Moreover, with a sound immigration strategy many of merit-based visa categories will lead to permanent residence and a Green Card.

How do I know if I qualify for a Merit-Based Visa?

At Davies & Associates our expert team of legal specialists will provide a thorough review to determine your initial eligibility. We would first review your professional portfolio (i.e. CV/resume) and request that you complete our detailed merit-based questionnaire (please send an email to meritbased@usimmigrationadvisor.com)

What are the Merit-Based Visa Categories?

Merit-based visas can be broken down into two main categories: non-immigrant and immigrant. Generally speaking, Non-Immigrant visas are temporary and permit a candidate to live and work in the United States, while Immigrant-based visas lead to permanent residency (Green Card). Oftentimes, depending on the objectives and specific criteria of our clients we will combine visas and present an overall immigration strategy. Some of the most common visa categories include and is not limited to: L-1 / P-1 / O-1 / J-1 / H-1B / EB-1 / EB-2 / NIW.

How long does it take to get a Green Card?

The processing times for building a merit-based visa application will depend on several factors: visa category, specifics of the client’s case, current processing times, and more. Generally speaking, the merit-based visa categories have received favorable and current processing times when compared to other visa categories as a result of the current administration policies. While processing times are subject to change, many of our clients were able to obtain their visas within 9-12 months from respective US consulates.

What type of professionals will qualify for merit-based visas?

As mentioned above, there is no limitation to the “type of professional” that may qualify. You can be a successful businessman, inventor, entrepreneur, medical professional, actuary, physical therapist, TV or Social Media personality, acclaimed artist, software or aeronautical engineer.


The important question is whether you have the credentials to qualify, regardless of the type of professional you are. In general, the more you can demonstrate that you are established and recognized in your respective career the stronger viability you may have for filing. The criteria for qualifying is very specific – so our team of experts will evaluate specific requirements (i.e. # of publications/citations, awards, membership on professional organizations and boards, etc.).

What is the visa process for merit-based visa applications?

Please read our previous article about this HERE.

I believe I qualify for a Merit-Based Visa – what are the next steps?

Contact us today and we will be glad to provide a tailored-consultation: meritbased@usimmigrationadvisor.com

This article is published for clients, friends and other interested visitors for information purposes only. The contents of the article do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Davies & Associates or any of its attorneys, staff or clients. External links are not an endorsement of the content.


Am I a Citizen of Country that Holds an E-2 Visa Treaty with the United States?

The E-2 Treaty Investor Visa is one of the most sought-after US visa categories. Little wonder. The E-2 visa allows a person to own and operate a business in the largest economy in the world.

It can be renewed indefinitely provided the underlying business is in operation and still performing; Spouses can apply for work authorization outside the business; Dependent children can join you in America; You are not taxed in the same way as citizens and Green Card holders; You are free to travel to and from the United States; You can opt for an off-the-shelf franchise business or start your own.

Yet to qualify for this popular visa, you need to be a citizen of a country that holds a relevant treaty with the United States. Check out the list below to see if you are eligible.

List of E-2 Treaty Countries

Note: If your country is not on the list, Read on! We can still help.

  • Albania
  • Argentina
  • Armenia
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Azerbaijan
  • Bahrain
  • Bangladesh
  • Belgium
  • Bosnia & Herzegovina
  • Bulgaria
  • Cameroon
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Denmark
  • Egypt
  • Estonia
  • Ethiopia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Georgia
  • Germany
  • Grenada
  • Honduras
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Jamaica
  • Japan
  • Jordan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kosovo
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Latvia
  • Liberia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Macedonia
  • Mexico
  • Moldova
  • Mongolia
  • Montenegro
  • Morocco
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Oman
  • Pakistan
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Philippines
  • Poland
  • Republic of Congo
  • Romania
  • Serbia
  • Senegal
  • Singapore Slovak Republic
  • Slovenia
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sri Lanka
  • Suriname
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Togo
  • Trinidad & Tobago
  • Tunisia
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine
  • United Kingdom

If your country is on the list then you can go directly to an E-2 Visa. If it is not on the list (and more than half the world’s population are citizens of countries that are not on the list), then you need to become a citizen of a country that is on the list first.

You see, unlike the EB-5 investor visa program, E-2 is determined by your country of citizenship. (While citizens of all counties are eligible for the EB-5 visa, each country is subject to an annual quota. Which EB-5 country quota you are subjected to is dependent on your country of birth rather than country of current citizenship.)

But with E-2 visa, obtaining dual citizenship or a new citizenship will make a difference to your eligibility.

So you need to become a citizen of one of the countries on the above list.

While several of these countries offer a pathway to citizenship, the timing and cost can be prohibitive. For example, you can invest your way to UK residency for £2 million. This sets you on a path to possible citizenship, that takes six years. You can reduce this time if you invest more. But even with a £10 million investment, it will still take 3 years to be eligible for citizenship.

That is quite the wait for the E-2 visa. Besides, if you ultimately looking to move to the United States and have such sums of money to invest, you might want to consider the EB-5 investor visa instead. Under this program, a family can all receive Green Cards in exchange for a $900,000 investment.

Yet there are two countries on the list that offer fast and cost-effective routes to citizenship: Turkey and Grenada. We have helped clients obtain E-2 visas via both countries. It takes a matter of months to complete the entire process.

Grenada offers citizenship in exchange for a real estate investment from $220,000 or a donation to the government of $150,000 (more depending on how many family members you are bringing). It takes less than three months to obtain the passport, you don’t need to visit during this process, and Grenada allows dual citizenship so you do not need to give up your existing citizenship (unless this is required by the other country).

Turkey offers citizenship in exchange for a $250,000 investment in Real Estate or a $500,000 in bank deposits held with a Turkish bank. The process takes only slightly longer and citizenship can be obtained in just a few months.

Both countries offer many benefits aside from the E-2 visa. Both are dynamic economies with considerable investment opportunities. Some of our clients prefer Turkey because it is an international transit hub often en route between their home country and the United States. Others prefer Grenada for its proximity to their new home in the United States.

A third option is Montenegro. It is newer and a bit more expensive that the other programs. It requires a minimum €250,000 investment in Real Estate as well as a €100,000 donation. Montenegro shares a border with the European Union and it is a candidate for membership.

Our attorneys can talk you through the whole process. Our clients who have pursued this route have found it surprisingly simply. To discuss your circumstances with our team, please contact us to arrange a free consultation.

This article is published for clients, friends and other interested visitors for information purposes only. The contents of the article do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Davies & Associates or any of its attorneys, staff or clients. External links are not an endorsement of the content.


Italy’s Annual Quota for Non-EU Migrant Workers Tops 30,000 in 2020

By Matteo Tisato

Each year the Italian government announces how many working visas will be available under its “quota system”. The government releases a Flow Decree establishing a number of available working visas across two main categories.

For 2020 there will be a total of 30,850 non-European workers who will be able to enter Italy regularly.

The 30,850 visa quota is split as follows:

  1. 12,850 visas are available to non-seasonal subordinate jobs, and self-employers, of which 6,150 working permits are available to those who are already in Italy and apply for the conversion of their Permit of Stay (Permesso di Soggiorno);
  2. 18,000 visas are available to seasonal workers in the transportation, constructions, and tourism fields, of which 4.500 are reserved for those coming from Albania, Algeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, South Korea, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Ethiopia, Philippines, Gambia, Ghana, Japan, India, Kosovo, Mali, Morocco, Mauritius, Moldova, Montenegro, Niger, Nigeria,  North Macedonia, Senegal, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tunisia, Ukraine. For 2020/2021, three more countries have been included: Bangladesh, Pakistan, and El Salvador. Of this category, a sub quota of 6,000 permits are limited those working in the agricultural field. 100 visas are available for those who resides in Venezuela and have at least one Italian ancestor.

There are many different reasons our clients want to move to the boot-shaped peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea.

  • working
  • establishing residency / desire to live in Italy
  • investment opportunities in the real estate market
  • studying and cultural experiences
  • retirement
  • tax benefits

Of all of these, work is one of the most popular motivations. A good 25% of people who contact us are interested in moving to Italy because of its employment opportunities and fair labour conditions.

We all know Covid-19 has had a catastrophic impact on the employment rate in Europe and worldwide. Even before the pandemic, Italy was still struggling to recover from a deep economic crisis, which hit the youth employment especially badly.

However, over the last 2 years, the government made up a series of reforms to the labour market, also allowing people to retire earlier.

For those foreigners who have an employer available in sponsoring them, the Italian labour market offers excellent rights and public benefits.

Benefits of being employed in the Italian labour market

  • First, each employer is insured under the Italian Social Security legislation;
  • Second, the average working week does not exceed 40 hours and overtime is forbidden when it exceeds 250 hours per year;
  • Third, each employer is entitled to have at least a month (four weeks) of paid annual leave, and 11 public holiday days;
  • Fourth, the parental leave is very well regulated in Italy and both mothers and fathers can take a leave up to six months until the child turns 12;
  • Fifth, in case a contract is terminated, all the employees are entitled to a very well-regulated and extensive severance pay;
  • Sixth, workers are entitled to sick leave with full remuneration (most of the time) and have the right to maintain their job while they are sick.

Contact our Italy Team to discuss in greater detail.

This article is published for clients, friends and other interested visitors for information purposes only. The contents of the article do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Davies & Associates or any of its attorneys, staff or clients. External links are not an endorsement of the content.


Cyprus Ends Citizenship Program – What are the Alternatives?

Cyprus has announced it is closing its popular citizenship by investment program from next month, so what alternative options are available?

Under the Cyprus program, dual citizenship could be obtained within just six months in exchange for a €2 million investment on the island. Since Cyprus is a European Union member, Cypriot citizenship offered the opportunity to live and work in any one of the 27 EU member states (28 until Brexit).

Maltese Citizenship by Investment

The closure of the Cyprus program leaves Malta as the fastest route to European Union citizenship. The Maltese citizenship program requires a €650,000 donation, a €150,000 investment, as well as a commitment to reside in Malta and meet a threshold cost for the rent or purchase of a home.

EU Residency to Citizenship

The alternative European Union programs are more focused on residency by investment with the opportunity to progress to citizenship after a period of residency has been maintained. Bulgaria offers a fast transition from residency to citizenship, while the UK differs depending upon how much you invest, and for Italy it takes ten years. (More on this below)

Montenegro Citizenship by Investment Program

There is a candidate for European Union membership that offers citizenship by investment for those willing to wait an undetermined period of time to become and EU citizen. Montenegro offers a time-limited citizenship by investment program that is running to the end of 2021. The Montenegro program requires a minimum €250,000 investment in Real Estate (more capital is required in economically developed parts of the country) as well as a €100,000 donation to the public coffers. Not only is Montenegro a candidate for EU membership, it is also a member of NATO.

Turkish Citizenship by Investment

Another nearby NATO member, Turkey, also offers an enticing citizenship by investment program. The Turkish program is cheaper than the Montenegro program in that it only requires a €250,000 investment in Real Estate to be maintained for three years or more. Alternatively, Turkish citizenship could be obtained by maintaining €500,000 in deposits with a Turkish bank for three years.

Access to the United States E-2 Treaty Investor Visa

One of the many advantages of Turkish citizenship is that it offers access to the sought-after United States E-2 Treaty Investor Visa. This visa allows a person to move to the US with their families for the purpose of running a business. While the primary applicant must run the business, the spouse can apply to work in the United States.

You must hold citizenship of an E-2 Treaty country. Check our list to see if your country is on there. Citizens of many countries, including India, China, Vietnam, South Africa, Russia, Nigeria are not eligible for the E-2 visa. Combining an E-2 application with citizenship by investment is relatively straightforward. Click here or contact us to learn more.

Grenada Citizenship by Investment

Another country that offers access to the US E-2 Treaty investor visa is Grenada in the Caribbean. Its citizenship program is even more cost effective than the Turkish program. Investors can choose between making a donation to the government of $150,000 or making an investment in Real Estate starting from $220,000. The Grenada program has fast processing times – it can take less than two months to obtain citizenship. Grenada has a strong passport with visa free access to the UK, the EU and the People’s Republic of China.

Comparison of Citizenship by Investment Programs

United Kingdom Residency by Investment

Back to Europe, and the alternative options are to obtain residency by investment as a pathway to citizenship over the medium term. The United Kingdom, for example, offers residency in exchange for a minimum £2 million donation. Higher investment amounts reduce the amount of time before you can obtain settled status, termed indefinite leave to remain. For £2 million the time period is five years; for £5 million that is reduced to three years; and for anything upward of £10 million it requires just two years before you can apply for settled status. Twelve months after obtaining indefinitely leave to remain, a person can apply for UK citizenship.

UK Investor Visa Options

Italian Residency by Investment

Italy offers something similar to the United Kingdom. Recently, in response to Covid-19, the Italian government reduced the investment requirement for its investor visa. Italian residency by investment can be obtained in one of the four ways listed below. The investor must maintain ten years of residency before they can apply to naturalize as an Italian citizen.

at least 250.000 Euros in an innovative start-up company incorporated in Italy; 

at least 500.000 Euros in equity instruments of companies incorporated and operating in Italy; 

at least 2 million Euros in Government Bonds issued by the Italian Republic

philanthropic donations of at least 1 million Euros, in the field of culture, education, immigration, scientific research, recovery of cultural assets and landscapes

Portugal Residency Permit

Portugal offers a residency permit in exchange for an eligible investment. The permit is granted for a two year period, but can be renewed in two year instalments. After five years, the permit holder can apply for permanent residence or citizenship.

Investment options include, real estate, bank deposits, government bonds, setting up a company, and more. For real estate, the minimum requirement is €350,000 for old houses and €500,000 for newer builds. That amount is reduced in areas of low population density.

Greece Residency Permit

Greece offers residency permits for a cost-effective €250,000 investment in real estate. The permit is granted for five years and can be continuously renewed provided the underlying property ownership is maintained. Lease and timeshare options may also qualify.

United States Investor Visa

The United States EB-5 program offers a Green Card in exchange for a $900,000 investment. The applicant, a spouse, and any children under the age of 21 can be covered by a single investment. A Green Card offers permanent residency in the United States and can subsequently be converted to citizenship, provided residency conditions are met.

The investment must create and sustain ten American jobs and must be made in a Targeted Employment Area (outside of these areas the investment required doubles to $1.8 million.) While you can make and manage the investment yourself, most applicants opt invest with “Regional Centers”.

These organizations aggregate investors into new commercial ventures usually involved in construction. These job-hungry projects help ensure compliance with the requirements of the EB-5 program. While the capital is at risk, careful due diligence of the project and Regional Center will mitigate that risk.

Conclusion

This is not an exhaustive list. Other countries like Spain, Ireland, St Kitts & Nevis, and Dominica all offer residency and citizenship by investment programs. The abrupt departure of the Cyprus from the industry does not end the dream of global mobility by investment. The best thing to do is to share your goals and budgets with an immigration attorney who can advise on the best option to suit you, your family, and your business.

This article is published for clients, friends and other interested visitors for information purposes only. The contents of the article do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Davies & Associates or any of its attorneys, staff or clients. External links are not an endorsement of the content.


EB-5 Investor Visa Processing Times Fall to Four Year Low

October Visa Bulletin Analysis

By Maxine Philavong

In the first Visa Bulletin of the fiscal year, October’s Visa Bulletin showed little to no movement in the family visa category, while showing movement in the employment-based category. Although this may be disappointment for affected people looking to obtain a family-based visa, this is good news for those looking to obtain an employment-based visa.

The October Visa Bulletin is perhaps the most important visa bulletin of the year. This is the first visa bulletin of the fiscal year, meaning that the State Department released its calculations for the total number of employment-based visas available for fiscal year 2021. The anticipated number of employment-based visas is 261,500, an all-time high. Current demand for visa numbers is well below the estimated annual limit of 261,500, according to the State Department, due in large part the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just as demand for visas are down due to the current pandemic, this month’s bulletin came much later than expected due to COVID-19. Moreover, the pandemic has caused many issues moving forward in all visa categories. For example, the ongoing visa and travel bans have made interviewing and acceptance much more difficult for family-based visa seekers. Similarly, the pandemic is cause for almost 100k individuals seeking family-based visas unable to reserve interviews due to embassy closures.

However, because family-based visa seekers have been paused, employment-based visas have moved forward exponentially. The following is a quick look at movement seen in the October Visa Bulletin:

FAMILY-BASED VISAS:

There was no movement for family-based visas. However, the bulletin provided some anticipated movement in the upcoming bulletins. Potential movement includes:

F-1: Potential forward movement for up to 3 weeks

F-2A: Current

F-2B: Potential forward movement for up to 3 weeks

EMPLOYMENT-BASED VISAS:

Employment-based visa applicants saw incredible movement due to family-based visas being paused.

EB-1: All countries expect for China and India remained current. China and India advanced three months to June 1, 2018.

EB-2: All countries expect for China and India remained current. China advanced six weeks to March 1, 2016, while India advanced two months to September 1, 2009.

EB-3: All countries except India and China were current in October. Cutoff dates for China advanced four and a half months to July 1, 2017, and for India advanced three and a half months to January 15, 2010.

EB-5: For the Non-Regional Center Program, India remained current, along with all other countries except for China and Vietnam. China’s cutoff date remained on August 15, 2015, and Vietnam’s cutoff date remained at August 1, 2017. The Regional Center program was extended from September 30 to December 11, 2020.

There has never been a better time to apply for an employment-based visa, especially the EB-5 visa. Davies & Associates is one of the longest-established EB-5 law firms in the industry and our team regularly contribute to the global media on the subject. We have helped hundreds of families, business owners and entrepreneurs relocate to America and have never had a case rejected on Source of Funds, which is one of the most challenging aspects of an EB-5 application. Our success comes from blending our highly qualified lawyers with an understanding of the culture, law, business practices and banking regulations in each jurisdiction we operate.

Contact D&A for a free consultation to learn more about the EB-5 Visa Program today.