The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

Green Cards for Green Watts

In the 1990 Golden Globe winning film "Green Card," Frenchman (and recent Russian resident) Gerard Depardieu and American Andie McDowell enter into a farcical marriage of convenience so he can become a U.S. resident and she can qualify for a beautiful co-op in New York City. While this romantic comedy is purely fictional (one hopes), it does portray one of the better known, real life residency programs offered by the U.S. Citizen and Immigrations Services (USCIS). Unbeknownst to many, however, is another USCIS residency program that is spurring foreign investment into renewable energy projects in the United States: The Employment-Based 5th Preference (EB-5) visa.

How it Works

Established in 1990, the EB-5 visa was enacted to encourage foreign investment in the United States by offering temporary or possibly permanent U.S. residency. The program injects foreign capital into qualifying commercial enterprises located within the United States. These commercial enterprises can take any number of different ownership forms (e.g., sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation), and qualifying investments can include starting a new business, buying into an existing business, or expanding a current operation.

If the foreign capital infusion creates or preserves at least 10 full-time job positions, then the investor, spouse, and children under 21 are awarded 2-year temporary visas. Eventually the 2-year temporary visa can be replaced with a permanent green card if qualifying criteria are met.

Program Statistics

Figure 1. EB-5 visa annual issuances and cap

As shown in Figure 1 above, there has been significant annual increase in EB-5 visas issued in the last few years—from 1,360 visas in 2008 to 3,340 in 2011. This increase is still well below the annual EB-5 visa cap, which is currently set at 10,000 per year. According to Ajejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, "The EB-5 program has spurred the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs and the injection of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy since Congress created the program in 1990. Interest in the EB-5 program has grown exponentially in recent years…"

Two Program Pathways

There are two distinct ways in which an investor can participate in the EB-5 program.

Under the traditional EB-5 program path, investors channel their capital directly to a specific economic development project or company. Projects that are located in a designated high unemployment or rural area have a $500,000 minimum investment threshold, while all other projects require at least a $1,000,000 minimum investment. The key distinguishing feature of the traditional EB-5 program path is the restriction on the type of job that must be created or preserved. In this case, only direct jobs are counted toward the 10-job requirement to qualify for the residency incentive. It is also worth noting, however, that investors in the traditional EB-5 pathway are responsible for the day-to-day management control of their investment.

Under the alternative EB-5 model, investors channel their capital to a regional center intermediary and not to a specific business. These regional centers are defined as "any economic entity, public or private, which is involved with the promotion of economic growth, improved regional productivity, job creation, and increased domestic capital investment."

The regional center option has two key distinguishing features from the traditional program option. First, the regional center invests on behalf of the investor and assumes the day-to-day project management roles. Second, the job qualification criteria are broadened as direct, indirect, or induced jobs and counted toward the 10-job requirement. Nearly 90% of the EB-5 visas issued in 2011 came through the regional center option.

Renewable Energy Regional Centers

Some of the regional centers specialize in the development of renewable-energy-related ventures. These EB-5 regional centers pool capital from multiple EB-5 investors to partially finance a renewable energy project. The collective EB-5 capital in turn makes up a portion of the total funding for any given renewable energy project with one firm capping EB-5 investment at 20% of total project costs.

Table 1. Partial Listing of Alternative-Energy-Related Regional Centers

A partial listing of the alternative energy regional centers is listed in Table 1 above. With a few exceptions, the majority of renewable energy investment opportunities for EB-5 investors are for solar-related technologies in the western United States.

EB-5 Programmatic Support and Criticism

While the EB-5 program has been successful in raising funds for various investment opportunities, it is also a frequent target for criticism. Many opponents argue that the EB-5 program offers a loophole to investors interested in buying their way into the United States and that the job-creation claims are unverifiable. Supporters, on the other hand, claim that this program is necessary to compete with similar residency benefit programs offered in Australia and Canada [3].

Wrapping Up

In the end of the "Green Card" film, Andy McDowell's and Gerard Depardieu's love for one another emerges and triumphs over their comical marriage of convenience. Perhaps a renewable-energy-themed Green Card sequel may be coming soon to a theater near you.

This article was originally published on NREL Renewable Energy Finance and was republished with permission.

Untitled Document

Get All the Renewable Energy World News Delivered to Your Inbox - FREE!

Subscribe to Renewable Energy World Magazine and our award-winning e-Newsletter to stay up to date on current news and industry trends.

 Subscribe Now



Global Forecast: Solar Installation Capacity To Top 57 GW in 2015

Renewable Energy World Editors Solar installations globally could grow by between 25 percent and 30 percent in 2015 compared to last year, according...
solar power

APS Requesting Proposals for New Large-scale Solar Power Plant

PennEnergy Editors Arizona Public Service (APS) on Oct. 1 announced it is issuing a request for proposals (RFP) to test the market for n...
clean energy

India Pledges Clean Energy Push in UN Climate Submission

Alex Nussbaum and Anindya Upadhyay, Bloomberg India, the world’s third-biggest polluter, pledged to slow the rise of greenhouse gases produced by its growing ...

Chinese Solar Component Manufacturer Facing Bond Default

Katrina Nicholas, Andrew Monahan and Chris Bourke, Bloomberg A Chinese maker of solar components is threatening to become the nation’s next company to default on bonds, highlight...


Fronius Shifting the Limits in Solar-Plus: It’s not just about products, it’s about solutions.

Fronius USA, who just recently launched the all-new Fronius SnapINverter line this past...

IREC Announces Changes in Regulatory Team

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), a not-for-profit organization which for...

IREC Awarded New Funding to Advance Digital Credentials

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) proudly announces funding for an innovat...

$100 Discount on 5-day Advanced PV Project Experience Workhop

Upcoming 5-day Workshops: Nov. 7 - 11 Feb. 6 - 10


NY Gov. Cuomo Pledges to Create Carbon Market use Solar, Wind to reduce Climate Change

This week former Vice President Al Gore joined with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to sign the Under 2 MOU, a directi...
clean energy

In Clean Energy, The Truth Matters

A group of about 20 protesters gathered outside the Sheraton in Burlington, Vt., early on Oct. 8 as attendees arrived...

Industry Focus: Cleantech: 1366 Technologies joins Solarcity in New York

1366 is set to build a factory just up the road (OK, it is a long road – NYS Thruway) from Solarcity.  The...


Paul Schwabe is an Energy Analyst with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s project finance team and has significant expertise in wind and geothermal projects. He has over 10 years of experience in the energy industry, including electricity ...


Volume 18, Issue 4


To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:


Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon



Certified PV Professional - online training

After completing this online training, participants will be able to unde...

Applying Renewable Energy - Online Training

RENAC Online offers a selection of courses on a wide variety of renewabl...

CRGM - Online Training on Grid Integration of Renewable Energy

The training is useful for persons who would like to learn more about me...


The Value Of The Building

If you’re selling efficiency solutions in the built environment, y...

The Vice President Stole My Show (Not Really)

When I finished my Solar Power International (SPI) panel discussing what...

Sewage provides energy through processing

Many nations are investing in new technology to turn sewage waste into u...


Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now