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Want a green card? Invest heavily in a charter school

Getting a green card for residency in the United States is difficult — unless you’re: 1. rich; and 2. an investor. Among charter schools’ latest financial angels are deep-pocketed types from as far away as China, Nigeria, Russia and Australia.

Thanks to a federal program known as EB-5, wealthy foreigners can in effect buy U.S. immigration visas for themselves and their families by investing at least $500,000 in certain development projects. For 20 years, such investment went into commercial real estate. Now it’s charter schools.

Charter operators say they face a credit crunch. Fitch Ratings recently warned it would likely downgrade bonds backed by charters because the sector is volatile, and the schools are highly leveraged and typically not investment-grade. These issues make domestic investors timid about supporting startups.

With the EB-5 program, foreign investors seeking permanent residency are less skittish about speculating. So far in 2012, 3,000 petitions from foreigners seeking to participate in the program were approved — nearly twice as many as last year, says the Department of Homeland Security. If the business creates or preserves at least 10 jobs in two years, the investor and his or her immediate family are eligible for permanent residency in the United States.

Reuters, Oct. 12

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