United States looks to compete against Canada for wealthy immigrants

If you have $500,000 laying around, you can buy yourself a Green Card through a little-known immigrant investor pilot program in the United States.

The EB-5 Regional Centre program, allocates 5,000 visas a year for individuals who invest $500,000 into one of over 200 US Government designated investment funds across the country.

With job creation now a top political issue and traditional sources of capital hard to find, U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen is sponsoring a bill that would permanently authorize the program, currently set to expire on September 30, 2012.

"(The EB5 program) is one way to seek direct investment into our communities in order to create jobs," Larsen told a press conference in Bellingham, Washington, Tuesday, noting that there over 20 countries around the world, including Canada, with similar types of programs.

"If we aren't in a position to receive this capital investment, it's going to go somewhere else because other countries recognize how important it is to bring in that overseas investor with their dollars."

By comparison, Canada's immigrant investor program provides visas to affluent foreign nationals who invest $800,000 into the Canadian government coffers for a period of 5 years. Under the Canadian scheme, applicants can finance their investment through an accredited financial institution so most investor immigrants end up spending only about $200,000 for the privilege of becoming a Canadian.

The popularity of the Canadian program however, has lead to long wait lists and slow processing times - something Larsen says the U.S. can take advantage of.

"(Canada is) actually backlogged which means there are folks looking to move their dollars somewhere for investment. That's created demand for the EB5 program. " Larsen told Yahoo! Canada News.

"Other countries are marketing (their immigrant investor programs) oversees. And those dollars are going to end up invested in a country and I would prefer those dollars end up (in the United States).