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This Could Be the Quickest Way to Get a Green Card

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Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber reveals the league's new logo in New York City on September 18, 2014. Photograph by Bebeto Matthews — AP

In order to finance the construction of a new stadium, the majority owner of the Orlando City MLS soccer team in Florida is reportedly offering a sweet deal for foreign investors. For a $500,000 investment, they get the usual investor perks of season tickets and a dividend, as well as something far more useful: a U.S. Green Card.

Flávio Augusto da Silva doesn’t have some special line to President Obama or any extra-constitutional powers. Instead, the New York Times reports, he is using the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program that gives permanent residence to foreign “entrepreneurs” (and their spouses and unmarried children under 21) who make an investment of a certain size and create or preserve at least 10 full-time jobs for qualifying U.S. workers.

The minimum investment is generally $1 million, but it falls to $500,000 in rural areas and those affected by high unemployment (more than 150% of the national average). Last year, almost 9,000 EB-5 visas were issued, 80% of them to Chinese investors, according to another Times report.

In Da Silva’s case, the decision to leverage the EB-5 program came after Florida politicians declined to give him subsidies for the stadium, which he is building in Orlando’s Parramore neighborhood, the city’s poorest according to the Orlando Sentinel.

“For us, it was a business decision,” Da Silva told the Times. “There was already demand from people who want to move to the U.S., have a green card and have a good opportunity to participate in the growth of the club.”

Da Silva expects to raise half of the stadium’s $156 million price tag from foreign investors. At $500,000 a pop, that’s 156 green cards. So far, the club says it has attracted 30 such investors.

 

According to the Times, the construction of the 25,000-seat stadium—scheduled to open for the 2017 season—will be the first time that a sports team has used the 26-year-old EB-5 program for stadium fundraising, although it was used for infrastructure work around the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (but not for the center itself).

Such investor visas—often called “Golden Visas”—are not unique to the U.S. In order to attract investment after the 2007/8 financial collapse, a number of the most affected EU countries began offering visas. Spain, Portugal, and Greece all offer such visa programs, which are most often made by buying real estate (the minimum varies from €250,000 in Greece to €500,000 in Spain). They have had varying degrees of participation, with Portugal’s being the most successful, bringing in €1.53 billion since it was launched in 2012, according to Bloomberg.

For now, Da Silva is raising money and building. The 43-year-old, who made his money with a chain of English language schools in Brazil, where he’s from, has a net worth of some 1.1 billion reales, or some $312 million, according to Forbes Brasil.