Chinese account for over 80 percent of U.S. investment visa applications

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Mainland Chinese account for over 80 percent of people awaiting visas that bestow U.S. citizenship in return for investment, showed findings by real estate services firm Savills Studley, who said the trend is pushing up demand for commercial property.

A rising number of Chinese are applying for EB-5 visas, where non-citizens put at least $500,000 into a business in the United States, as they seek to park their wealth offshore - in part to escape the impact of an anti-corruption drive at home.

Australia has a similar scheme for those investing over $4 million, with 90 percent of applicants from China. Australian property has long been popular among Chinese but investment has accelerated since the start of the anti-graft campaign last year.

In the U.S., Savills Studley said over 6,400 people are on the waiting list for an EB-5 visa, and that it expects this year’s allotment for Chinese applicants to be reached by September, compared with late August last year.

There were almost 10,700 EB-5 visas issued last year, up 25 percent from 2013, with mainland Chinese accounting for 85 percent of recipients versus 81 percent a year prior, Savills Studley said.

The U.S. property services firm said the rise has become an important source of capital for developers, with Chinese investment in U.S. commercial real estate jumping 78 percent from a year earlier to $5.7 billion.

The EB-5 program is also driving up prices of residential property, real estate agents said. Many Chinese immigrants with EB-5 visas make a living collecting rent in less expensive states such as Texas and North Caroline, they said.

“Some of them don’t speak English and cannot find a job, so they buy four or five houses to generate rental income here, where housing prices are cheaper but can still give them a 6 to 7 percent yield,” said Houston-based agent Gladys Wang.

“This is the third wave of immigrants; they’re the upper-middle class and no longer the most wealthy ones from China.”

Reporting by Clare Jim; Editing by Christopher Cushing