SAN JOSE, Calif. — Even as China emerges as a superpower, many of those who have benefited most from the country's economic rise are heading for the exits.
"The rich people are trying to get green cards," said Ta-lin Hsu, founder and chairman of venture capital firm H&Q Asia Pacific of Palo Alto, Calif., who spends a lot of time in Asia. He is frequently asked by business associates about how to immigrate to the United States.
"The main reason is, they still worry about the future stability of China," Hsu said. "The U.S. is a democracy; there is freedom, and it's a safer place."
The exit door for many of these wealthy Chinese is opened by the fast-track visas America offers for well-heeled immigrants. Known as the EB-5, the visa requires applicants to invest $500,000 in projects in economically struggling regions or $1 million in a commercial venture in other locations. The investments must create or preserve 10 jobs for two years. If successful, the applicants and their families are awarded permanent residency.
In recent years, as the number of China's millionaires has grown, interest in the program from across the Pacific has soared.
Between 1992 and 2011, the number of applications for investor visas jumped 700 percent, from 474 to 3,805, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In the past two years alone, the number of applicants has nearly quadrupled. More applications by far come from China than any other country. Last year, 77 percent of all of those who applied for these visas were Chinese.
A survey of 980 Chinese millionaires published last fall by the Bank of China and the Hurun Report, which tracks the country's wealthy, revealed that 46 percent of them were thinking about leaving China, while an additional 14 percent were filling out immigration paperwork or had already left the country.