Like many of her fellow classmates at New York University, Yanchu Zhao has a busy schedule. A college junior, she has a double major in economics and journalism, and juggles classes, an internship and life with roommates in a rental near Herald Square. 
But unlike many of her fellow classmates, Ms. Zhao came to the United States on a student visa. “A lot of students talked about how hard it was to get a job in New York and in the United States,” she said. “My parents heard that if I can get a green card, it would be easier for me to succeed.” 
So two years ago, Ms. Zhao’s parents invested $500,000 in a hotel project on Bryant Park, knowing that their investment could be parlayed into green cards for the family. Three months ago, their paperwork came through and the Zhaos became permanent residents of the United States.
While Ms. Zhao’s father has remained in Beijing, her mother joined her in the United States and is now renting a studio on Roosevelt Island and studying English. Investing in real estate projects in exchange for legal immigration status has become big business in New York City. Through a federal visa program known as EB-5, foreigners, more than 80 percent of them from China, are investing billions of dollars in hotels, condominiums, office towers and public/private works in the hope it will result in green cards. Twelve-hundred foreigners have poured $600 million into projects at Hudson Yards; 1,154 have invested $577 million in Pacific Park Brooklyn, the development formerly known as Atlantic Yards; and 500 have put $250 million into the Four Seasons hotel and condominium in the financial district. The list of projects involving EB-5 investments also includes the International Gem Tower on West 47th Street and the New York Wheel on Staten Island