China Gold Car 2013
China: a consumer spending giant -- buying things including this gold-plated Mercedes. Reuters

So many Chinese want to invest half a million dollars in the U.S. in exchange for a green card that they have overwhelmed the investor green card program.

The EB-5 program, created in 1990, grants any foreigner willing to invest at least $500,000 and create 10 jobs in the U.S. residency status. What the program pilots likely didn’t foresee is how high demand from wealthy Chinese would become. Just 13 percent of all EB-5s were issued to Chinese nationals a decade ago, but last year, 80 percent of the permits went to Chinese, according to data compiled by CNNMoney.

“The program has literally taken off to the point [that] in China, the minute anybody hears I’m an immigration lawyer, the first thing they say is, ‘Can we get an EB-5 visa?’ ” said Bernard Wolfsdorf, founder of the Wolfsdorf Immigration Law Group.

Last year, nearly 6,900 visas were issued to Chinese nationals, up from just 16 in 2004. The EB-5 program is limited to 10,000 visas per year, which includes permits granted to the immediate family members of the investors.

“There is a panic being created in China about the demand [getting] so big that there is going to be a visa waiting line,” Wolfsdorf said.

The panic is not unwarranted. There are currently 7,000 EB-5 applications pending, according to David Hirson, a partner at the immigration law firm Fragomen. Even if only half are approved, and each investor brings two family members, the program limit would be hit.

According to a white paper from Forbes China, 21.4 percent of the 10.26 million Chinese who could be considered "affluent" plan to emigrate, and 2.6 percent have already emigrated.