The Immigrant Investor Program, which is administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS) agency, was established by Congress over twenty years ago to encourage foreign investment and economic growth in the U.S. By investing at least $500,000 in a commercial enterprise that creates or preserves 10 permanent full-time jobs, foreign entrepreneurs can secure a permanent visa, or green card. A green card awarded through the Immigrant Investor Program is also called an EB-5 visa, since it is the fifth category of employment-based visas created by the U.S. government.
There are two options available to foreign investors who want a permanent visa, each distinguished by the amount of the investment. For example, a foreign national could invest $1,000,000 in a commercial enterprise anywhere in the United States, and if that investment leads to the creation or preservation of 10 permanent full-time jobs within two years (with certain exceptions), the investor will be given a permanent visa.
Or, a foreign investor could obtain a permanent visa by investing $500,000 in a commercial enterprise in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA) and create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs as a result of that investment. A Targeted Employment Area is a rural area or a region that is currently experiencing 150% of the national unemployment rate. The required investment, while substantial, is not unreasonably high and is relatively affordable for foreign nationals with access to significant financial resources.
The Regional Center model has become by far the most popular option for foreign investors seeking permanent visas through the Immigrant Investor Program. An EB-5 Regional Center is an entity that is involved in the promotion of investment, job creation, and commercial development. The “Regional Center” designation is given by USCIS when certain criteria, such as the filing of a business plan and economists’ report demonstrating the reasonable expectations of the proposed commercial enterprise, have been met. There are several reasons why the Regional Center approach has become so popular in recent years.
First, investments from several foreign citizens can be pooled and managed by a group of U.S.-based managers who can help shepherd a commercial project to completion. Theoretically, a foreign national can make an investment and let the managers do the rest. Once USCIS verifies the investment and designates the Regional Center, the investor can obtain a conditional visa that allows him or her to stay in the United States until the job creation requirement of the Immigrant Investor Program is met, generally two years. Moreover, whereas an investor in a commercial project that is not a designated Regional Center must show that 10 permanent full-time jobs have been created as a direct result of the investment, a investor in a Regional Center can meet the job creation requirement by demonstrating that 10 jobs have been created either directly or indirectly as a result of the investment, a slightly more flexible standard. The application process for Regional Centers can also be expedited in certain circumstances, given Congress’ and USCIS’s stated preference for the Regional Center model. Of the 10,000 EB-5 visas set aside each year, at least 3,000 are designated for foreign nationals who invest in Regional Centers. USCIS has said that the 3,000 permanent visas represent a yearly minimum, and the agency will award more as needed.