EB-5 visa investment amount hiked to $1.35 million – $1.8 million minimum

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Green Cards can still be bought, though.

Sujeet RajanNEW YORK: It’s getting harder to get permanent residence in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has proposed a dramatic increase in investment in the corruption-plagued EB-5 visa, which was commonly known as the Green Card for sale: the earlier minimum $500,000 to $1 million investment – depending in which state and area investors put in money – will soon go up to $1.35 million to $1.8 million, respectively.

Under the EB-5 program, individuals are eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence and get a Green Card for him/her and their immediate family members if they make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States and create or, in certain circumstances, preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified US workers.

The $500,000 minimum at present is eligible only in areas and states which need to be economically developed.

The $1 million minimum investment has been earmarked for cities and urban areas, with projects even like high rise residential buildings in New York City falling under that category.

The hike, it seems, is to, apart from generating additional revenue for the US and encouraging larger-scale businesses, close loopholes in the application system, and ensure that only serious investors with deep pockets apply for the program.

Several cheating and fraud cases in the EB-5 visa cases have been exposed in the last couple of years. There have been numerous calls from several members of Congress to shut down the program. However, it got a new lease of life at the end of last year as Congress failed to act on reforms to the visa.

The DHS has given a time-frame for written comments on the new proposals to be received on or before April 11, 2017. It’s likely that the new rules for EB-5 visa would come into effect soon after that.

The proposed changes to the EB-5 visa for entrepreneurs, which was published in the Federal Register today, would make some other important changes to its regulations and policies.

Apart from the sticker shock to the program, hiking it by as much as 260%, the DHS has also proposed to allow EB-5 immigrant petitioners, with limited exception, to use the priority date of an approved petition for any subsequent petitions. This could mean there’s likely going to be a scramble to get one’s foot in the door for the existing rates of investment before the steep hike is put into place.

Also, a significant proposal would be to allow any type of entity to serve as a new commercial enterprise, to specify how the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will issue decisions, and revising some terms – to use the term “investor” instead of “entrepreneur”.

This change seem to suggest that anybody sitting anywhere around the world could partake in this program, as an investor and silent partner, and there would be no need for any direct involvement at all. As long as one puts in the due investment of minimum $1.35 million – $1.8 million, and takes care of the formalities thereafter, the Green Card is likely assured.

For rich investors who can afford it, and usually go for the EB-5 visa more for their children to study and settle down in the US, it would mean splurging more. For upper middle class investors, the opportunity has seemingly slipped away, or would soon become so.

“The proposed rule would likely result in long term expected benefits in the form of job stimulation due to increased EB-5 investment overall,” the DHS said in the Federal Register, which was accessed by The American Bazaar.

The DHS is also putting measures in place to make the revenue that comes from EB-5 visa petitioners spread across the US.

DHS proposes to allow any city or town with high unemployment and a population of 20,000 or more to qualify as a ‘Targeted Employment Area’ (TEA), which requires the minimum investment of $500,000 at present, which would subsequently go up to $1.35 million.

Currently, TEA designations are not available at the city or town level, unless a state designates the city or town as such.

Also, DHS proposes to eliminate the ability of a state to designate certain geographic and political subdivisions as high-unemployment areas; instead, DHS would make such designations directly.

Thus, maybe, Harlem in New York City and Detroit in Michigan might come under the same category when unemployment numbers are calculated.

The good news for those who still see the US as the destination of choice for quality of life and growth opportunities: Green Cards can still be bought.

For most others, who are in the pipeline through employment work visas, the wait would be a couple of decades or more.

(Sujeet Rajan is Editor-in-Chief, The American Bazaar. Follow him @SujeetRajan1)