Since 1990, the EB-5 Investor Visa Program has encouraged qualified international investors to become lawful permanent residents in the United States. The EB-5 program has now been extended through at least September 30, 2018.
If you hold an EB-5 visa or if you are seeking one, keep reading, particularly if you are investing or if you are considering making an investment in a Targeted Employment Area or “TEA.”
The states are currently updating their unemployment statistics. You are about to learn how that updating may affect TEA designations and your own involvement in the EB-5 Investor Visa Program.
EXACTLY WHAT IS THE EB-5 INVESTOR VISA PROGRAM?
But first, here’s a brief overview of the EB-5 Investor Visa Program. Congress created the EB-5 program in 1990 to boost international investments in U.S.-based business ventures.
From 2005 through 2013, the EB-5 program was responsible for more than $5 billion in investments in U.S.-based businesses.
To take part in the program, investors must be admissible to the U.S. and must also meet the qualifications for an EB-5 visa.
HOW DOES THE EB-5 APPLICATION PROCESS START?
The process begins by completing an I-526 petition with the help and guidance of an experienced Las Vegas immigration attorney.
Upon approval of the I-526, if the investor now resides outside of the U.S., he or she must file a visa application with the U.S. State Department. A consular affairs officer at a U.S. consulate or embassy will determine if the applicant is admissible to the United States.
If the applicant is already in the U.S. on a different visa, the applicant must apply to USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) for adjustment of status. USCIS will conduct a background check and may require an in-person interview.
WHAT INVESTMENT OPTIONS DOES THE EB-5 PROGRAM OFFER?
International investors have two options for acquiring the EB-5 visa:
1. Invest at least $1 million in a U.S.-based commercial enterprise that will create ten or more full-time U.S.-based jobs.
2. Invest at least $500,000 in a designated high-unemployment region – what’s called a Targeted Employment Area or TEA.
WHAT DO INVESTORS NEED FOR A TEA DESIGNATION?
As you might imagine, getting a TEA designation for a particular EB-5 project can be critical.
If you are requesting a TEA designation, your request – and a “TEA letter” from authorities in the state where the project is located – should be included as part of your I-526 petition.
HOW IS A “RURAL” AREA DISTINCT FROM A “HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT” AREA?
To receive a TEA designation, the EB-5 investment project must be located in a rural area or in a region with high unemployment – 150 percent or more of the national unemployment rate. Here are the specifics:
1. To qualify as a TEA “rural” area, an area cannot be within what the U.S. Office of Management and Budget designates as a “metropolitan statistical area,” and the area cannot be adjacent to a town or city with a population of 20,000 or more residents.
2. To qualify as a TEA “high unemployment” area, the area’s unemployment rate must be at least 150 percent of the national rate, and the area must be in a county or a metropolitan statistical location with a population of 20,000 or more residents.
Most EB-5 investors work through an EB-5 Regional Center, a private-sector group that pools investment funds for hotels, resorts, and similar projects.
If you invest through an EB-5 Regional Center, they will tell you if that center’s investment projects are set in a Targeted Employment Area.
WHAT DO EB-5 INVESTORS NEED TO KNOW – RIGHT NOW?
In the next several months, many states will update their unemployment figures for targeted employment areas. The states will replace the 2016 unemployment data they’ve been using with more recent unemployment figures from 2017.
An investor submitting an I-526 petition must be certain that petition includes the most up-to-date TEA letter from the state where the investment project is located.
An outdated TEA letter will likely delay any action on your I-526 petition.
In fact, an outdated TEA letter will almost certainly generate an “RFE” (request for evidence) from USCIS, so you should make certain that USCIS gets a current TEA letter – to avoid unnecessary waiting and additional paperwork.
Illinois, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and California are already using 2017 unemployment data, so investors may request a new TEA letter from those states now.
The other states will be updating their unemployment information over the next several months.
WHICH INVESTORS WILL AND WILL NOT NEED A NEW “TEA” LETTER?
If your I-526 petition has already been approved, you will not need a new TEA letter, provided that the TEA letter you submitted was based on the unemployment data the state was using at the time you filed the I-526.
If what you have just read sounds complicated – selecting a qualifying investment project, filing an I-526 petition, and obtaining an up-to-date TEA letter – it is.
That is why international investors seeking to make an investment in the U.S. – and to acquire an EB-5 visa – must have the advice and insights of an immigration attorney who routinely guides international investors successfully through the EB-5 process.
WHO BENEFITS FROM THE EB-5 PROGRAM?
The EB-5 Investor Visa Program and the investments that are made through it are a benefit to everyone. Investors have the opportunity to bring their families to the United States and pursue the American Dream.
Business owners and developers acquire the investment funds to launch new projects – often bringing prosperity back to depressed businesses and communities.
The EB-5 program creates new jobs and new opportunities for U.S. workers. Everyone benefits.
WHEN SHOULD YOU START THE EB-5 APPLICATION PROCESS?
If you are an international investor, acquiring an EB-5 visa and determining which investment opportunity is right for you can take some diligence and determination, but most participants in the EB-5 program have found that their hard work and patience are abundantly rewarded.
And patience is something that EB-5 applicants will need. Only 10,000 EB-5 visas are made available each year, so you should start the process right away, and you should realize that you may be waiting a year or more until a visa becomes available.
The EB-5 is for international investors who have the resources, the will, and a vision for the future. Those investors will need immigration advice that they can trust.
Learn more about the EB-5 Investor Visa Program – or begin the application process now – by contacting an experienced U.S. immigration lawyer – online or by telephone – from anywhere in the world. The time to do that is now.