For whose sake should Congress act on EB-5 legislation? The discussion tends to focus on the future of the regional center program, and the question of potential and protections for future EB-5 investment. However, past EB-5 investment must also weigh on the discussion. Regardless of its future, EB-5 certainly has a past: tens of thousands of foreign nationals who heeded the EB-5 incentive created by Congress to invest in job-creating U.S. business through the regional center program, but who do not yet have the offered incentive. Tens of thousands of past regional center EB-5 applicants do not yet have visas. Their on-going process depends on legislation to reauthorize the regional center program, or at least to offer existing investor protections in case of expiration.
Why are people whose EB-5 investment was made and spent many years ago still a factor in today’s immigration policy discussion? Because: they haven’t immigrated. Contrary to popular belief, EB-5 investment does not purchase a green card. EB-5 only allows foreigners to potentially qualify for green cards in the future based on job creation resulting from qualifying investment.[i] The “EB” in EB-5 stands for “employment-based” not “investment-based.” The ultimate condition for immigration success is not satisfied at the beginning of the process, with the initial investment, but at the end of the process, with proven job creation. This process takes at least five and up to over 20 years. Meanwhile, in-process regional center investors who do not yet have visas represent at least $23 billion dollars currently at work in the U.S. economy.[ii] Table 1 quantifies the population of regional center EB-5 investors and applicants who are currently already in the EB-5 immigration process.
Table 1. EB-5 Process Timing and Population as of 2020
EB-5 Process Stage
EB-5 investor received a visa yet at this stage?
EB-5 investment must be deployed at this stage?
Estimated Timing as of 2020
Estimated number of regional center investors at this stage as of 2020
Estimated number of regional center applicants (investors + family) at this stage as of 2020
Start: make investment and initiate the immigration process
Qualify for conditional permanent residence (I-526 + visa application)
Finish: Proven job creation and permanent residency
Not required for immigration
When the regional center program expires, then the 80,000+ regional center investors and applicants who do not yet have conditional permanent residence status lose eligibility for an EB-5 green card. This hard fact under current law is evident today, as USCIS is not accepting or acting on Form I-526 or I-485 from regional center investors, and Department of State is not issuing visas to regional center investors. (People who have conditional permanent residence status still have opportunity to complete the immigration process and remove conditions. USCIS continues to accept and adjudicate regional center I-829.) Since June 30, 2021, the immigration process for regional center EB-5 investors has just been frozen, waiting for Congress to act. If Congress does not act, the process will eventually unfreeze, and petitions and applications will be denied. This ends the EB-5 immigration hope but not the investment, which is still held by private parties who can hardly be ordered to suddenly undeploy and return the funds. If the chance for visas is lost, that’s a multi-billion dollar disaster waiting to happen for deployed investment. Switching midstream from regional center to direct investor status is unfortunately impossible due to indirect job creation and material change. Legislation is the only path forward to protect the program as a whole, or at least its past investors.
The moral of the story: (1) industry advocates, remember the size of the constituency that depends on your fiduciary duty, as you gamble for RC program authorization, and (2) investor advocates, push for legal changes that would at least protect in-process investors from mid-stream RC program changes. AIIA has been working for a Foreign Investor Fairness Protection Act (FIFPA) that would provide such protection, and is currently raising funds for a lobbying effort to push the bill.
[i] USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 6 Part G Chapter 1(A): “The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) makes visas available to qualified immigrant investors who will contribute to the economic growth of the United States by investing in U.S. businesses and creating jobs for U.S. workers. Congress created this employment-based fifth preference immigrant visa category (EB-5) to benefit the U.S. economy by providing an incentive for foreign capital investment that creates or preserves U.S. jobs.” In contradistinction to some “golden visa” programs around the world, the U.S. EB-5 program is not a “cash for passports” arrangement. For more background see “The Changing Landscape of Immigrant Investment Programs” (October 25, 2019) by Congressional Research Service. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF11344
[ii] EB-5 investment must remain sustained in the U.S. enterprise and deployed (“at risk”) at least through the end of the investor’s conditional permanent residence period. USCIS Policy Manual Vol. 6 Part G Chapter 5(A)2. Approximately 46,000 regional center investors have not yet reached the end of the conditional permanent residence period, as calculated in Table. 1. Each of these investors must have invested a minimum of $500,000. 46,000x$500,000=$23 billion
[iii] The process to qualify for conditional permanent residence starts with I-526 petition processing, and ends with a visa application and wait for visa availability. I-526 processing has taken 1-5 years, according to processing time reports from USCIS. https://www.dropbox.com/s/dfa4ifgop1vhm63/IPO%20Times%20Dates.xlsx?dl=0 For countries with no visa wait, the visa application normally takes six months or more. Countries with historically high EB-5 demand face a long wait for visa availability at this stage. As of October 2020, Charles Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control & Reporting Division at the U.S. Department of State, estimated wait times for EB-5 visa availability for investors filing I-526 “today.” The longest wait time, for China-born investors, was estimated at 17.2 years. The wait times for Vietnam and India were estimated at 7-8 years. See slide 10 of “Part 1: A discussion with Charles Oppenheim” (November 19, 2020) 2020 IIUSA Virtual Forum https://iiusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Virutal-Industry-Forum-Visa-Update.pdf
[v] Charles Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control & Reporting Division at the U.S. Department of State, estimated a grand total of 83,003 prospective EB-5 visa applicants in process as of October 2020. This estimate includes applications on file at the National Visa Center and estimated applicants associated with I-526 petitions pending at USCIS. It does not include EB-5 applicants with pending I-485 status adjustment petitions: a population in the thousands. Over 95% of the estimated total EB-5 applicants are likely associated with regional centers, judging by past experience. (The regional center category accounted for 95% of EB-5 visas issued from 2012 to 2019.) See slide 9 of “Part 1: A discussion with Charles Oppenheim” (November 19, 2020) 2020 IIUSA Virtual Forum https://iiusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Virutal-Industry-Forum-Visa-Update.pdf
[vi] The Conditional Permanent Residence Stage is defined as two years from the date that the green card was granted. USCIS Policy Manual Vol 6. Part G Chapter 5
[x] As of March 30, 2021, USCIS reported 10,309 I-829 petitions pending, of which over 90% were likely filed by regional center investors. (91% of EB-5 visas issued 2010 to 2017 were issued to EB-5 investors.)
[xi] Assumes that the ratio of total visas to investor visas is about the same at Stage 3 as Stage 2.