In 1990, under section 203(b) (5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1153(b) (5), Congress created the fifth employment-based preference (EB-5) immigrant visa category for qualified foreign investors seeking to invest in a business that benefits the U.S. economy by creating or preserving at least 10 full-time jobs.
The initial amount required for foreigners to invest is $1 million, although that number is reduced to $500,000 if the investment is made in an area designated as rural or facing high unemployment. Approximately 10,000 green cards are available through the EB-5 program each year.
The Regional Center Pilot Program allows for a portion of allowable annual EB-5 Visas to be set aside for foreigners who apply through a USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) approved Regional Center. In 1992, U.S. Congress created the Regional Center Pilot Program in order to promote immigration and investment through EB-5 and further encourage foreign investment in the United States.
A Regional Center is a private enterprise, corporation or regional governmental agency with a targeted investment program within a defined geographic region. The Regional Center program in many ways mirrors long active and successful investment-employment based programs in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and other foreign nations.
An investor seeking an EB-5 immigrant visa through a designated regional center must make a qualifying investment of $1 million and demonstrate that at least 10 jobs were directly or indirectly created through the investment. However, certain rural and high unemployment areas (TEAs – Targeted Employment Areas) qualify for a reduced capital investment of $500,000. A targeted employment area is defined as an area that has 1.5 times the national unemployment rate or a population under 20,000. California State Regional Center is a USCIS designated regional center that focuses primarily on investment opportunities for qualified projects located within targeted employment areas.
Before participating in a Regional Center EB-5 investment program, each investor independently petitions USCIS for an EB-5 visa. Qualified investors investing through a Regional Center receive a conditional green card valid for two years. Upon receipt of conditional permanent resident status, the investor and immediate family are entitled to the same benefits as other lawful permanent residents. Once the conditions are removed at the end of the 24-month period, the investor and his immediate family become permanent green card holders and can later apply to become U.S. citizens. The investor, spouse and unmarried children (under age 21 at the time of petition) can then apply for permanent residency based on the investment.
The EB-5 visa is one of the most flexible paths to a green card available. The immigrant investor is not required to manage the business’ day-to-day operations, can invest in an existing business or a new business, and the investor is not required to live in the region where the investment is made. Additionally, funds may come from any legal foreign or US source; including gifts, loans, and divorce settlements. Borrowed investment funds qualify as long as the assets of the target US business do not secure the loan.