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The EB-5 visa for Immigrant Investors is a United States visa created by the Immigration Act of 1990. This visa provides a method of obtaining a green card for foreign nationals who invest money in the United States. To obtain the visa, individuals must invest $1,000,000 (or at least $500,000 in a "Targeted Employment Area" - high unemployment or rural area), creating or preserving at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers excluding the investor and their immediate family. Initially, under the first EB-5 program, the foreign investor was required to create an entirely new commercial enterprise; however, under the Pilot Program investments can be made directly in a job-generating commercial enterprise (new, or existing - "Troubled Business"), or into a "Regional Center" - a 3rd party-managed investment vehicle (private or public), which assumes the responsibility of creating the requisite jobs. Regional Centers may charge an administration fee for managing the investor's investment.
If the foreign national investor's petition is approved, the investor and their dependents will be granted conditional permanent residence valid for two years. Within the 90 day period before the conditional permanent residence expires, the investor must submit evidence documenting that the full required investment has been made and that 10 jobs have been maintained, or 10 jobs have been created or will be created within a reasonable time period.
In 1992, Congress created a temporary pilot program designed to stimulate economic activity and job growth, while allowing eligible aliens the opportunity to become lawful permanent residents. Under this pilot program, foreign nationals may invest in a pre-approved regional center, or "economic unit, public or private, which is involved with the promotion of economic growth, including increased export sales, improved regional productivity, job creation, or increased domestic capital investment". Investments within a regional center provide foreign nationals the added benefit of allowing them to count jobs created both directly and indirectly for purposes of meeting 10 job creation requirement.
Foreign investors' use of the EB-5 program has been far less than originally anticipated by Congress. In 2005, a Government Accountability Office report found that investors were not utilizing the program because of “an onerous application process; lengthy adjudication periods; and the suspension of processing on over 900 EB-5 cases—some of which date to 1995—precipitated by a change in USCIS’s interpretation of regulations regarding financial qualifications.” However, in 2011, USCIS began making a number of changes to the program in hopes of increasing the number of applicants. By the end of the 2011 fiscal year, more than 3,800 EB-5 applications had been filed, compared to fewer than 800 applications in 2007.
USCIS defines a targeted employment area (TEA) as an area which, at the time of investment, is a rural area (not within either a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) (as designated by the Office of Management and Budget) or the outer boundary of any city or town having a population of 20,000 or more), OR an area within an MSA or the outer boundary of a city or town having a population of 20,000 or more which has experienced unemployment of at least 150% of the national average rate.
If the location of the proposed new business is not a TEA, the investor has the option to gather the relevant publicly available state or federal statistics on their own and submit it with their petition for USCIS to have a new TEA determination made. In California, the investor may petition the state government for designating a particular subdivision of the area as an area of high unemployment (over 150% the national average); however, this designation is not made by USCIS.
USCIS maintains a list of approved (which does not signify endorsement) EB-5 (Immigrant Investor) Regional Centers by state, but without details. As of February 2012, there are 218 centers. The states with the highest numbers of regional centers are California (71), Florida (22), and Washington (11).