When $500,000 Is Enough to Get an Investment-Based Green Card (EB-5)

Don't have $1 million to invest? Check out these exceptions for getting U.S. residence through investment.

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The normal requirement for getting a U.S. green card based on investment in a U.S. business is $1 million. However, the dollar amount of the investment may be reduced to $500,000 under certain circumstances, namely if the business is located in a rural area or in an urban area with a high unemployment rate. How high? It must have been certified by the state government to be at least 150% of the national average.

Rural areas are defined as any location outside of an official metropolitan statistical area or the outer boundaries of any city populated by 20,000 or more people. State governments will identify the parts of that particular state that are high in unemployment, and will send U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) a list of which locations qualify.

What if you know that a part of the U.S. in which you would like to invest has extremely high unemployment, but it’s not on the USCIS list? Unfortunately, that area will not qualify for the lesser investment amount unless the state government has specifically designated it as a high-unemployment area for the purpose of EB-5 green cards.

Under a temporary program (currently set to expire in 2015), 3,000 of the visas for high-unemployment areas are set aside for immigrants who invest in “designated regional centers.” Regional centers are designated by USCIS, but run privately, and work to promote economic growth through increased export sales, improved regional productivity, creation of new jobs, and increased domestic capital investment. For example, real estate development projects are popular projects for regional centers, such as office and retail developments, shopping centers, and resort hotel developments.

Investors in regional centers need not prove that they themselves provided new jobs for ten U.S. workers, only that the regional center created ten or more jobs, directly or indirectly, or that it increased regional productivity.

Some immigration attorneys report that regional centers offer one of the most desirable ways to pursue an investor visa, because they allow a wealthy investor to make a cash investment without creating or managing a new enterprise. The key, however, is to make sure that you are signing up with a well-managed regional center. The mere fact that USCIS has designated the center does not protect the investor from the risk of losing the investment.

And bear in mind that the regional center program is temporary. It will end in 2015 unless Congress votes once again to renew it (as it did in late 2012).

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