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.

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 be at least 150% of the national average.

Some 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? You can submit a letter from an authorized state government agency confirming that the location of the business has been designated a high unemployment area. You could also contact the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) office to get one of its published technical bulletins showing the unemployment rate in the area. USCIS will also accept other statistical documentation, if it's from a reliable source.

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.

There is an EB-5 visa available for investors in a "regional center." To attract investment, almost all regional centers operate in rural or high-unemployment areas, so that the minimum investment is held to $500,000. 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, such as office and retail developments, shopping centers, and resort hotel developments, are popular projects for regional centers.

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. 

Before you invest, you should confirm with the regional center that it is operating within a rural or high unemployment area so that your $500,000 will qualify you for the EB-5 visa.

And bear in mind that the regional center program is not permanent. It will end on September 30, 2016, unless Congress votes once again to renew it (as it did in late 2015).

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