One of the requirements for getting a U.S. green card based on investment (category EB-5) is that the would-be immigrant pumps a minimum dollar amount into a U.S. business. There are, however, two potential minimums to look at. What's more, the precise amounts are in flux. This article will explain why that is, and how to qualify to invest at the lower tier in either case.
In the past and for many years, the minimum EB-5 investment was between $500,000 and $1 million, with the lower amount applicable when investing in "targeted economic areas" or TEAs (normally rural or high-unemployment areas).
In 2019, however, the U.S. government tried to raise the minimum investment amount. That got mired in litigation. But in 2022, the U.S. Congress took action, and the minimum investment amounts were updated to $800,000 in TEA and rural locations and $1,050,000 in other locations.
For the regulations concerning this visa, see 8 C.F.R 204.6(e).
The purpose of allowing EB-5 eligibility based on lowered investment amounts in some areas is economic stimulus. Thus if the business is located in a rural area, or in an urban area with a high unemployment rate, it might qualify. The unemployment rate must be at least 150% of the national average.
State governments can identify which parts of their state have high unemployment, and send U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) a list of those qualified. This has led to accusations of gerrymandering and inappropriate designations, however. (Hence the 2019 rules that eventually got canceled would have made the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the one to issue the determination as to which areas would qualify for the lower tier of EB-5 investment.)
One of the more convenient ways to qualify for an EB-5 visa is normally to invest 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 the lower tier.
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 wealthy investors to make cash investments 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 risk of losing the investment.
Before you invest, confirm with the regional center that it is operating within a rural or high unemployment area so that your investment will qualify you for the EB-5 visa.
Also of concern is that the regional center program is not permanent, but regularly sunsets (expires). Congress must then act to renew and extend it, and it hasn't always done so in a timely fashion. For example, the program sunset on June 30, 2021, and it took Congress until March of 2022 to reauthorize it. The current sunset date is September 30, 2027.