What's the Lowest Possible Dollar Amount to Get an Investment-Based Green Card (EB-5)

Don't have unlimited dollars to invest? Check out these exceptions for getting U.S. residence through investment.

One of the requirements for getting a U.S. green card based on investment 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.

What Is the Current Minimum Investment Amount?

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" (normally rural or high-unemployment areas). On November 21, 2019, however, the U.S. government raised the minimum investment to between $900,000 and $1.8 million; and said that the amounts would be adjusted for inflation every five years going forward..

However, in June of 2021, a federal judge held that the raised amounts were not properly signed off upon, and therefore never came into effect.

That means the $500,000/$1 million limits will remain good until the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) either successfully appeals or promulgates new rules (perhaps mirroring the unsigned changed rules), as many experts believe is likely.

Does that mean you should rush to take advantage of the judge's decision and invest at the lower level? Unfortunately, the timing of any reversals to the higher required levels cannot be predicted. Consult an attorney to help you strategize.

For the regulations concerning this visa, see 8 C.F.R 204.6(e).

Smaller Investments Allowed in Areas of High Unemployment

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.

Under the pre-2019 and current 2021 rules, state governments can identify the parts of their state that have high unemployment, and send U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) a list of which ones qualified. This led to accusations of gerrymandering and inappropriate designations, however.

The "new" (but canceled) rules, therefore, 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.

Investing in Regional Centers

One of the more convenient ways to qualify for an EB-5 visa is 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 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 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 sunsets on June 30, 2021, and with Congress out of session, can't possibly be restarted until July (assuming Congress acts at all).

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