When $900,000 Is Enough to Get an Investment-Based Green Card (EB-5)

Don't have $1.8 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 $1.8 million (as of November 21, 2019). However, the dollar amount of the investment may be reduced to $900,000 under certain circumstances, described below.

Note: For years, the minimum investment as described in this article was $500,000. The regulations changed in 2019, however, not only raising the amount, but providing that the amounts will be adjusted for inflation every five years going forward.

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 investments of below $1 million 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.

Up until 2019, state governments were allowed to identify the parts of their state that had high unemployment, and would send U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) a list of which ones qualified. This led to accusations of gerrymandering and inappropriate designations, however.

Going forward, therefore, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be the one to make the determination as to which areas 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 $900,000 will qualify you for the EB-5 visa.

And bear in mind that the regional center program is not permanent. Congress must regularly renew and extend it.

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