The deadline for deciding the future of the EB-5 Visa program is fast approaching. Congress has until Dec. 9 either to terminate the 26-year specialized immigration project; continue it the way it is written or modify it.
So far, those questions remain unanswered. But historical facts and stated political positions can be taken into account to come up with a clearer picture of what that future might be. And it appears the EB-5 effort is likely to be adopted once again.
Let’s be sure we are all on the same page regarding its provisions. The EB-5 program was created by Congress in 1990 to stimulate the US economy through job creation and capital outlay by foreign investors. Residents of foreign countries can come to the US under EB-5 if they create a new commercial business and generate a specific number of new jobs. The effort also allows an EB-5 visa to be issued to someone intent on saving a so-called “troubled” enterprise.
Under a pilot program enacted in 1992, and regularly reauthorized each year since then, financiers may also qualify for EB-5 visas by investing through regional centers designated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) based on proposals for promoting economic growth.
On Sept. 29, 2016, President Barack Obama signed Public Law 114-223 extending the regional center program through Dec. 9, 2016.
Let us also understand that EB-5 is the most successful investment program created by the US government in decades. In addition to the success of raising revenue for the country, it generates large numbers of jobs, particularly for low-educated people, since there is no wage discrimination or cultural level.
The success of this program can be clearly measured. More than 20,000 investors have filed applications that are under analysis; that is, we have a waiting list for the money to be applied and for the jobs to be generated.
The Congress, which has until Dec. 9 to vote on the fate of the program, has changed little as a result of the Nov. 8 election. Most members who were involved in decision-making earlier this year have maintained their positive positions. In addition, Republicans continue to control both houses of Congress.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is the current head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is still as board, as is U.S. Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.), who chairs the similar panel in the House of Representatives.
Soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader, Senator Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), who will succeed Harry Reid in January, is still in the Senate – and he is in favor of the EB-5 program.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Al.), who has been one of President-elect Donald Trump’s top aides and who has supported Trump’s immigration proposal, will undoubtedly continue to endorse EB-5 in the same way he supported the EB-5 project in Alabama, his home state.
The big change is in the president-elect himself, whose policy on immigration has not always been stable or steady. But Trump has, in his own right, seen how the EB-5 program has attracted capital to the United States. Since 2005, about $15 billion in American dollars have been raised. Development and job creation are obvious. And these are among the reasons the EB-5 program was established.
Add to that the fact that Trump’s Bay Street Project has benefited from the EB-5 Visa project, and we are led to believe that the incoming president knows the good the program has accomplished.
In any case, since we have a new president coming into office in January along with new members of the House and Senate that will change the composition of those two chambers, it is very likely that the final decision on EB-5 will be moved to March, or even April next year, to allow time for Trump and the two revamped, but not realigned, houses of Congress to view the budgets and policies inherent in the program.
Many people suggest that the program remains the same until Sept. 30, 2017, which is another real possibility. There are 125 change suggestions to the program, and the main ones are: increasing the required investment amounts, revising the Targeted Employment Area requirements, clarifying the Regional Center designations and better defining the rules for their termination, amongst others changes.
One eventuality has been removed from the EB-5 equation. The great fear that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s election to the presidency would change the parameters of immigration by clogging bureaucratic channels with the influx of thousands of new immigrants and regularization of the undocumented disappeared when she lost the election in early November.
The desire for reform is still in the wind, and on the table. Some proposed changes include increasing the minimum threshold for investment to at least $800,000. There is also legislation in the works that would limit the 10,000 EB-5 visas to certain zones. In other words, 2,000 for rural projects, 2,000 for urban development, 2,000 for manufacturing, and so on.
What can best happen is to give a real and accurate reading on the planned distribution of the 10,000 EB-5 visas to investors.
It’s important also to note that the demand for EB-5 visas is steadily increasing and USCIS is having a hard time keeping up. As of September 2016, the conditional green card average processing time was 14.7 months, increasing 2.1% in a year-over-year comparison. The definitive green card processing average processing time was 22.8 months. On average, it takes 8 months, or 55%, longer to adjudicate an I-829 petition than it did back in September 2015.
Although the program grows, its specific parameters must still be carefully explained. This is not a program only for the Chinese. Latin America has grown in significantly greater proportions, catching up with the expansion percentages in Asia.
No matter what, Congress should vote to continue the EB-5 visa program as it is an important and proven opportunity for generating jobs and attracting capital to the United States.
- New York
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