Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., filed a bill on Tuesday that would end the EB-5 investor program and reallocate the employment-based visas allotted to it among the four remaining employment-based visa classes, amid attempted reforms of the controversial program.
The bill would effectively shut down the EB-5 visa program, which gives green cards to foreign residents who invest hefty sums of money in U.S. projects that create jobs, and raise caps on the other categories within the overall allotment of about 140,000 employment-based visas.
The bill will now go before the Senate’s judiciary committee, according to its page on Congress’ website.
Feinstein, who has been a vocal opponent of the program for years, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, whose name is also on the bill, outlined that the percentage of visas allotted to the EB-5 program would be distributed among the remaining categories.
That would mean raising the cap by about 2 percent for each of four remaining employment-based visa classifications: EB-1, for "priority workers" including overseas executives, athletes and researchers; EB-2, for people with advanced degrees or "exceptional abilities;" EB-3, for skilled workers and professionals as well as unskilled workers; and EB-4, for "certain special immigrants," including Iraqi and Afghan nationals who served the U.S. government.
The EB-5 program is set to expire in April after two reauthorizations of the “regional center program,” which lets investors organize and pool their money toward larger investment projects.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security rolled out a rule aimed at updating the EB-5 visa program exactly one week before the end of the Obama administration. The updates would raise the required investment amounts and designate certain geographical areas where immigrants are allowed to contribute less money, among other tweaks.
Right now, the EB-5 program provides green cards to foreign residents who invest at least $1 million in the U.S., or $500,000 if the investment is in a rural area or place with high unemployment, known as a "targeted employment area."
But under the new regulation, the DHS is proposing to increase the minimum investment amount from $1 million to $1.8 million, and from $500,000 to $1.35 million for those who invest in a TEA.
The proposed updates come after attempts to reform the EB-5 program repeatedly stalled in Congress, despite a recent rash of fraud lawsuits over the program from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
DHS’ updated regulations would “dramatically increase the financial burdens placed on EB-5 investors” and go against the purpose the program is intended to serve, said the American Immigration Lawyers Association and other groups in a letter opposing the changes.
Reiff, who represents companies in immigration compliance matters, told Law360 on Wednesday that she views the bill as a reaction to the stalled reforms.
“I think this is in response to that, kind of throwing their hands up saying, ‘We’re frustrated,’” she said.
Feinstein’s and Grassley’s offices could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
The bill is number S.232.
- Chuck Grassley
- UNITED STATES SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
- AILA - American Immigration Lawyers Association
- Greenberg Traurig, LLP
- Laura Reiff
- New York
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