Who Qualifies For EB-5 Investor Visas?

International investors who are seeking a great investment opportunity should speak to an experienced U.S. immigration lawyer about the EB-5 investor visa program. International investors who are not familiar with the EB-5 immigrant investor program may appreciate a brief summary regarding what the EB-5 visa is, who qualifies, and why it’s important. The Immigration Act of 1990 creates five employment-based immigration categories. As the fifth employment-based immigration category, the immigrant investor program is designated “EB-5.”

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Like many nations, the United States seeks international investors who can create jobs and boost the national economy. The EB-5 immigrant investor visa allows those investors to become lawful permanent residents immediately upon entering the United States. Investors applying for the EB-5 visa must invest between $500,000 and $1 million in a U.S.-based business, take an active role in the business, and create at least ten full-time jobs. Only 10,000 EB-5 visas are made available each year, so if more than 10,000 investors apply for the visa in a single year, some of them may be placed on a waiting list.

The EB-5 investor visa is one of the most difficult immigrant visas to obtain. Investors must meet not only the eligibility requirements established for all immigrants to the United States, but the investment itself must also be approved. It’s best to work from the very beginning with a U.S.-based immigration lawyer located near your investment site – a Michigan or Ohio immigration attorney, for instance.

WHY DO EB-5 VISA APPLICANTS NEED AN ATTORNEY?

If you apply to obtain an EB-5 visa on your own, and you are unsuccessful, you may damage your chances of success in the future. And because you are expected to make the investment first and then subsequently apply for the visa and green card, you could be putting your money at risk if you make an investment or apply for a visa without first seeking an immigration attorney’s advice. EB-5 green cards expire in two years. That’s the amount of time an EB-5 investment has to create the necessary ten or more full-time jobs. If it hasn’t, or if an investor fails in some other way to maintain EB-5 eligibility, the green card is canceled.

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As long as an investor has the money to invest, and as long as the investment is in a for-profit business, the investor is not required to have any particular business training or experience. An investor who receives a green card must actually reside in the U.S. upon receiving it. The investor’s spouse and unmarried children under age 21 receive derivative green cards provided they meet all other immigration eligibility requirements.

An EB-5 investor can lose his or her visa and green card by living outside of the United States, committing a crime in the United States, or even by failing to report a change of address. A conviction for a crime or the violation of any terms of the visa makes a visa holder deportable. However, if an international investor retains a green card for five years and lives in the U.S. continuously during that time (which includes the first two years as a conditional resident), an investor can apply for naturalized U.S. citizenship.

WHAT INVESTMENTS QUALIFY FOR THE EB-5 PROGRAM?

EB-5 visas may be obtained with several types of investment. Most EB-5 applicants invest in an EB-5 “regional center,” a group that operates a business created by EB-5 investments. EB-5 regional centers are attractive because investors do not have to create their own businesses, and the minimum investment is only $500,000 rather than the $1 million minima that is otherwise required.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) designates and approves regional centers, which are designed to meet USCIS requirements for the initial, conditional EB-5 visa. Investors must take care to select a regional center that will actually deliver on its promises to meet USCIS requirements – not all can or do. An immigration lawyer in the U.S. – a Michigan or Ohio immigration attorney, for example –  can help you make the right EB-5 investment choice.

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Investors can also obtain an EB-5 visa by directly investing in their own businesses. The minimum requirement is a $1 million investment to create a new business in the United States or to expand or restructure an existing U.S.-based business. In certain designated rural settings and in other designated locations in the U.S. where unemployment is high, the investment minimum is $500,000.

WHAT ARE EB-5 APPLICANTS REQUIRED TO PROVE?

EB-5 investors are required to prove to USCIS that their investment money is theirs and that it was legally obtained. Investors will need to provide evidence such as pay records, tax records, and/or inheritance documents. Within two years, the business receiving the investment must create at least ten full-time jobs requiring at least 35 hours a week. Jobs held at the business by the investor or by his or her spouse or children do not count toward the ten-job requirement.

It’s also important for investors to understand that EB-5 investments require the investor’s active participation in either a management role or a decision-making role. Passive investments such as land speculation typically do not qualify for the EB-5 program. If an investor works with a regional center that is a limited partnership (most regional centers are), USCIS considers that to be sufficient participation. A direct EB-5 investment must create a new business, purchase a business that was established since November 29, 1990, or buy a business and restructure or reorganize it so that a new business entity is the result.

EB-5 is the only immigration category that allows international investors entry into the U.S. as automatic legal permanent residents. Even though the EB-5 program started slowly after the Immigration Act of 1990 became law, in recent years, international investors have expressed rising interest. In 2014, for example, EB-5 investments totaled approximately $2.6 billion and created more than 16,000 full-time jobs in the United States.

For those with the resources, the EB-5 investor visa is probably the best path to lawful permanent residency and naturalized U.S. citizenship. If you seek to become a lawful permanent U.S. resident, and if you have the ability to invest in a U.S.-based business, the EB-5 investor visa program may be right for you. Every visa and every immigration procedure takes time, so interested investors should speak with a U.S. immigration lawyer promptly to begin the process.