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Efforts to reform EB-5 program fail to gain traction

During the week before Christmas, most people are understandably consumed with finalizing travel arrangements, making last minute purchases and ensuring that holiday plans are in place. As such, it means that they are likely paying slightly less attention than usual to events on Capitol Hill.  

Consequently, many people might be unaware that a bipartisan bill calling for a major overhaul of the immensely popular EB-5 visa program was actually defeated by Congress just a few weeks back.

For those unfamiliar with the EB-5 visa program, it was started back in 1990 and provides permanent residency -- and ultimately a path to citizenship -- to those foreign nationals who invest $500,000, or $1 million in some instances, in a U.S.-based business that creates at least ten jobs.

The EB-5 visa program has exploded in popularity in recent years, emerging as a much-needed source of capital for real estate developers in the post-recession U.S. Indeed, figures from the federal government reveal that while only 1,865 of 10,000 available EB-5 visas were issued in 2010, this number spiked to 8,654 in 2013. In fact, the visa cap was reached in both 2014 and 2015 several months before the conclusion of the fiscal year.  

As encouraging as this development has been, critics have argued that the absence of a solid regulatory framework has nevertheless created problems with the program. Specifically, they contend that both fraud and corruption have run rampant in recent years, and that it now poses something of a national safety threat.  

In recognition of this reality, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), two of the ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, drafted legislation that would accomplish some of the following:

  • Extend the in the EB-5 visa program for five years
  • Enhance the ability of Homeland Security to investigate proposed projects, foreign investors and those facilitating any deals under the program.
  • Increase the minimum investment from $1 million to $1.2 million, or $500,000 to $800,000 for projects in "targeted unemployment areas"

The proposed legislation was ultimately not included in the budget deal passed by Congress. Instead, lawmakers voted to extend the EB-5 program, which was then set to expire at the end of December, until the end of September without any changes.

It will be interesting to see if this idea of reforming the EB-5 program remerges in the coming months and, if so, how far lawmakers are willing to go. Stay tuned for updates.

If you have questions or concerns related to an EB-5 visa or would like to learn more about other employment immigration matters, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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