Good and Bad News on the Investors' Visa Program

By David North on October 16, 2010

The good news about the Investor's Visa Program (which gives everyone in the alien's family a green card for a two-year-long, half-million-dollar investment) is that its use apparently has dropped by about 50 percent in FY 2010.

The bad news is that, with each passing year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approves a larger and a larger proportion of the EB-5 applications presented to it.

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The other day the agency held a teleconference with several hundred investors, immigration lawyers, and other interested parties, on the subject of this small part of the immigration program. Much of the session was devoted to giving tips to people (and/or their lawyers) applying for the program as to how to do so successfully.

The program, which, fortunately is limited to 10,000 visas a year, gives the investor, and all members of his or her immediate family, conditional visas that usually convert to green cards after two years. The alien, in most cases, needs to make a half-million dollar investment approved by one of a hundred or so regional centers, which, in turn, are government-approved. After two years the investor can withdraw the investment and his or her family can keep the green cards.

The program goes by the initials EB-5 on the grounds that is said to be an employment-based visa, in that the investment is supposed to create jobs in the American economy; how that is judged is not very clear. The USCIS enthusiasm for the program is greater than mine, as I noted in a previous blog entitled "Green Cards for Rich Family Actually Cost Less Than Previously Reported."

The usage of this program had been growing in recent years, with 1,360 visas issued in FY 2008 and 4,218 in FY 2009, the tele-audience was told, but the preliminary figure for FY 2010 is only 1,886. The recession caused the decline, the spokesperson said.

The decline in usage has nothing to do with stricter USCIS standards, however, as the agency happily reported that the percentage of applications approved had soared from 53 percent in FY 2005 to 89 percent in FY 2010.

That the agency was even releasing data on how many applications had been filed, and what percentage had been approved, is remarkable, as that is the sort of thing that it routinely keeps carefully hidden. The Center for Immigration Studies filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get this kind of data on all green-card creating programs – not just EB-5 – some six months ago and we do not expect a reply for another six months.

Our argument is that the public needs this information in order to gauge how good a job the agency is doing; our further argument is that this is the kind of data that is readily available from other migration-management agencies, such as the State Department's Visa Office.

My guess is this week's release of the data on the increasing percentage of approvals was part of an effort to assure would-be applicants that they can, in fact, use this program to trade short-term investments for life-long green cards.

A USCIS economist spoke of the "big picture" of the application process, so when the time for questions came I asked: "Given that this is a program that exchanges life-long green cards for investments that can be terminated after two years, how many of these investments are still in place after, say, four years?"

"I have no data on that subject," she said. There was no promise to look into the matter.

So two hours were devoted to discussing how well-to-do aliens and their families can benefit from this program, and no time on its benefits, if any, to the American economy.