USCIS Further Waters Down Requirements for Investor Visas

By David North on December 28, 2010

The already pallid rules for investor (EB-5) visas have been watered down, yet again.

As I pointed out in an earlier blog, a whole family can get a full set of green cards if one member of it makes a half-million dollar investment in the U.S. for two years.

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That's right, permanent legal residence permits for the whole family, forever, in exchange for a short-term financial investment.

Well, thanks to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the rules have been watered down still further.

Let's back up a moment. Until recently you (and the family) could not get EB-5 visas unless you invested a full $1 million in the U.S., and that investment produced ten jobs for people other than family members.

Then Congress softened the requirement that 10 actual jobs actually be created to an abstract concept of 10 jobs indirectly created; such concepts in the visa applications generally are worked out by economics consultants who, in turn, are hired by immigration lawyers.

In another softening move, Congress decided that it did not have to be a full $1 million anymore, if the investment went into a government-approved low-income region; under those circumstances the investment could be half a million. (As a result, virtually no million-dollar investments are made anymore by immigrant investors; they are all at the half-million level, as I learned by attending a recent USCIS stakeholders' session.)

Incidentally, this is not a visa program requiring would-be entrepreneurs to actually run companies; it is largely used by passive investors with a half million to spare. The EB-5 investor never has to set foot in the government-approved region for investment; the postal delivery of a check will do nicely.

In the latest maneuver, according to a letter to Sen. Leahy from USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas published in the December 22 issue of Immigration Daily, the government has decided that those indirectly created jobs no longer need to be within the territorial limits of the approved "regional center" – they could be anywhere, presumably, in the U.S.

This is how Mayorkas, in his letter to the senator who had asked for the new policy, described the administration's new position:

Upon review of the applicable EB-5 law and regulations, we agree that a regional center may rely on jobs indirectly created outside its geographic borders.

So, if the investment channeled through the government-approved Vermont regional center, for example, indirectly created jobs on Wall Street. . . well, that would still allow the overseas investor with half a million dollars to obtain green cards for everyone in the family.

The Wall Street possibility may be fanciful, as a reasonably alert USCIS adjudicator might – or might not – reject a real petition for an investor's visa with Wall Street jobs involved, but that possibility certainly exists.

This leads to another question: under what conditions can an investment of $500,000 actually produce ten full-time jobs in real life? I could see it doing that in the Third World, where wages are low, and I could see it happening in the U.S. inside the criminal economy – investing in a marijuana farm, for instance – but in the mainstream American economy?

That would be quite a trick!

And can't reasonably able business people attract half-milliondollar investments within the American economy without the aid of a handful of population-increasing visas? My sense, even in a time of recession, is that American business people are doing it all the time.