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At a glance
The Department of Homeland Security is seeking to increase EB-5 investment thresholds and limit the types of development projects that qualify for the program. As originally proposed, the rule would increase the minimum standard EB-5 investment to $1.8 million and the minimum Targeted Employment Area (TEA) investment to $1.35 million. Current minimums are $1 million and $500,000.
The final rule will remain confidential until released for publication, which is expected to occur in the coming months. Until then, the EB-5 program will remain subject to current rules, including investment thresholds.
A closer look
The Department of Homeland Security is seeking federal approval of a final regulation that could increase EB-5 investment minimums and give the federal government exclusive authority to designate Targeted Employment Areas, the rural and high-unemployment areas that qualify for EB-5 investment at a lower threshold.
The regulation is now under review at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – the last stage of the federal regulatory process. The terms of the regulation will remain confidential until released for publication in the Federal Register.
In January 2017, DHS published a proposed rule that sought significant changes to the EB-5 program, including:
Higher investment thresholds. DHS proposed to increase the minimum investment for TEAs to $1.35 million, from $500,000 – an increase of 170%. The minimum non-TEA investment would increase by 80% to $1.8 million, from $1 million. Investment thresholds would be subject to automatic increases every five years, keyed to the Consumer Price Index.
Exclusive federal authority to designate TEAs. The proposed rule sought to give USCIS the exclusive authority to designate TEAs, based on a new methodology that would restrict investment to more strictly demarcated areas. If implemented, this could limit the types of urban development projects that have proven most desirable to foreign investors in recent years. Currently, U.S. states have broad authority to designate high-unemployment TEAs, in recognition of their superior knowledge of local demographics and employment needs.
Priority date retention for foreign investors. As proposed, USCIS would permit EB-5 petitioners to retain their priority date – the date that fixes their place in line for an immigrant visa number – if circumstances beyond their control require the filing of a subsequent EB-5 petition. This provision could aid foreign investors whose initial EB-5 petition is detrimentally affected by the termination of a Regional Center or a material change in a business plan. If finalized, priority date retention would be a significant benefit to EB-5 investors from countries subject to multi-year immigrant visa backlogs.
DHS received nearly 850 comments on the proposal. Many commenters urged the agency to refrain from making changes that Congress itself has declined to pass and that could reduce interest in the EB-5 program.
What’s next for the final rule and what foreign prospective investors should do now
Changes to the EB-5 program will not take effect until the Office of Management and Budget approves them and the final regulation is published. OMB has up to 90 days to review the rule, but could take less time. Until the new regulation is implemented, current EB-5 program rules remain in effect.
The specifics of the final rule will not be disclosed until the rule is released for publication. DHS could proceed with the regulation as originally proposed or incorporate changes in response to public feedback.
To benefit from existing EB-5 rules, prospective investors must make a qualifying capital contribution and file their investor petition without delay. The forthcoming changes to TEA determinations could mean that certain types of projects may no longer be eligible for EB-5 investment in the future, though it is not yet known when USCIS would take over the TEA determination process from the states and when it might adopt a policy pertaining to the eligibility of existing projects.