The federal government's Immigrant Investor Program, a
program administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
(USCIS) agency, has been a highly successful way for small towns or areas
experiencing high unemployment to attract foreign capital to commercial
developments in their communities.


Foreign entrepreneurs, who invest $500,000 in a commercial
enterprise in a Targeted Employment Area, or $1,000,000 anywhere else, are
eligible to receive a permanent residency visa, or green card, if they meet the
job-creation requirements of the Program. 
Once an investor from overseas has filed the necessary paperwork with
the USCIS and committed the required dollar amount, he or she and their family
will receive conditional visas allowing them immediate entry into the
country.  If, within two years, 10
permanent full time jobs have been created or preserved through the immigrant
entrepreneur's domestic commercial investment, the conditional visa will be
replaced by a green card.  This type of
green card is also called an EB-5 visa, since it is the fifth category of employment-based
visas available to foreign nationals through the USCIS.  The popularity of the EB-5 visa has risen
dramatically over the last several years as rapid economic growth overseas has
led to prosperity and wealth for millions in Asia and South America, and investors
from these regions have become enamored of the EB-5 program's reasonably
affordable path to permanent residency.  In
addition, after five years an EB-5 visa holder can petition for full U.S.
citizenship.  The Immigrant Investor
Program thus provides an incentive for motivated citizens of other countries to
invest in the American economy, while simultaneously promoting growth and job
creation here at home.


The EB-5 Program has been one of the few things that both
political parties in Washington seem to like. 
An especially effective and popular element of the Program has been the
Regional Center Pilot Program.  This
Program encourages foreign entrepreneurs to set up U.S-based development teams,
or Regional Centers, that will manage their investments and the overall
commercial enterprise to ensure their compliance with the USCIS' rules and
regulations, particularly with respect to the most important requirement of the
Program - job creation.  At least 3,000
EB-5 visas are set aside each year for foreign investors who use the Regional
Center option.


Although the Regional Center arrangement has been around for
many years and is the most popular and effective element of the overall
Program, it is technically a pilot program that has not yet been permanently
enshrined in the law.  For that reason,
the Regional Center program must be renewed every few years by Congress and it has
so far been extended by resounding majorities. 
Its status was somewhat uncertain for most of this year, though, because
of the deep political divide that currently afflicts the U.S. capitol.  In the end, despite some anxiety, the Program's
future was never seriously in doubt, and it was again renewed for several years
in an overwhelming vote that demonstrated the clear bipartisan support the
Regional Center model enjoys among nearly all members of Congress.  President Obama signed the extension of the
Program into law late last month.


But apparently, some people in the State Department didn't
get the memo.  Earlier this month, many
foreign investors whose I-526 petitions with the USCIS (the first step in the
EB-5 Regional Center investment process) had been approved were told that their
conditional visas were essentially on hold because the future of the Program
was up in the air, when in fact it had been renewed several days earlier.  Moreover, the State Department-issued
bulletin for October erroneously identified Targeted Employment Areas (TEAs)
and the Regional Center Pilot Program as separate or unrelated elements, when
in fact they are both fundamentally connected to one another and to the overall
EB-5 visa scheme.


This confusion probably led to some concern among immigrant
entrepreneurs who expected to be interviewed for their visas following approval
of their initial EB-5 Program applications, as well as among other foreign investors
looking into the program for the first time. 
Fortunately, the errors were promptly noted and corrected, and the State
Department issued revised instructions to embassy and consular personnel around
the globe who were misled by the October bulletin.


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