On July 23, 2019, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) regulations to update the Immigrant Investor Program were published in the Federal Register. The new EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization rules (New Rules) amend the historic Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations governing the employment-based, fifth preference (EB-5) immigrant investor classification and associated regional centers to reflect statutory changes and modernize the EB-5 program. The New Rules are creating quite a buzz in the EB-5 community with good reason. Of particular note, the New Rules modify the EB-5 program by:
Increasing the required minimum investment amounts;
Providing the long-awaited priority date retention to EB-5 investors in certain cases;
Amending targeted employment area (TEA) designation criteria;
Centralizing TEA determination;
Clarifying USCIS procedures for the removal of conditions on permanent residence fulfilment;
Providing for periodic minimum investment increases henceforth; and
Implementing a myriad other amendments.
The New Rules are effective 120 days from publication, which is November 21, 2019. The effective date of the New Rules presupposes that Congress will extend the EB-5 Program’s current sunset date of September 30, 2019. USCIS clarified that it will adjudicate investors, who file a Form I-526 petition before November 21, 2019, under the current EB-5 program rules. Now the race is on to initiate and complete investments by the effective date.
The “New” EB-5 Program: A Closer Look at Certain Changes.
Increased Minimum Investment. To account for inflation since the commencement of the EB-5 Program, the New Rules increase the minimum investment amount per investor to participate to $900,000 (from $500,000) if the project is located in a TEA or to $1.8 million (from $1 million) if not in a TEA. This increased amount commences on November 21, 2019. For many this is good news as the minimum investment amount increase is substantially lower than DHS’ initial proposal to increase to $1.35 million. To further adjust for inflation, the New Rules provide for periodic increases henceforth to the minimum investment every five years. USCIS proposes that this fixed schedule will create “predictability and consistency” by allowing EB-5 participants to plan accordingly.
TEA Determination. The amendments to TEA’s determination procedures that commence on and after November 21, 2019, are a hot topic. The biggest change in the New Rules is the abolishment of state sovereignty in the TEA determination process. No longer will the state in which the project is located determine TEA qualification. USCIS, which operates under DHS, will review and determine the designation of high-unemployment TEAs. EB-5 program stakeholders believe this change alone will dramatically limit the number of projects that qualify as a TEA, which could lead to an obsolescence of the EB-5 program. Also of note,the New Rules provide that any city or town with a population of 20,000 or more, whether inside or outside of a metropolitan statistical area, may qualify as a TEA henceforth. The New Rule also provide that a TEA may consist of a census tract or contiguous census tracts in which the new commercial enterprise (NCE) is principally doing business if the NCE is located in more than one census tract, and the weighted average of the unemployment rate for the tract or tracts is at least 150% of the national average. The applicability of TEA status to rural areas remains unchanged. Thus, only projects in metropolitan areas are at risk of nolonger qualifying as a TEA under the New Rules after November 20, 2019.
DHS supports these steps with the position that the New Rules will ensure consistency in TEA adjudications by directing investment to areas most in need and increase the consistency of how high-unemployment areas are defined in the program. Of note, the New Rules do not include any preference for rural and urban distressed areas, notwithstanding the proposals for visa set-asides for such project. In addition, the New Rules do not integrate TEA determination with the new qualified opportunity zone designations under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Job Creation Act. These provisions might be addressed legislatively by Congress as part of a reauthorization bill this year. Some EB-5 stakeholders believe thatCongress might overrule the New Rules in part (i.e., regarding the minimum investment amount and TEA changes) plus enact additional modernization rules such as authorizing additional visas, etc.
Priority Date Retention. For many years, both Congress and USCIS have recognized the value of a modification to the EB-5 Program to permit EB-5 investors to retain their visa priority date if they are required to amend their EB-5 petition for reasons unrelated to their own doing. The New Rules will allow EB-5 investors to use the priority date of a previously approved EB-5 petition. If and when an investor needs to file a new EB-5 petition, they can now retain the priority date of the previously approved petition, subject to certain exceptions.
An EB-5 immigrant petition's priority date is normally the date on which the petition was properly filed. In general, when demand exceeds supply for a particular visa category, an earlier priority date is more advantageous. DHS will allow an EB-5 immigrant petitioner to use the priority date for a subsequently filed petition for the same classification for which the petitioner qualifies (unless the petition is revoked for material error, fraud or willful misrepresentation). We note that the New Rules allow an EB-5 petitioner to retain the priority date from an approved Form I-526 petition for a subsequently filed Form I-526 on or after November 21, 2019.
Removal of Conditions on Permanent Residence. The New Rules clarify that derivative family members must file their own Form I-829 to remove conditions on their permanent residence if they are not included in the principal petitioner’s I-829 petition. In addition, the New Rules streamline the adjudication process for removing conditions by providing flexibility in interview locations.
What happens next?
Until November 21, 2019, foreign investors, regional centers, developers and job-creating entities can rely on the existing rules. We urge those considering participation in the EB-5 program who desire to be grandfathered under the current law and the minimum investment amount of $500,000 to invest as soon as possible. As discussed above, if a project’s location in the market no longer qualifies as a TEA, then the minimum investment amount increases to $1.8 million, not just to $900,000. Accordingly, we recommend amending offering documents to include a discussion of the additional risks caused by the New Rules; principal among them is the potential inability to raise funds after November 21.
Regarding future viability of the EB-5 program, the increased investment amount may cause foreign investors to look to other United States programs, such as the L-1 and EB-1, as multinational executive or may look to the immigrant investor programs in other countries with a lower investment amount than the United States.