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After H-1B, the US now turns its attention to the coveted investor visa

Ananya Bhattacharya
An immigrant woman holds a U.S. flag during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Naturalization ceremony in the New York Public Library in New York

If the crackdown on the much-sought-after H-1B visa wasn’t enough, now the Donald Trump administration is making it hard for immigrants to get the investor visa, EB-5.

Starting Nov. 21, the minimum investment amount to get an EB-5 visa will be increased from $1 million (Rs6.9 crore) to $1.8 million—the first increase since 1990—to account for inflation, as per the final rule that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will make public later today (July 24). In targeted employment areas (TEAs), the cost will go up from $500,000 to $900,000.

Under the EB-5 programme, foreign individuals can apply for lawful permanent residence in the US if they invest in a commercial enterprise in the country, and create or, in certain circumstances, preserve 10 full-time jobs for qualified American workers.

“Nearly 30 years ago, Congress created the EB-5 programme to benefit US workers, boost the economy, and aid distressed communities by providing an incentive for foreign capital investment in the United States,” said USCIS acting director Ken Cuccinelli. “Since its inception, the EB-5 programme has drifted away from Congress’s intent. Our reforms increase the investment level to account for inflation over the past three decades and substantially restrict the possibility of gerrymandering to ensure that the reduced investment amount is reserved for rural and high-unemployment areas most in need.”

Besides the investment amount, the US government also plans to tweak some criterion for TEAs. Once the new rule comes into effect, American states will not have the power to designate certain geographic and political subdivisions as high-unemployment areas. Instead, the department of homeland security (DHS) would make such designations directly based on revised requirements in the regulation limiting the composition of census tract-based TEAs.

“EB-5 applications may surge until November as investors will rush to apply before the fee hike comes into force,” Vivek Tandon, founder and CEO of immigration law firm EB5 BRICS, told Quartz.

The hike won’t really change the demand for the visa though, Tandon thinks. “Investors from China, India, or Vietnam are unlikely to be deterred by the fee hike because the benefits of a US green card far outweigh the higher investment requirement,” he said. What might change with DHS being the central designation authority for TEAs is that projects under the $500,000 category today may end up in the $1.8 million category under the new rules, leaving fewer cheaper options available.

With these modifications leading to a short-term surge in EB-5 applications, the already long queue for green cards will become even longer for Indians, experts say. This comes at a time when other immigration pathways are also choking. For instance, the Trump administration has been making it harder for immigrants to come to the US on the H-1B work visa—which Indians are the biggest beneficiaries of—by tightening criteria and upping the rejection rate.

 

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