The much-publicized EB-5 “Immigrant Investor” program is set to expire this week, putting billions of dollars for commercial development at risk.
EB-5 gives visas to foreign investors who invest $500k in projects that create at least 10 American jobs. When the program first passed in 1990, it required investors to spend $1M but was later adjusted to allow investors to spend half in rural or high-unemployment areas, CNBC reports.
Its popularity has soared in recent years—sparked in large part by Chinese investors, who account for around 90% of all EB-5 visas granted—causing it to hit its visa limit of 10,000 per year in 2013 for the first time. (In 2007, only 700 visas were issued.)
The US Citizenship and Immigration Service estimates that EB-5 has brought in more than $2M and created more than 77,000 jobs, although those numbers are up for debate.
But some are concerned that more EB-5 money is being spent on projects in wealthy areas like New York City’s Hudson Yards or San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point Shipyard.
This week the Securities and Exchange Commission announced enforcement actions against lawyers charged with defrauding the system. A developer was also charged with using $6M from Chinese investors for a building conversion that never happened.
But on the flip side, EB-5 money has been beneficial, with projects like Washington DC’s Uline Arena (pictured), which is being converted into an office and retail center, as part of a project to rejuvenate the entire area.
Angelique Brunner, president of EB5 Capital, says the program needs more regulation so it can focus on the reason it was created, which was to spark economic development in distressed areas. One possible solution is a bipartisan proposal spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy. The proposal would increase the minimum investment in rural and high-unemployment areas to $800k and would reserve 4,000 of the 10,000 EB-5 visas for rural and high-unemployment areas. [CNBC]