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Lapsed Investor Visa Program Gets New Life in Spending Deal (1)

March 9, 2022, 2:51 PMUpdated: March 9, 2022, 9:58 PM

Legislation to reauthorize an investor visa program that expired more than eight months ago will be part of a spending package to fund the federal government for the rest of the year.

Lawmakers largely left immigration policy provisions out of the $1.5 trillion fiscal 2022 omnibus package released early Wednesday. But the bill (H.R. 2471) includes a provision to restart the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program, which issues green cards to foreigners who fund large business ventures.

The House plans to vote on the spending package Wednesday while the Senate could vote on it this weekend. Lawmakers may also pass another stopgap spending measure to fund the government through March 15.

The EB-5 visa program requires investors to put up at least $1 million—or half that in economically depressed areas—and create at least 10 jobs to secure a green card. A second EB-5 pathway allows investors to pool their resources in large enterprises dubbed regional centers and count indirect job creation, but must be periodically reauthorized by Congress.

Lawmakers were unable to pass a reauthorization of the regional center program last year even after Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) lined up a bipartisan deal (S. 831) to extend the program and boost safeguards against abuse.

A five-year reauthorization of the regional center program is being folded into the omnibus spending bill. That means thousands of green card petitions that have languished since last June can be adjudicated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Homeland Security subunit that oversees the program.

The required investment amounts would go up to $800,000 for rural and high-unemployment areas under the bill and $1,050,000 for other investments. It also would add new reporting requirements for regional centers.

Program’s End ‘Disaster’

The sunsetting of the regional center program last year was a “disaster,” said Ronald Fieldstone, a partner at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, LLP who advises clients on EB-5 investments.

“It put the market on hold,” he said in an interview. “There were a lot of people who were thinking this program was dead.”

Aaron Grau, executive director of Invest in the USA, a trade group for regional center investors, said nearly 98,000 EB-5 visas have been in limbo since the program expired last year. Applicants waiting for approval have committed to $15 billion in investments through the program, he said.

“The reauthorization of the Regional Center Program will restore investors’ confidence in the U.S. government and help attract billions of foreign investment every year,” Grau said in an email.

A group of immigrant investors sued USCIS and the State Department last month to force the agencies to adjudicate applications frozen since the regional center program expired. The lawsuit argued that statutory authorization isn’t necessary to continue adjudicating visas and green cards under the program.

(Updated with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Kreighbaum in Washington at akreighbaum@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com; Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com