March 2022 has been a watershed period for the EB-5 industry: on March 15, U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act and thus enacted thorough reforms to EB-5 investment policies. The bill made several welcome changes to improve the integrity and transparency of EB-5 offerings. Many analysts believe that the overall immigration and financial risk of investing in the EB-5 visa will significantly decrease as a result. Even though this is significant news for the EB-5 industry, the Reform and Integrity Act also dealt with an even more urgent issue: the lapse of the regional center program.
Because the regional center program expired in June 2021, thousands of EB-5 investors from various nationalities were unable to have their I-526 petitions processed by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This unfair situation may eventually have led to widespread litigation against regional centers and cost EB-5 projects billions of dollars in investment capital.
Fortunately, however, the Reform and Integrity Act has reauthorized the regional center investment model until 2027. Just as importantly, it “grandfathered” in all regional center investors who file their I-526 petitions on or before September 30, 2026. Regional center investors are no doubt relieved at this news.
The April 2022 Visa Bulletin still does not reflect the aforementioned changes regarding the regional center program because that aspect of the Reform and Integrity Act will come into effect in mid-May 2022.
Chart A of each Visa Bulletin indicates the final action dates for EB-5 investors from oversubscribed nationalities. These dates determine when investors can receive their two-year conditional residency visas upon approval of the I-526 petition. The values in the “5th Regional Center” row are still marked as “Unauthorized”. In contrast, all direct investors (that is, investors whose projects are not sponsored by a regional center) enjoy “Current” status. It is unclear if this will change when USCIS once again begins to process I-526 petitions from regional center investors—China, the country with the largest number of EB-5 investors, may enter into retrogression in the near future. Chinese investors should thus strive to begin the EB-5 process as soon as possible.
Chart B of the Visa Bulletins contains the dates for filing. This special measure, which applies only to investors from China, restricts when investors can apply for their two-year visas once Form I-526 has been approved. Even though Chinese direct investors have “Current” status, regional center investors of that nationality still have a date for filing of December 15, 2015.
Clearly, the EB-5 investment industry is at an exciting turning point. Investors and EB-5 project developers will certainly be interested in the cutoff dates (if any) that may be imposed on regional center investors in coming Visa Bulletins.