In many cases, investing in a rural targeted employment area project can be a fast way to immigrate to the United States through an EB-5 Green Card.
Thousands of foreign nationals from around the world choose to invest in the EB-5 visa each year. But EB-5 investors face growing wait times, especially since 2020. Many EB-5 investors, especially those from countries with a high demand for EB-5 visas, are subject to unreasonably long processing times by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”).
In 2022, Congress gave foreign investors new EB-5 visa options that allow for faster immigration. Signed into law in March 2022, the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022 (the “RIA”) has new rules for targeted employment areas (“TEAs”). Of particular benefit to foreign investors are the changes to how rural TEAs are treated.
Investing in an EB-5 project located in a rural TEA is one of the best ways for foreign investors to “skip the line” in the EB-5 visa queue. Rural TEA investments may allow investors to immigrate to the United States months or years faster than otherwise possible. Demand for projects in rural areas is expected to increase significantly given the many benefits granted to rural TEA investors. These benefits are especially pronounced for EB-5 visa applicants who live outside of the United States.
In this article, we provide a comprehensive guide to rural TEA projects. We explain how foreign investors can choose the safest EB-5 offerings in rural areas with high chances of both financial and immigration success.
What is a Rural TEA?
The main goal of the EB-5 program is to promote economic growth through foreign investment, especially in TEAs. USCIS is charged with designating TEAs according to EB-5 program rules. In general, TEAs are areas that show a significant need for economic development. The EB-5 program has two types of TEAs: high unemployment areas and rural areas.
High-unemployment TEAs must meet two basic requirements:
- Has an unemployment rate of at least 150% of the national average unemployment rate
- Is located in a metropolitan statistical area
To qualify as rural TEAs, rural areas must meet the following criteria:
- Have no more than 20,000 residents
- Not border a municipality with a population of 20,000 or more
- Not be located within a metropolitan statistical area (MSA)
An EB-5 investor in a rural TEA project must include demographic statistics in his or her Form I-526E that prove the project’s location is rural. Form I-526E is the initial immigrant petition for EB-5 investors and is filed after the applicant has invested in a project.
Rural TEA status must be sustained with demographic data from the latest 10-year U.S. census. Data from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and verified third-party statistics can also be used for this purpose.
The data that proves rural TEA designation must be current as of the date of the EB-5 investment or the date Form I-526E is submitted. If the relevant population data change before the investor files Form I-526E, USCIS may not accept the investor’s claim that the project is in a rural TEA.
One way to learn whether a location qualifies as a TEA is to use EB5AN’S free TEA map. This tool, used by many investors and project developers, is easy to use, quickly showing whether a project site is located in a rural TEA.
Why Invest in a Rural TEA Project?
Reduced Minimum Investment Amount
The standard EB-5 investment amount is $1,050,000. EB-5 investors who choose projects in TEAs are allowed to invest only $800,000.
The RIA grants EB-5 investors in rural TEA projects “priority processing” of Form I-526E. This change has added significant value to rural projects as processing times for Form I-526E continue to rise. Priority processing is expected to noticeably shorten the time it takes for investors to immigrate. As a result, quality rural projects have become highly sought after. They are especially beneficial for foreign investors not yet living in the United States.
Reserved EB-5 Visas
EB-5 investors from countries with EB-5 visa backlogs face months or years of added processing delays. Foreign investors in rural projects gain access to reserved EB-5 visas. These reserved visa categories were introduced by the RIA and allow investors to effectively skip the normal line for EB-5 visas.
The next two sections explain what EB-5 visa backlogs are, who is affected by them, and how investors can avoid delays by choosing rural projects.
Understanding EB-5 Visa Retrogression and Processing Delays
The total supply of visas issued to the EB-5 program each year does not cover global demand. USCIS evenly distributes EB-5 visas to participating countries, which allows each country access to no more than 7% of the total number of EB-5 visas. For most countries, the 7% visa allotment is more than enough.
A small number of countries, however, have an especially high demand for EB-5 visas. When a country’s number of EB-5 visa petitions exceeds its supply, USCIS considers this country to be in EB-5 visa retrogression.
Following approval of Form I-526E, foreign investors must apply for an EB-5 visa. Countries in visa retrogression, however, are subject to cutoff dates, which restrict when investors can apply for and receive their EB-5 visas. An investor can move forward in the immigration process only if the relevant cutoff date falls before the date on which they submitted Form I-526E, which is known as the “priority date.” For example, as of the February 2023 Visa Bulletin, EB-5 investors from China can receive their Green Cards only if their priority date is before March 22, 2015.
USCIS processing data for EB-5 petitions shows that the backlog of pending I-526E filings is growing each year. Cutoff dates move forward slowly and unpredictably.
As of the February 2023 Visa Bulletin, Mainland Chinese and Indian investors are subject to cutoff dates due to visa retrogression.
Avoiding Processing Delays through Rural TEA Investment
The RIA provides a unique way for EB-5 investors from countries with EB-5 visa backlogs to avoid delays. Each year, USCIS now sets aside 32% of the total EB-5 visa supply for three categories of investments: rural TEAs (20%), high-unemployment TEAs (10%), and infrastructure projects (2%).
Foreign nationals who invest in these types of projects qualify for reserved EB-5 visas. While the supply of reserved EB-5 visas lasts, qualifying investors will be exempt from cutoff dates. This is true even if their country is currently in retrogression. Reserved visas allow investors from any backlogged country to avoid extra wait times. Effectively, they are able to “skip the line” over investors who do not qualify for reserved visas.
While three categories of reserved visas are available, rural projects offer several unique benefits.
One unique benefit offered by rural projects is lower demand relative to the number of reserved visas available. Infrastructure projects are a new and fairly obscure project type. Though demand for such projects is low, only a small number of projects qualify. On the other hand, high-unemployment TEA projects are the most common project type in the EB-5 industry. The popularity of high-unemployment TEA projects means the 10% of visas reserved under this category is likely to run out first. Rural projects occupy a sweet spot, with an ample supply of reserved visas and lower demand for this project type.
The second benefit offered by rural projects is priority processing. As stated above, priority processing can help investors work through the EB-5 process more quickly. Priority processing of Form I-526E is not an option for any other type of EB-5 project.
Investing in rural projects offers benefits to all EB-5 investors. But investors who live outside the United States will benefit the most. Unlike applicants who hold U.S. non-immigrant visas, and who can immediately adjust their immigrant status after investing, applicants living out of the country often have to wait many years to immigrate. Faster processing and reserved visas for rural projects can significantly reduce that wait.
Choosing a Low-Risk Rural TEA Project
All foreign nationals who invest in EB-5 projects face a degree of financial and immigration risk. Even high-quality projects in rural areas will involve some risk. Before investing, foreign nationals should consider a project’s industry, capital structure, and credentials.
Projects in certain industries require significant upfront spending before any revenues are generated. For example, hotels and build-to-rent developments are riskier options. Such projects rely on forecasts and estimates. These educated guesses may not turn out to be accurate. If an EB-5 project fails financially, it may not be completed as planned. In such cases, the project may not create at least 10 jobs per EB-5 investor. Failure to create these jobs, in turn, would compromise the EB-5 investors’ immigration and financial outcomes.
On the other hand, projects that do not rely on projections and that can generate revenue quickly are ideal for EB-5 investors. As a result, single-family home developments are particularly well-suited as EB-5 projects. Single-family home projects require less upfront capital and can adjust the rate of construction based on current demand. Revenues from home sales can also be put back into the project.
EB-5 projects must also have a balanced capital structure that does not rely on EB-5 funding for completion. Projects that have secured a senior construction loan from a major bank, can be fully financed without EB-5 capital, and are already under construction are the safest options.
EB-5 investors should look for projects that have reputable developers and regional center sponsors. A project’s developer and regional center should have experience structuring successful EB-5 offerings. The developer should have a proven record of success with similar projects. And the regional center should have a track record of compliance with all USCIS rules and requirements, especially job creation.
EB-5 investors who carefully evaluate potential projects will have higher chances of immigration and financial success under the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022.
EB5AN’s Rural TEA Projects
EB5AN is pleased to offer an array of high-quality, low-risk projects with rural targeted employment area status. We have enjoyed a 100% project documentation approval rate with USCIS across more than a dozen projects and have helped more than 2,000 families get started on the EB-5 immigration process.
Wohali Utah is a 428-residence community and golf course under development just north of Park City, Utah.
Wohali Utah is in a rural area, construction has begun, and significant job creation has already taken place. The developer has provided EB-5 investors with industry-best guarantees, and the EB-5 loan is secured by the developer entity.
Twin Lakes Georgia
Twin Lakes Georgia is a 1,300 single-family home community being developed near Atlanta, Georgia. It is one of the most compelling rural EB-5 projects available today at $800,000.
Twin Lakes Georgia has already created all necessary EB-5 jobs, making it one of the safest options in the EB-5 market. This project is being developed by the Kolter Group, an experienced single-family home community developer. Kolter has built more than 20,000 homes.
EB5AN’s Regional Centers
EB5AN manages a robust network of more than 10 regional centers throughout the United States.
Regional centers are USCIS-licensed entities that manage EB-5 funds. They control the flow of capital into each project they sponsor. Under EB-5 program rules, regional centers have greater flexibility in calculating job creation. As a result, more than 93% of EB-5 investors choose to make regional center investments.
EB-5 projects that work without regional center sponsors can count only standard payroll positions toward job creation. Projects sponsored by regional centers, on the other hand, may count direct, indirect, and induced jobs. Indirect and induced jobs are created by a project’s economic impact and can be calculated based on spending.
EB5AN has obtained regional center coverage for most of the United States, with a few states pending approval from USCIS. We expect to obtain regional center coverage for all remaining states in 2023.
The following list shows EB5AN’s current (and forthcoming) regional center coverage for all 50 states.