***UPDATED: March 30, 2016*** The number of applications for the controversial EB-5 visa program reached a record-breaking 17,791 in 2015 according to a recent article from The Real Deal. That’s a significant increase from 11,744 in 2014, and just 6,554 in 2013. The EB-5 program awards visas to foreign investors who contribute at least $500,000 to projects in the United States that employ 10 workers or more. The surge is believed to be caused by the anticipation of future changes to the program, making it more difficult to be accepted. Demand has slowed, however, after the program was extended in December without changes. Approximately 80% of the visas issued through this controversial program thus far have gone to Chinese investors.
***ORIGINAL STORY: September 30, 2015*** Changes are looming for the popular EB-5 visa program, which allows foreign investors to acquire a U.S. green card when investing in the U.S. economy. It is widely believed that the program will be renewed, but lawmakers have suggested a series of reforms that would increase oversight and enforcement. The use of EB-5 funding has been instrumental in both the New York and South Florida real estate markets, as developers in several projects have relied on foreign investment gained through the program. For example, renovations at the Hotel Astor in Miami Beach, Jeff Berkowitz’s Skyrise Miami tower and Tibor Hollo’s Panorama Tower have all used EB-5 funding, according to a recent article from The Real Deal. Other projects around the country also rely on these investments with a total of $13.2 billion in projects receiving these funds. Without knowing what is ahead for the program, some industry experts think that some developers may be holding back on new projects.
Here’s a look at some of the possible changes ahead.
A proposal that many feel is very likely to be accepted is a raise in the barrier for entry. Currently, international investors have to pay a minimum of $500,000 to participate in the EB-5 program. That amount hasn’t increased in 25 years, which means lawmakers are likely to raise it. Estimates range from $800,000 to $1.2 million.
Another definite possibility is a restriction of where EB-5 investment dollars can be spent. At this time, investors who fund projects in rural areas or areas with high unemployment have a lower minimum investment. Some developers have been able to use contiguous census tracts to work around this (including in areas such as Midtown and Chelsea). Lawmakers aren’t keen on seeing EB-5 funds hijacked by real estate alone, so these changes are expected.
It is also extremely likely that the rule requiring EB-5 investors to create 10 permanent jobs will be more strictly enforced. The program has been criticized in the past for not doing so, but that is likely to change.
Also extremely likely to occur is an increase in regulatory compliance. There have been several high profile cases of alleged fraud. In an effort to decrease these incidences, a series of rules is being proposed and could include inspections for regional centers and background checks for investors. With more compliance, the program stands to get less bad press and become a more legitimate avenue for investors.
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