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The Future of the EB-5 Program

Four passports on an American flag

Going into 2021, there are changes to anticipate regarding the EB-5 program. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the slowdown of many processes, but aspects of the EB-5 regional center program are progressing.

Some of the changes that people can expect to see include the reauthorization of the EB-5 regional center program, new processing fees, and increased collecting of biometrics.

What Is the EB-5 Program?

The EB-5 visa is a U.S. visa that enables eligible immigrant investors to establish lawful permanent residency in the U.S. by investing at least $900,000 in an American business that employs at least 10 workers. A majority of immigrant investors in the EB-5 program tend to invest in targeted employment areas (TEAs), which are areas with high unemployment rates or rural areas. The EB-5 visa was created in 1990 as a result of the introduction of the Immigration Act of 1990.

Investors in the EB-5 program can choose to invest via regional centers in large investor pools, or invest individually. Regional centers are typically for-profit private enterprises that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has approved. 

New Processing Fees for EB-5 Visa Petitions

One of the biggest changes to the EB-5 program is the increased or decreased fees for all EB-5-related petitions. The following fees went into effect as of October 2, 2020:

  • I-485 fees decreased to $1,130 from $1,140
  • I-526 fees increased to $4,010 from $3,675
  • I-829 fees increased to $3,900 from $3,750
  • I-924 fees remained steady at $17,795
  • I-924A fees increased to $4,465 from $3,035

The most notable of the fee changes is the 47% increase seen with the I-924A petition.

The Reauthorization of the EB-5 Regional Center Program

The EB-5 industry is anticipating another short-term reauthorization of the EB-5 regional center program, as the federal government has yet to provide a long-term reauthorization for longer than several months. The reauthorization is expected to offer several months’ worth of funds for the federal government while extending federal programs that are nearing expiration.

In an effort to ensure that a long-term reauthorization takes place at some point, CMB Regional Centers is cooperating with Invest in the USA (IIUSA) along with other EB-5 trade organizations. In the process, CMB and these organizations are working with members of Congress to reach a long-term reauthorization in the near future.

Changes to Biometrics

As of September 11, 2020, USCIS officially published a new proposed rule in the federal register that would permit an increase in biometric data collection from individuals in the EB-5 visa program. Specifically, the rule aims to increase the type of data collected along with the instances in which this data may be necessary to include.

How COVID-19 Impacted the EB-5 Program

Everyone in the U.S. has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic over the course of 2020, as the number of infections continues to increase and millions remain unemployed. With the suffering economy, the EB-5 program has the ability to help during these unprecedented times, particularly as it incentivizes investment in areas with high unemployment rates. Unfortunately, the existing TEA system setup doesn’t permit the EB-5 program to address the economic downturn that came with the pandemic.

The determined TEAs depend on unemployment averages from the previous year, which means that 2021 I-526 petitions will use figures from 2020. Subsequently, the unemployment figures in 2020 will factor into TEA designation in 2021, along with the duration of the pandemic, the number of permanently closed businesses, and the length of time it takes for the economy to recover.

The issue of relative employment may further impede the EB-5 program’s capacity for helping build the economy back up. In other words, if unemployment rates continue to increase in the U.S., the TEA program won’t incentivize many areas’ investments, regardless of their economic situation. The only areas to benefit from EB-5 TEA designation in 2021 will be those that were negatively affected the most.

As a result, only certain areas may benefit from the EB-5 program, but a majority of the country won’t see the benefits. However, the upside is that the previously mentioned changes to the EB-5 program could help better position the program to boost the American economy and secure a better future for the country coming out of the pandemic.

What all of this means is that if immigrant investors are considering filing EB-5 petitions, they’re better off filing now than waiting until a later date. The sooner individuals file for business immigrant visas, the more money they will save. While the new processing fees and other changes have been implemented, 2021 could bring about new changes that make the program even more expensive and difficult to navigate.

Immigrants: Critical Contributors to Illinois

Group of different skin-color with USA flags

Immigrants in Illinois contribute a lot to local communities as citizens across the state. The following data shows how immigrants comprise the residents, workers, and students that support Illinois as of 2020.

Immigrants Account for One in Every Seven Residents in Illinois

In Illinois, according to the American Immigration Council, one out of seven residents is an immigrant. Native-born U.S. citizens who have at least one immigrant parent account for another one in seven residents.

In 2018, there were around 1.8 million immigrants in Illinois. The majority of those immigrants came from Mexico (36%), followed by India, Poland, the Philippines, and China. Of those immigrants, 844,506 were men, 866,951 were women, and there were 79,856 immigrant children.

Illinois Contains Many DACA Recipients

As of March 2020, there were around 33,940 recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In 2019, around 51% of individuals who were eligible to receive DACA applied for the program. 

One in Every Six Workers Is an Immigrant in Illinois

When it comes to the workforce in Illinois, immigrants account for a huge portion. In total, as of 2018, Illinois contained 1.2 million immigrant workers. These workers had occupations primarily in the manufacturing, health care, hospitality, food service, retail, and construction industries.

Regarding specific occupations, most immigrant workers had jobs in production, transportation and material moving, office and administrative support, sales, and management.

A Majority of Illinois Immigrants Are Naturalized

In Illinois, 52% of immigrants were naturalized as of 2018, with over 77% found to speak English either “well” or “very well.”

Immigrants Contribute Billions to the State Economy as Consumers

In addition to being contributory workers in many industries, immigrant residents in Illinois are also huge spenders as consumers. As of 2018, residents in immigrant-led households in Illinois had a spending power of $47.8 billion after taxes.

Immigrants Paid Tens of Billions Toward Taxes

In 2018, Illinois households made up of immigrants and immigrant families contributed $7.7 billion in state and local taxes, along with $12.7 billion in federal taxes.

Undocumented immigrants also contributed over a billion dollars, paying $708.9 million in state and local taxes and $945.5 million in federal taxes.

Immigrants enrolled or eligible for the DACA program accounted for another $120.5 million in state and local taxes.

These are just some of the ways immigrants continue to contribute to local communities.

In-Person Interviews Waived for Nonimmigrant Visa Applicants

Handshake in a meeting room

As of August 25, 2020, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on behalf of the Department of State (DOS) that there would be an expansion of provisions enabling consular officers to waive in-person interviews for certain nonimmigrant visa applications. Specifically, the waiver would apply to renewing visas in the same category and classification as long as the visa had been expired for no longer than 12 months. 

The waiver has temporarily expanded the expiration period from 12 to 24 months, until December 31, 2020.

Qualifications for the Visa Renewal Interview Waiver

In order for nonimmigrant visa applicants to qualify for the visa renewal interview waiver and the expanded expiration period, they will be required to:

  • Apply to renew visas within 24 months after the expiration date of the previous visa.
  • Be applying for the renewal of the visa within the consular district of his or her normal residence.
  • Be applying for renewal under the same classification and category of visa. (For example, H-1B visa holders would be unable to qualify for the waiver if they wish to apply for F-1 visas, which aren’t within the same class or category)
  • Show no signs of ineligibility or noncompliance with any U.S. immigration laws or regulations.
  • Undergo all biometric visa requirements currently in place.

Waivers for F, M, and J Nonimmigrants

For F, M, and J nonimmigrant visa applicants who meet the criteria, interview requirements may also be waived, as long as the individual meets several additional requirements.

First, the F, M, or J applicant will need to have a Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record that indicates either “initial” or “active” status.

For individuals applying for F and M student visas, applicants will need to either continue education in the same major course of study regardless of the institution he or she is attending, or to attend the same institution if they wish to change majors.

J exchange visitor visa applicants may only renew a J visa if he or she plans to continue the same exchange visitor program using the same SEVIS number as the one used for the previous visa.

If F, M, and J applicants show any discrepancies between visa applications or any other potential issues with compliance, consular officers may still be able to request an interview.

For additional information about which services are currently available and other details about nonimmigrant applications, the DOS website has more details.

USCIS Guidance on the Final Fee Rule

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently made updates to their policy manual to provide official guidance on the final fee rule in place. Individuals who wish to learn more about the final fee rule can view the new fee charts and visit the organization’s news alert for additional details.

What the Final Fee Rule Means

On August 3, 2020, USCIS published a final fee rule with the goal of making it effective 60 days later in October. Specifically, the rule stated that “any application, petition, or request postmarked on or after this date must be accompanied with the fees established by this final rule.”

In addition to this change, updates included changes to Forms I-290 and I-765, along with premium processing and certain other types of fee processing. To help individuals better understand the changes that are to take place, USCIS published a final rule PDF that details all of the many changes to take place and how to approach the application process.

Due to a nationwide preliminary injunction issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in September, the implementation of the USCIS fee rule was delayed. As a result, the final fee rule is currently on hold until the injunction is lifted and the rule is re-implemented. Regardless, it’s important to be aware of the changes.

In addition to Forms I-290 and I-765, other forms with updated fees according to the new rule would include:

  • I-102 — Application for Replacement/Initial Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Document
  • I-129 — Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker
  • I-131 — Application for Travel Document (including advance parole)
  • I-140 — Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker
  • I-193 — Application for Waiver of Passport and/or Visa

Other Changes Beyond Forms and Fees

Apart from certain changes to fees and forms, there are other changes that would take effect with the new rule. Keep in mind that these are simply some of the changes detailed in the final rule by USCIS. For additional details, the USCIS website has more guidance and in-depth literature on the changes imposed.

Processing Time

The rule would change the timeframe for premium processing from 15 calendar days to 15 business days.

Limited Application Fee Waivers

The new rule would also limit application fee waivers to Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners, certain spouses and children who have been abused, T and U nonimmigrants, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) applicants.

The Use of Signature Confirmation Restricted Delivery

USCIS would be permitted to use Signature Confirmation Restricted Delivery to deliver certain secure documents to applicants such as advance parole authorizations, green cards, and Employment Authorization Documents (EADs). This would be a continuation of a partially implemented protocol that was in place in 2018 for documents that required re-mailing due to issues with non-deliverable returns.

Returns for Fees

There are also certain circumstances when fee returns may be issued. For example, if a check or another payment method used for paying a fee is returned as unplayable due to a lack of funds, USCIS will provide a one-time resubmission of the payment to the remitter institution. However, if the fee fails to go through a second time, USCIS won’t accept the filing, and there will be no redepositing of payments if payment methods fail to go through for any reason other than insufficient funds.

The rule will also remove the $30 charge currently in place for dishonored payments, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may reject any request accompanied by checks that are over 365 days older than the date of receipt.

Fees for Biometric Services

For a majority of applications, according to the rule, “DHS is incorporating the biometric services cost into the underlying immigration benefit request fee instead of charging a flat $85 biometric services fee… DHS will continue to recover the cost of providing biometric services, but it will do so by adjusting form fees to reflect the total cost of adjudication, including providing biometric services.” On the other hand, certain applications will come with a separate $85 or $30 biometric services fee.

The 9-11 Response and Biometric Entry-Exit Fee

The final rule will also issue a $4,000 9-11 Response and Biometric Entry-Exit Fee to any individuals who wish to file new or extending H-1B petitions and employ 50 or more employees in the U.S., as long as over 50% of those employees are on H-1B, L-1A, or L-1B nonimmigrant visas. However, there will be an exception granted for petitioners filing amended petitions without any request for an extended stay. For petitions filed on or after September 30, 2027, this fee will no longer apply.

The USCIS website offers additional information about this rule and all of the changes to be expected, along with guidance to help ensure compliance with the new rule. 

American Cities Are Facing a Shortage of Immigrants

Closeup of coffee mug and employees at background

Cities all over the United States are currently facing a shortage of immigrants as a result of the recent pandemic. This comes as the country faces one of the biggest economic downturns in decades, largely influenced by the immigration shortage. 

What the Immigration Shortage Means for the Country

Urban areas throughout the country help the American economy flourish, and one of the principal contributors to American cities is the immigrant population. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented immigrants, including those on H-1B visas, from entering the workforce and contributing to urban economies.

Following the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Trump Administration’s policies placed certain bottlenecks and restrictions on the ability to recruit highly-skilled foreign workers. These restrictions could remain in place even after the pandemic subsides and the country returns to a state of normality. The limits placed on immigrant workers could also hinder the country’s ability to economically recover and maintain a competitive edge.

Effects on the Urban Economy

A recent Axios report from Stef Knight details the effects of the pandemic on immigration and how the sudden drop in immigration impacted New York City.

In January, the U.S. issued over 61,000 skilled visas. By April, that number had dwindled to 494, with little to no change through July. New York’s approximately 3.1 million immigrants contribute around $232 billion to the city’s GDP and account for over half of NYC’s business owners. However, the immigrant population began declining prior to the pandemic as a result of harsher restrictions placed on immigrants, including individuals with business non-immigrant visas.

Research at Axios also determined that for New York to recover from the shortage of immigrants and the economic downturn, young professionals and creatives will need to play a key role in the improvement. Specifically, younger professionals will be coming into the city while older, wealthier individuals move out. As young individuals coming into the city need less space, landlords will continue to fill apartments and the city’s population will continue to increase, allowing the economy to begin to rebound. However, historically many young new citizens have been immigrants. Due to the immigration restrictions, the most probable source of potential newcomers is currently uncertain.

It’s unknown at this time precisely how long the current immigrant restrictions will last, but they could continue long after the pandemic wanes.