The New EB-5 Investor Program: Reform and Integrity Act (RIA)

Updated: June 23, 2024

WRITTEN BY

EB-5 Insider Team

A group of professionals with years of experience helping people immigrate to the US

Note: This article is for informational purposes only. We are not providing legal advice or selling securities. The articles and content on this site are of a general informational nature only and should not be relied upon for individual circumstances.

The EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act 2022 (RIA) implemented significant changes to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. It aimed to make the EB-5 visa process more attractive for foreign investors by addressing backlogs and creating more efficient systems. The RIA has had a positive impact on the EB-5 program and led to an increase in applications.

It was signed into law by President Biden on March 15, 2022. It led to major changes to the Regional Center Program, which is now authorized until September 30, 2027.

Understanding the RIA and its implications is crucial for navigating the process of applying for an EB-5 visa. We’re breaking down everything you need to know about RIA, its impact on investors, and the changes it has created for regional centers.

Background of the Reform and Integrity Act (RIA)

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program was launched in 1990 and has undergone extensive changes throughout its life. Isolated misappropriation of funds and fraud have occurred, creating the need for the process to become more secure and transparent to attract foreign investors.

The purpose of the EB-5 visa is to offer a path to permanent residency and U.S. citizenship through investment to stimulate the economy and create full-time jobs for qualifying U.S. workers. RIA was passed to make EB-5 visas appear more appealing by addressing pain points and risks in the application process.

RIA impacts everyone involved in EB-5 visa applications, from investors to regional centers and agents. It increases USCIS oversight and imposes stricter penalties for non-compliance.

Key Provision of the RIA

RIA introduced many provisions for EB-5 visas that impact different parts of the application process and stakeholders.

Reserved Visas

One of the most impactful parts of RIA is the introduction of set-aside categories for rural, high unemployment, and infrastructure projects. Known as Targeted Employment Areas (TEAs), set-aside visas are designed to drive economic growth to underserved areas to stimulate job creation by offering a faster way for EB-5 visa applicants to obtain their green cards.

Visas ‘reserved’ for qualifying TEAs every fiscal year:

  • 20% for rural areas
  • 10% for high unemployment areas
  • 2% for infrastructure projects

Any unused visas from these reserved categories will continue to the following year.

A new commercial enterprise project is considered ‘rural’ if it is in an area with a population of less than 20,000 and is located outside a metropolitan statistical area (MSA). The area will not be adjacent to a town or city with a population of over 20,000.

For a project to qualify as an area of high unemployment, the unemployment rate must be at least 150% of the national average. Infrastructure projects are administered by a government entity and focus on financing, maintaining, improving, and constructing public works projects.

These three categories underline the purpose of the EB-5 visa to stimulate economic growth, provide jobs for U.S. citizens, and enhance national infrastructure.

Priority Processing

In addition to the new project designations and visa set-asides, the RIA also introduced “priority processing” for rural category projects. Per the bill, priority processing means faster processing time: the projects will be approved faster, and the investors’ I-526E and I-829 petitions will be adjudicated faster. While the bill does not set any actual benchmarks or timeframes, the processing of rural projects and rural designated petitions has shown to be significantly faster than their counterparts, oftentimes twice as fast or even faster. This can lead to a substantially reduced immigration timeline. For this reason, investors from countries with no potential for a backlog still prefer rural areas for faster processing time.

Regional Center Program

RIA enters the Regional Center Program until at least September 2027, providing necessary stability for investors. The program had previously lapsed in 2021, leading to USCIS pausing its processing of regional center applications. It took almost nine months for the program to be reauthorized. RIA provides provisions to protect regional centers if its renewal process lapses in the future.

Concurrent Filing

One of the most impactful provisions in RIA is concurrent filing, helping to drastically speed up the process of obtaining permanent residency through investment. Concurrent filing allows EB-5 visa investors to apply for the conditions of their permanent residency to be removed while their EB-5 application is still pending. It also enables investors to obtain employment authorization and freely travel.

Impact of the Reform and Integrity Act (RIA) on Investors

RIA aims to make the EB-5 visa more attractive and transparent to foreign investors. It included new provisions to streamline the process, opening new ways for investors from high-demand countries, such as India and China, to utilize the EB-5 visa.

Increases Minimum Investment

On a practical level, RIA increased the minimum investment for EB-5 visas in line with inflation. Foreign investors must invest a minimum of $1,050,000 in a new commercial enterprise or $800,000 if the project is in a TEA. RIA reaffirms the goal of the EB-5 program to stimulate economic growth and job creation by continuing the requirement that an investor’s project has created at least 10 full-time jobs, either directly or indirectly, depending on the project type.

Better Protection for Regional Center Investors

The RIA also sought to provide better investor protection by mandating background checks for regional center personnel and empowering the Department of Homeland Security to ensure regional centers are compliant to prevent illegal activity.

As part of this, regional center investors must wait until USCIS approves the project they’re investing in before they can submit their I-526E petition. The project reference number must be included in the petition. Regional center projects must file a Form I-956F, a ‘project request.’

We recommend that EB-5 investors do their due diligence when deciding which projects to invest in, but there’s no guarantee that a regional center project will be successful. A regional center may be debarred due to non-compliance, mismanagement, or fraud. Alternatively, it could be terminated when the investor’s EB-5 visa is still being processed. These scenarios created a negative situation for investors who were unlikely to have their petitions approved. The RIA sought to address this by adding protections for investors of regional centers that are terminated or debarred. These investors are now given 180 days to invest in a new project or have their project affiliated with a different regional center. This clause allows investors to retain their priority dates and the status of any dependent family members.

Job Creation

Before the RIA, investors had to show proof that the ten necessary full-time jobs had been created when they filed their I-829 petition to remove the conditions of their green card to achieve permanent residency. RIA updated this process to provide investors with an additional year to meet the job creation requirement if they can prove they are actively creating such jobs with a feasible plan. The RIA means that investors are more likely to obtain their green card, even with the complexities involved with job creation.

Set-Aside Visa Quota

Introducing reserved or set-aside visa quotes is positive news for EB-5 investors from countries with high demand, such as India and China. The 32% quote for TEAs, areas of high unemployment, and infrastructure projects provides a faster way for investors to obtain green cards.

‘At Risk’ Capital

Before RIA, EB-5 investors had to keep their investments ‘at risk’ until their conditional residency period ended. EB-5 investments made after the passing of RIA are only expected to remain invested for at least two years from when they are provided to the project.

Most EB-5 projects will not be able to repay funds after two years, but this new RIA provision removes the need for EB-5 investors to redeploy their investments. It only applies to post-RIA investors, as their pre-RIA counterparts must keep their capital at risk’ until their conditional residency is complete.

RIA now allows investors to use gifts and loans as legal sources of funds, provided they are given in good faith and do not evade any restrictions imposed on permissible capital sources. Investors must submit evidence from the donor or lender to demonstrate the legality of their funds. The verdict in Zhang v. USCIS, allowing eB-5 investors to use unsecured loans as a legitimate source of funds, has been reinforced by the RIA. Investors must now also provide evidence for the legal path of funds, including the movement of capital from its origins until it reaches the NCE.

Impact on Regional Centers

The RIA also introduced several regulations for regional centers, including the establishment of the EB-5 Integrity Fund, which Homeland Security uses to detect and investigate fraud, determine if a regional center or new commercial enterprise is complying with immigration law, conduct site visits, and for any other purpose deemed necessary by the Department.

Every regional center must contribute at least $10,000 annually to the integrity fund, which provides USCIS with the resources to conduct oversight activities to ensure compliance and protect investors. In-person site visits and inspections will allow USCIS to ensure the reported business activities are carried out. Each regional center will be audited by USCIS at least once every five years.

Extensive Background Checks and Accountability

Individuals working within regional centers are now subjected to more extensive background checks to reduce fraud risks. Individuals with criminal convictions cannot be associated with a regional center for 10 years after their conviction. Individuals involved in fraud cases over $1 million are also prohibited from participating in regional centers. 

These policies prevent the misappropriation of funds, non-compliance, and fraud to reduce risks to investors. As USCIS is responsible for approving regional centers, they can now enforce penalties for non-compliant activities, including providing inaccurate information at any stage of the application process.

Reform under RIA will ensure accountability for regional centers and act as a deterrent to reduce the likelihood of them taking unfair advantage of EB-5 investors with their loan agreements. RIA seeks to protect EB-5 investors from losing their investment funds or being disqualified from achieving their green card due to no fault of their own.

Regional Center leadership teams must notify USCIS before changing their management or business structure. Annual financial reports must be submitted to USCIS and investors to showcase the regional center’s compliance with securities regulations. These financial reports will provide a crucial metric for investors to monitor their investments and understand how their capital is used.

Future Outlook of EB-5 Visas

The future of EB-5 visas looks brighter after the implementation of the RIA. While there was some confusion initially, it has significantly streamlined the application process and made EB-5 visas more appealing to foreign investors.

Since the passing of the RIA, USCIS has approved hundreds of regional centers, with set-aside and reserved visas offering an easier path for investors from high-demand countries like China and India.

More foreign investors can access U.S. residency through investment as more projects become available. Concurrent filing is also helping to shorten the processing time for EB-5 visas, with oversight reform offering protection for investors against fraud and mishandling of funds.

The introduction of TEA in rural and high-unemployment areas means that the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program can realize its potential of creating economic growth and jobs in the parts of the United States that most need support.

Data from the USCIS shows that I-526 filings increased over 200% in 2023 as EB-5 fundraising rebounded to its pre-pandemic levels. There’s every reason to be confident that this number will continue to grow as additional regional centers are approved and the EB-5 visa process becomes more transparent.

The RIA means that there is now extra security for the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program, even if the regional center program lapses in the future. Under the RIA, investors can feel more confident choosing the EB-5 route to permanent residency with different options to speed up their application process. At the same time, USCIS enhances its oversight of regional centers.

Become a U.S. Permanent Residence by Investing in an EB-5 Project

The best way for most foreign nationals to gain permanent U.S. residency and eventual citizenship is through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program. This program allows you to gain residency with an investment of at least $800,000 into a new commercial enterprise or regional center to create at least 10 full-time jobs.

At EB-5 Insider, we work with foreign investors to simplify their path to U.S. residency and citizenship through investment. We’ll help you obtain a permanent U.S. green card for yourself, your spouse, and any unmarried children under 21 for an investment of $800,000.

Start applying for an EB-5 visa today, or contact our team for more information.

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