On May 19, 2011, USCIS announced significant improvements to the administration of the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. As many of you know, the EB-5 program makes 10,000 green cards available annually to foreign nationals who invest $1 million (or under certain circumstances $500,000) in a new commercial enterprise. The investment must also create or preserve at least 10 full-time jobs for qualifying U.S. workers. Although EB-5 investors may petition on their own, it is easier and safer to petition through a designated “Regional Center” – private or public entities that are recognized by USCIS as promoting economic growth and job creation. These Regional Centers generally have shovel-ready projects ready and waiting. And, most are located in “targeted employment areas,” meaning investors usually only need to invest $500,000 to qualify for a visa. But, before foreign investors can invest in these projects, the Regional Centers must first petition USCIS to have their investment projects approved, a process that takes months of back-and-forth discussions between USCIS and the Regional Centers. It then takes more months for the individual immigrant investor’s actual EB-5 petition to be processed.

USCIS now wants to significantly shorten these processing times. To accomplish this, USCIS is proposing several fundamental changes. First, the agency proposes to assign specialized “intake teams” to Regional Center project applications to process these applications quickly and efficiently. Second, it proposes to assign expert Decision Boards (consisting of economists and specialized adjudicators) to each case to communicate directly with the Regional Centers if they have any questions concerning the projects and their economic impact.

Finally, USCIS proposes to permit EB-5 applicants who invest in approved Regional Center projects to request Premium Processing of their applications – meaning that, for an additional fee, USCIS would adjudicate their applications within 15 calendar days. This would mark a huge improvement over the 6-month (or longer) processing time EB-5 applicants currently face. If approved, we anticipate that all of these changes will become effective by mid-summer.

This streamlining is long overdue. In the twenty-plus years the EB-5 program has been in existence, it has never come close to meeting the annual 10,000 visa cap. Much of the lack of interest stems from the burdensome nature of the EB-5 application process - a problem which these proposals squarely address. If the USCIS is serious about attracting immigrants’ entrepreneurial spirit (and their cash), these proposed changes are very welcome developments.