Because of the limitations of the H-1B visa program, foreign workers who want to make a life in the United States are starting to explore other avenues to U.S. permanent resident status. Participating in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program is a viable, and increasingly popular, alternative.
What is the EB-5 Program?
The EB-5 program allows foreign entrepreneurs to obtain permanent U.S. residence by investing $900,000 or $1.8 million in a project that creates 10 full-time, permanent jobs for U.S. workers. To qualify for the lower investment amount, the project must be located within a targeted employment area (TEA), which is either a rural area or an area experiencing high unemployment. Investors can also choose between direct investments and regional center investments, each of which has pros and cons. Investors must understand their options before choosing the investment type that suits them.
Can You Apply for an EB-5 Visa while Holding an H-1B Visa?
If you have a valid, in-status H-1B visa, you are free to submit multiple petitions at the same time to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Thus, you can take part in the EB-5 program while you are working in the United States, without canceling your H-1B visa or any pending green card petition. All you need to do is maintain your H-1B status until the EB-5 petitions you have filed with the USCIS have been approved: first, the I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, and, subsequently, the I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
Although the H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant visa type, it allows dual intent. “Dual intent” simply means that even though you have entered the United States on a nonimmigrant visa, you will probably pursue an immigrant visa at some later stage—and you will be allowed to do so. In contrast, tourist visas, for example, are also nonimmigrant visas but are typically issued with the requirement that the applicant or visa holder has no intention to remain in the United States. Those suspected of breaching this requirement can be refused entry into the country or be deported.
Understanding the Implications of Converting an H-1B to EB-5 Visa
The first step in the process is to consult an immigration attorney to ensure that you fully understand the implications of submitting simultaneous applications and of committing the investment amount required by the EB-5 program. Because you are permitted to file multiple green card applications at the same time if your hold an H-1B visa, you do not need to cancel any pending or approved applications. For example, if your I-140 application is pending or approved, you do not need to cancel it. Consequently, if you lose your I-526 approval, you can notify the USCIS that you will revert to the I-140. If your I-485 petition is approved, you can withdraw your EB-5 petition, but you probably will not be able to recover your EB-5 investment.
Must H-1B Visa Holders Meet Any Special Requirements to Invest in EB-5 Projects?
When it comes to investing in an EB-5 project, there is one significant difference between an immigrant investor outside the United States and an investor who is already in the United States: If you are already in the United States, you must be an accredited investor to invest in a securities-related offering.
Usually, EB-5 investors become members of or partners in a limited liability company or limited partnership formed by the regional center. The offer to invest in this type of business is called a “security.” The regional center, or the issuer of the security, must register the offering with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), unless the offering is categorized as an exemption. Therefore, if you want to invest in a regional center project that is not exempt from registration, or any project with a private placement memorandum (PPM), you must be an accredited investor.
To qualify as an accredited investor,
While no official form needs to be submitted to a government or other agency to become certified as an accredited investor, for the purposes of EB-5 petitions, it is best to obtain a letter from your accountant or immigration attorney verifying your accreditation status.
If you do not meet any of the three requirements to become an accredited investor, you can still invest in EB-5 projects as the manager of an entrepreneurial or direct pooled project. If you hold an H-1B visa, you can own and manage your own company, and you are allowed to invest in an existing business under the EB-5 program. However, you must prove that you are meeting the job creation and investment requirements, and this might be more complicated and challenging.
The EB-5 Program Application Process
Once you have identified an EB-5 investment project that suits your needs, you can begin the application process. The basic steps to obtaining an EB-5 green card are (i) investing the required capital amount and filing an I-526 petition, (ii) securing conditional permanent residence by filing Form I-485, and (iii) after two years, filing an I-829 petition to remove the conditions on your permanent resident status.
While this may seem simple enough, each petition is complex and requires substantial supporting documentation. Therefore, work with EB-5 professionals to avoid Requests for Evidence (RFEs) and other delays, or outright denial of your petition.
The Benefits of Becoming an EB-5 Investor
The EB-5 program holds several benefits compared to the H-1B route to permanent resident status. For those facing lengthy delays in the I-140 process, the EB-5 program could offer a faster route to a green card. Additionally, because of the restrictions introduced to the H-1B program under the Trump administration; the EB-5 program allows greater freedom not only for applicants but also for their spouses and families.