Opinion

The EB-5 Visa Backlog: To Create Jobs, Congress Must Make Meaningful Reforms to a Broken System

Policymakers in the new Congress are all looking for ways to make a mark, and job creation is something everyone can get behind.

Last week, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) took a step in the right direction, just as Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) did in the House. We applaud them for introducing bipartisan legislation, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, that will attract significant investment and create U.S. jobs by improving an economic development tool plagued by backlogs and inefficiencies.

This legislation will help streamline the Immigrant Investor Program, which created a pathway for funding community projects and creating over 1,000 jobs for hard-working Americans in Charlotte, N.C. One of the projects attracted $53.5 million of investment from a group of 28 international investors and generated 650 jobs.

The same is happening in other states. Former Gov. Jim Doyle (D-Wis.) noted that “the EB-5 program has brought much needed investment to the State of Wisconsin, improving our infrastructure, helping businesses, and most importantly creating jobs.” Across the country, over 40,000 jobs are supported each year, contributing over $3.5 billion to the U.S. GDP, all of which is made possible through this economic development tool.

By congressional mandate, up to 10,000 foreign investors may apply for permanent residency each year if they make the necessary investments in new commercial enterprises here in the United States and successfully create or preserve at least 10 permanent, full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers.

Although thousands of foreign investors have already satisfied the required investment in the U.S. economy, the program is grinding to a halt due to significant backlogs in the processing of these visas, creating wait times of 15 years or more.

As executive director of the American Alliance for Economic Development, which represents regional centers and individuals in the United States and around the world, I support HR. 1044 in the House and its Senate equivalent, S. 386, because the legislation ensures the United States will remain globally competitive by reforming and reinforcing the importance of the EB-5 visa program.  The legislation guarantees that investors who complete their investments and fulfill job creation requirements first will not be queued by applicants who invest later in the schedule.

Investors need the confidence and assurance to know that their application of permanent residency will be processed according to the principle of fairness, especially after they have fulfilled their promise to create jobs in America.

We believe HR. 1044 is a step in the right direction and remain hopeful for its successful passage in Congress. However, AAED also recommends the adoption of a number of policies in order for the EB-5 visa program to remain economically viable by tackling the current backlog faced by these investors.

First, Congress should immediately increase the annual EB-5 quota to address the serious visa backlogs. The legislation should also ensure only the principal applicants are counted in the annual EB-5 quota. The legislation should allow pending status investors to reside in the United States as they wait for their visa number to materialize, so they can directly manage the commitments they made to American communities. We should also make sure to provide protections for investors and their families by freezing the ages of the children of investors with approved I-526 applications so that they are not aged out of the program due to these significant administrative problems. Finally, Congress should guarantee investor green card adjudication once they fulfill the job creation requirement.

We look forward to working with members of Congress to reform this unique program, one that does not rely on taxpayer funds, in a way that builds confidence in future investors and allows EB-5 regional centers in Charlotte and across the country to compete in the global marketplace.

 

Adnan Jalil is executive director for the American Alliance for Economic Development and served as a senior policy adviser for former Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.).  

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