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EB-5 foreigner investor visa program

South Carolina investors should know that the popular EB-5 immigrant investor program was set to expire in mid-December. The controversial initiative has pumped billions of dollars into commercial development projects and revitalized struggling neighborhoods across the United States, but it has also been criticized for being susceptible to fraud and its misuse of taxpayer dollars. It now appears likely, however, that Congress will extend it through September 2016.

Launched in 1990, the EB-5 program allows foreigners who invest $1 million in a U.S. project that creates 10 or more jobs to obtain U.S. visas. It was later changed to allow investors to qualify for visas if they spend as little as $500,000 in rural areas or places with high unemployment. In order to make the program more popular, Congress also added a "regional center" feature that lets foreign investors pool their funds to finance larger projects in needy areas. It is this part of the program that has drawn the ire of opponents, who claim regional center rules can be manipulated to allow investors to finance posh developments in wealthy markets.

The EB-5 program has only 10,000 U.S. visas at its disposal each year and never hit its limit until 2013, after the financial crisis decimated commercial lending. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service estimates the program has created 77,000 new jobs and funneled $10 billion into commercial projects. Even though the program will likely be extended, it is expected that similar criticisms will be voiced next year when it is scheduled again to expire.

U.S. immigration laws are complex and visa applications are time sensitive. Foreign entrepreneurs who are interested in obtaining a U.S. investor-based visa may find the process easier to navigate with the help of an attorney.

Source: NBC News, "Congress Likely to Extend Controversial Investment Visa Program", Chris Fuchs, Dec. 17, 2015

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