Out of the 140,000 employment based immigrant visas made available each year, 10,000 are allotted to the employment based fifth preference category (EB-5). Many people have the misconception that the 10,000 visas are only for EB-5 investors. In fact, these 10,000 visas are for investors and all of their dependent family members who process with them for the green card.
Out of the 10,000 EB-5 visas given annually 3,000 are specifically reserved for individuals who invest in USCIS regional centers. While 3,000 are specifically set aside for regional center applicants, more can be allotted to them out of the 10,000 amount if they are not used annually. Additionally, 3,000 EB-5 visa numbers are reserved for investors who make a $500,000 investment into what is known as a “Targeted Employment Area” (TEA).
Over the course of the past few years, we have seen a surge in EB-5 visa usage. In 2011, 3,463 EB-5 based immigrant visas were issued. According to Department of State figures published in March of 2012, we have already issued 2,405 visas this year. While China accounts for over 50% of the visas issued over the past five years, South Korea, Great Britain, Taiwan and Iran have also had a high level of EB-5 applicants.
The popularity of the EB-5 program coupled with its affordability to many overseas investors may in the next few years result in the 10,000 visa limit being met. Should this happen, EB-5 investors would find that they would be “backlogged” or in a wait line to process for the green card either through consular processing or through adjustment of status. Likewise, as with all of the employment based immigrant visa preference categories, each country can only use 7% of the annual total of immigrant visas each year. Increased demand by Chinese nationals which results in nationals from that country exceeding the maximum amount of EB-5 visas allotted to them in that year can also result in country specific backlogs as we see in the EB-2 and EB-3 categories. It is the hope of many EB-5 stakeholders, that as part of the EB-5 Regional Center Pilot Program reauthorization efforts that an increase in numbers or a clarification by Congress that the limit only applies to principal investor applicants will be made.