EB-5 Program Reform Part of the Economic Solution

Throughout the campaign process, both candidates have spent much of their time speaking on their ideas and plans to “fix” the struggling US economy. With growth at a lower than needed pace and unemployment hovering around eight percent, people are looking everywhere for solutions. One economist believes he has a solution, and it’s not what many people might expect.

Charles Kenny, a fellow at the Center for Global Development and the New America Foundation, believes that what the country needs is immigration reform, and he believes it needs it urgently. He believes that current US policies are unfriendly to immigrant workers, and are adversely affecting industries with high numbers of immigrant workers, such as agriculture and technology. Specifically, he believes that the limit on the number of H-1B visas for “specialty” occupations needs to be increased, and that the US needs to make it easier for foreign students graduating from US universities to stay in the country upon graduation. He also believes that the EB-5 visa program is in need of reform to increase the number of immigrants taking advantage of it.

The EB-5 visa program was created by Congress as a means to stimulate the American economy, promote job growth and attract capital investment by wealthy immigrant investors. The program grants US visas to foreign entrepreneurs and their dependents in exchange for a considerable investment in a US enterprise. The investor must invest either $500,000 in a business located within a targeted employment area (TEA), a rural or high unemployment area, or in any desired location in the US. The investment must create or preserve ten full-time jobs for US workers within two years.

The EB-5 program, named that because it is the fifth category of employment based visas issued by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, is estimated to have created about 34,000 jobs over the life of the program. That number looks to be rising rapidly, as the program is now more popular than ever. The number of applicants for the EB-5 Visa has risen from 1,000 in 2009, to 2,000 in 2010, to over 3,000 in 2011. But Kenny thinks it can be even higher.

Kenny claims that the job creation requirement of the program as it stands leaves the visa holders open to deportation if the jobs that their investment creates are not created in the exact way that was predicted in their application. He believes the process is simply too rigid, and that this rigidity is why only 13,719 people applied between 2000 and 2010 and of these, only 3,127 were granted a US residence permit or green card. With some reforms, perhaps the number of applicants and green cards granted under the EB-5 program will go up, and with each successful applicant comes a large capital infusion into the US economy and 10 new permanent jobs for US workers. With the EB-5 program, it truly is “the more, the merrier.”