With the US tightening many of its visa programmes and several senators wanting comprehensive reform of immigrant investor visa, popularly known as EB-5 visa, immigration lawyers are advising high networth individuals proposing to migrate to the US to speed up the process of applying for such visa.

The EB-5 visa programme was extended yet again for six more months late last month, almost at the last minute, after giving prospective immigrants a scare that the programme may be allowed to expire. A new and stricter legislation to replace the existing immigrant investor visa programme could sharply raise the threshold investment that an applicant will have to make in the US to be eligible for a conditional green card for self and immediate family. The current threshold for rural areas and low employment areas is $500,000.

Investment threshold

That minimum investment threshold could rise to as much as $1.35 million, cautions Vivek Tandon, founder and chief executive officer of EB5 BRICS, an EB-5 visa advisory firm, who has been meeting several prospective emigrants from India in the recent weeks. This is because the US is considering several of the EB-5 reform proposals that were moved over the past couple of years and the final law could be an amalgamation of all these proposals.

A proposal in January 2017 had sought to increase the threshold to $1.35 million while a draft legislation released by the Congress last month had sought an increase to $925,000. A sharp increase in the threshold investment could throw a spanner into the plans of many. However, applications made prior to the enactment of the new law will be eligible to lock in their proposal at the current investment thresholds even if the application is processed after the new law comes into force. Many expect the new EB-5 legislation to be passed by the Congress well before September 30.

Abhinav Lohia, Vice-President for India and Middle East, CanAm Enterprises, another EB-5 advisory firm, who was recently in India, notes that some senators have a negative view of the programme and that’s why some of the changes proposed by them are very hard. “I don’t think anyone is against regulating the programme, however, not everything that senators are proposing is reasonable,” he adds.

Processing of applications

Yet immigration lawyers say prospective applicants should not wait for the last few days to lock in their investment. Processing of applications of Indians is current and so they usually get their green card within two years unlike the Chinese who may have to wait as long as five years. This is so as the US issues about 10,000 individuals EB-5 visas in a year and India is entitled to 700 of these visas. However, India under-utilises its quota currently – about 400-450 EB-5 visas are used by Indians per year. The Chinese in comparison uses about 90 per cent of EB-5 visas issued every year, much beyond their quota.

Tandon and Lohia reckon that the looming increase in investment limits may lead to a jump in applicants from India, leading to longer wait. “The sooner people file their application, the sooner they will get into the queue for processing,” says Tandon, cautioning that people should do adequate due diligence of projects and investment vehicles, better known as regional centres, to which they commit their investment to avoid being defrauded.