The U.S. Immigration Act of 1990 led to the creation of the EB-5 visas for immigrant investors. In 1992, Congress created the Regional Center Pilot Program to increase interest in the program. Regional Centers are business entities that receive special designation from United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to administer EB-5 investments and create jobs.

In 1998, USCIS issued changes to EB-5 that required investors to prove that investment funds originate from lawful sources. New rules also created further specification on the types of commercial entities that could take EB-5 investments and how the investment was administered.

Congress passed the Basic Pilot Program Extension and Expansion Act in 2003, aimed at revitalizing the program, which had seen applications fall. The creation of the Investor and Regional Center Unit (IRCU) in 2005 led to better coordination and reliability in the EB-5 program.

The EB-5 program has not yet been made permanent. However, it has been consistently reauthorized and maintains bipartisan support. In both 2009 and 2012, President Obama authorized three year extensions to the program. The American Entrepreneurship and Investment Act of 2015 aims to make the program permanent and introduce several improvements.

The investment requirements for the EB-5 visa have remained unchanged since the program’s inception. The minimum investment is $1 million for investments in most of the country, but $500,000 in Targeted Employment areas. Investors can either manage their investment personally or invest passively in a Regional Center:

Creation of a new U.S. enterprise

  • Invest either $1 million or $500,000 in capital acquired through lawful means. The general minimum requirement is $1 million; for Targeted Employment Areas, the minimum is $500,000. Targeted areas include areas with unemployment of at least 150% of the national average. Rural areas, defined as those outside a metropolitan statistical area or outside the boundary of any town having a population of 20,000 or more, are also included in the $500,000 minimum.
  • Create full-time employment for at least 10 qualified U.S. workers, who must be direct employees of the enterprise.
  • Actively manage the day-to-day activities or policy of the enterprise.

 Invest in a Regional Center

  • Make an investment of $500,000.
  • Create full time employment for at least 10 qualified U.S. workers, directly or indirectly.
  • Active management of the enterprise is not required.

Investments in Regional Centers are by far the more popular option, with investors seeking a higher likelihood of meeting job creation requirements, while also looking to invest passively and live in areas other than those of their investments.

With strong demand for investor immigration from Hong Kong and Taiwan, the EB-5 program grew in the mid-1990s. However, uptake was much lower than in Canada. In the late-1990s and early 2000s, with demand from Hong Kong and Taiwan falling, the program fell into obscurity. The mid-2000s saw the emergence of better management and regulation of the program. The Investor and Regional Center Unit was created at USCIS to oversee the EB-5 program. In 2005, Invest in the USA (IIUSA), a trade association for EB-5 Regional Centers, was founded. This led to improved oversight and the creation of many more Regional Centers, offering increased investment opportunities for prospective immigrants. Consequently, the program grew steadily, led by increasing demand from China. In 2014, for the first time in the program’s history, the quota of 10,000 was met, with more than 9,000 Chinese citizens receiving visas.

IIUSA estimates that, since 2008, more than $12 billion of foreign direct investment has been deployed into the U.S. economy thanks to the program, supporting an average of over 29,300 jobs per year since 2010.