WHAT IS A regional center

As defined by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a regional center is any public or private economic unit involved in the promotion of economic growth, improved regional productivity, job creation, and increased domestic capital investment. A regional center is an entity approved by the USCIS to seek and accept foreign investment for a specific geographical area under the EB-5 Regional Center program.

The EB-5 Visa category started in 1990. Regional Centers began in 1993. The State of Vermont Agency of Commerce and Development formed its regional center in 1997. A ski resort was utilized as the initial business model to justify and support the application for Regional Center Designation, which was duly approved by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

During the mid 1990s several companies competed for investment capital from foreign investors through the EB-5 program. Most of the companies didn’t offer sound investment opportunities, did not raise the full $1 million investment capital and/or did not hire the required number of employees.

INS wanted to stop these abuses of the program. Due to lawsuits, the EB-5 program was effectively placed on hold between 1998 and 2002. In 2002, Congress passed a new law to protect pre-1998 investors. Also, in a case commonly known as “Chang,” the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that INS may not apply its new rules retroactively. In August 2003, INS began approving regional center petitions for the first time since 1998.

It is now common knowledge that EB-5 immigration petitions should be approved by the INS if they’re based on sound investments in designated regional centers for the full $1 million dollars [$500,000 in Targeted Employment Areas (TEA)] and include the proper supporting documentation. In October 2009, the EB-5 pilot program was extended for three years, until September 30, 2012. At that time, it may be further extended or potentially expire.

The program allows a foreign person and his or her immediate family members to obtain permanent residency by investing in a project in which 10 U.S. jobs are either created or saved. A benefit for investing through a regional center, as opposed to an individual Investor Visa, is that the program does not require the entity in which the individual invests his or her money to itself employ 10 U.S. workers. Instead, it is adequate if 10 or more jobs are created directly or indirectly as a result of the investment.

In addition, 3,000 Green Cards are set aside each year for the EB-5 Regional Center Program and an additional 3,000 for projects in Targeted Employment Areas (TEA).This eliminates multi-year backlogs and excessive waiting periods that may apply to other employment and family-based immigrant Visa categories.

Finally, by pursuing permanent residency status through a regional center, individuals are not required to manage their investment on a daily basis and are permitted to pursue other professional and personal ventures.

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