EB-5 visa program - regional centers and risks - Complete guide for 2017

EB-5 is a class of United States (US) visa which allows foreign nationals to obtain permanent residency by making investments in a US business. Recipients of the visa (foreign nationals and their immediate family members) can permanently live and work in the U.S, with a path to US citizenship.

The EB-5 visa program was primarily created to generate jobs through capital investment from foreign investors. And it’s administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

EB-5 eligibility

At a high level there are two primary eligibility criteria. The foreign entrepreneur has to invest money. And that should lead to job creation. The job creation criteria is generally absent in similar programs in other counties. This ties back to the original purpose of the visa program which is to generate jobs in needed areas. Following is the more formal definition,

  • Foreign investor has to invest $1 million in a qualified investment OR

  • $500,000 if the investment is in a “Targeted Employment Area (TEA)”. TEA are certain areas with high unemployment compared to national average. This can be both rural and semi urban areas.

  • The investment should be expected to create at least 10 full-time jobs

  • The investment must be made to create for-profit commercial enterprise

  • Alternatively, investments can be made through predesignated regional centers

Non-commercial investments like personal residence do not qualify for the program

Targeted Employment Areas

Targeted Employment Area (TEA) is defined by USCIS. TEA is defined as a rural area outside a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) or an area within a MSA or an outer boundary of any city or town (with over 20,000 population) which has experienced 150% unemployment rate of the national average at the time of investment.

Investors can also request an area to be designated as TEA by presenting relevant publicly available government data at the time of petitioning USCIS for the visa.

EB-5 visa processing time

Currently USCIS takes about 1-2 years to process a EB-5 petition. Processing time has been creeping higher because of the recent surge in the popularity of the program. However, USCIS has been trying to bring down the processing times to reasonable levels.

The US immigrant investor visa is allocated about 10,000 visas every year to foreign investors. While the demand for the program was low in it’s first 2 decades of existence, demand has been increasing since the turn of this decade. For the first time in 2014, all the 10,000 investor visas were secured by foreign investors. The demand in recent years has been driven by Asian businessmen looking to immigrate to the U.S. The local industry is also helping the growth by creating projects in the regional centers to attract overseas investments.

Regional origin of the visa recipients, 2016 data

EB-5 recipients

EB-5 regional centers

A regional center is an economic unit designated by USCIS, which allows government and private organizations to create investment pools. Regional centers can then launch a new business or revive an existing business through the money in the investment pool. So, instead of individual investors launching a business on their own, they could simply become a participant in the business by contributing money to the investment pool. Jobs created from the individual contribution are counted towards the requirements of the EB 5 investor program.

Regional centers typically build business like casinos, apartments etc. Regional centers help reduce the overseas investors by providing the reducing the burden of launching a business. They also help in meeting the job requirements of the program. It also helps Regional center project developers to raise money for the business initiatives.

Another important advantage of Regional Center petitioners are that they may meet the job creation requirements based on economic projections of either direct or indirect job creation. But the petitioners through new commercial enterprise can only count the directly created jobs for the the job creation requirement.

Currently there are over 1000 USCIS approved regional centers spread across various states.

Regional centers which are also located in TEA areas are the most popular option by a large margin.

Economic vehicle of the US investor visa immigrants, 2016 data

Economic vehicle # of approvals
Commercial Enterprise 103
Commercial Enterprise in a TEA area 350
Regional Center 9
Regional Center in a TEA area 8,043

EB-5 program steps

USCIS conditionally grants green cards to qualified investor and their family members for a period of 2 years. This approval is granted on the evidence that the investor has already invested or actively in the process of investing in an EB-5 eligible investment. Approval also depends on the evidence that the requisite employees have already been hired. If not, a comprehensive business plan needs be submitted showing that at least 10 qualifying employees will be hired due to the nature of the commercial enterprise.

Before the second anniversary, the investor can apply for removal of conditions and obtain permanent residency. USCIS approves this petition based on the evidence that the foreign investor has sustained the qualified investment throughout the 2-year period of conditional permanent residence. It also hinges on evidence that the 10 full time jobs have already been created or will be created in a reasonable amount of time.

EB-5 risks

Even though USCIS approves the regional centers, it doesn’t endorse the activities of the center. The approval also doesn’t eliminate the risk nor does it guarantee U.S. securities laws compliance. Several fraudulent activities have come to the fore in recent times.

Unlike other investments, the primary objective of EB-5 investments is securing a U.S. green card and in many cases the investors are located in a far off country. Fraudulent businesses can take advantage of the situation and raise money from foreign investors by marketing as EB 5 qualifying investment opportunities. Such investors potentially could potentially lose their investments and the immigration petition as well.

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has recently stepped up the monitoring of the immigrant investor visa program. However, SEC urged investors to be cautious of fraudulent investment opportunities. So it’s highly important for the foreign investors to do their own due diligence before making investment decisions.

USCIS has recently stepped up it’s audit efforts of the regional centers. And it periodically terminates regional centers which were approved earlier. Such terminated regional centers are published on the USCIS website

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H4 EAD application, documents, premium processing in 2017 - Complete guide

H4 EAD application should be accurate to avoid unnecessary job delays and job interruptions. This detailed guide will help you gather the correct H4 EAD documents, fill the forms and beyond.

Heads up, keep your immigration documents, checkbooks ready. You may also have to print/copy/fill certain documents and also you will need two passport sized photographs.

With that, let’s proceed to the actual steps,

Table of Contents

H4 EAD Eligibility

Principal H1b non-immigrant should be a primary beneficiary of an approved Form I-140 Immigration petition. H4 dependent spouses of such individuals are eligible to apply for EAD.

Even if you are currently not on H4 visa, but planning to change the status from other visa types you may be eligible. For example, H1 to H4 EAD applications can be concurrently applied. Similarly, USCIS also allows concurrent filing of F1 to H4 EAD change of status.


H4 EAD premium processing

Even though H4 EAD application cannot be applied in premium processing, you can take advantage of the H1b premium processing in certain scenarios. H4 EAD application can be bundled with the spouse’s H1b extension package. And when such primary H1b application is applied or upgraded to premium processing, USCIS extends the premium processing to the EAD application too. So, you can get results within 15 days along with H1b results. If you plan ahead, you can take advantage of this convenient option like many others do. But note that the process for such bundled application is slightly different than process described in this guide. So, work with your H1b employer to do the bundled the EAD application.

H4 EAD Application fee

$410 as of January 2017 (It used to be $380 earlier). Check the latest USCIS filing fees Make a cashier’s check or personal check, payable to “US Department of Homeland Security”. No online payments are available at this point.

Form I-765

You would have to fill the form I-765 for requesting EAD. Make sure all the information are clear and correct. Importantly, the H4 applicant should sign the form. It’s a good idea to keep a copy of the completed form for own records.

USCIS also offers a service to notify you electronically (email, text), when your form I-765 is accepted at their facility. This is an optional service. But if you want to use it then you would have to include the completed form G-1145.

To avoid unnecessary delays, make sure the form is signed. And it should also be accompanied by the correct fee. USCIS will reject the application in either case. And you will have to refile with the issues fixed.

H4 EAD Documents checklist

Find printer friendly H4 EAD documents checklist

Documents from H4 visa holder
  • Check for $410, payable to “US Department of Homeland Security”
  • Two identical 2x2-inch color passport-style photo
  • Proof of H4 status
  • Identification document with photo
    • A copy of recent EAD (If available)
    • A copy of passport with biometric information (example: first and last page) and the visa page (if present)
    • A copy of birth certificate with photo ID
    • A copy of national photo ID
  • A copy of marriage certificate
  • Completed Form I-765
    • Write (c)(26) for eligibility criteria
  • Primary H1 visa holder document:
    • A copy of approved I-140 (I-797 approval notice). Request from your Employer or file a FOIA if not available
  • E-notification (optional): Completed form G-1145

H4 EAD filing address

Physical filing address varies according to the H1b principal’s I-797 approval notice. Also, the address given here are only for making a stand alone EAD card. If your making an EAD application in addition to a primary purpose like H4 extension or chage of status then you would send everything to the appropriate address for the primary application.

If the receipt number begins with EAC or LIN, then you would apply to USCIS Dallas lockbox. For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) First-Class and Priority Mail Express deliveries:

Attn: H4
P.O. Box 660921
Dallas, TX 75266

For overnight/courier deliveries (non-USPS):

Attn: H4
2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business
Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

If the receipt number begins with WAC, then you would apply to USCIS Phoenix lockbox. For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) First-Class and Priority Mail Express deliveries:

Attn: H4
P.O. Box 20400
Phoenix, AZ 85036

For overnight/courier deliveries (non-USPS):

Attn: H4
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

H4 EAD approval times

Upon receiving the form, USCIS checks the form for completeness and accompanied evidences. The application will be rejected for any deficiency. Until USCIS accepts the application, the form is not considered properly filed.

Approval times vary depending on the work load received by USCIS. USCIS is required to make a decision of the application within 90 days. Depending on which center you apply, you can check USCIS current processing times. In addition, USCIS allows to request SR once the application is pending for 75 days or more.

If you have asked for e-Notification of H4 EAD application, then you would get a receipt number in a message like below (just a sample)

"On November 27, 2016, we received your Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization , Receipt Number EACXXXXXXXXX,
and sent you the receipt notice that describes how we will process your case. Please follow the instructions in the notice.
If you do not receive your receipt notice by December 26, 2016, please call Customer Service at 1-800-375-5283"

H4 EAD status

Once you get the receipt number, H4 EAD status can be checked on USCIS site.

Pending H4 EAD application don’t give any valid status for employment purposes. You are authorized to work only after the application is approved and only through the expiry date. Usually the EAD expiry date is tied to the H4 visa expiry. H4 EAD renewal can be started no sooner than 180 days prior to expiry.

H4 applicant also need to apply for Social Security Number (SSN) for getting back to work. SSN can be applied only after receiving the EAD card. And EAD approval notices cannot be used to apply SSN.

H4 EAD faq

Is there a minimum salary required for H4 EAD job?

No. H4 EAD doesn’t pronounce any minimum salary requirements.

Can form I 765 be filed electronically?

No electronic option available at this time.

Can I start working when my I 765 is pending?

No, you will have to wait until you receive the EAD card.

Is a copy of ITIN required for the application?

ITIN is not needed to apply for EAD. However, you would have to apply for H4 EAD SSN and rescind the ITIN you may already have

If I loose my job while in H4 EAD, do I loose status?

There is no need to work while holding a EAD card. So, if you happen to loose a job, you don’t loose any visa status. Your status is determined by the H4 visa and not by the EAD.

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H1b 2018 lottery predictions - H1b lottery completed!

USCIS will begin accepting petitions for the H1b visa 2018 season by April 1st 2017. We track the Labor Condition Application (LCA) data from the Department of Labor (DOL). Data already indicates that this year is going to be another high demand year and hence a H1b lottery. Here are the important details.

Table Of Contents

H1b 2018 lottery updates

May 3rd

USCIS announced data entry is completed for the lottery. USCIS will start returning the petitions not selected in the lottery. However, USCIS also indicated it’s still sending out recipts for those who are selected in the lottery. So, that means there are still people who do not know the results one way or the other. They have to unfortunately continue to wait.

April 17th

Much anticipated President Trump H1b executive order arrived. This year’s lottery or the H1b process are most likely not impacted.

April 11th

USCIS announced that the lottery has been performed for the new H1b application on April 11th.

April 7th

USICS announced H1b 2018 cap reached. Unlike last year no mention of lottery or actual numbers. And the announcement seems to have come sooner compared to previous years!

For those of you who have received your brand new H1b receipt number, congrats! for being selected in the lottery. Others, don’t loose hope as USCIS is still actively mailing out receipts.

Here is the summary of activities expected from USCIS,

USCIS Activity What it means 2017 2016
Check encashing USCIS begins encashing the check (H1b fees) for petitions    
selected in the lottery Check encashments are reported    
H1b receipts USCIS starts sending H1b receipt number for candidates selected in the lottery H1b receipts are reported  
Data Entry USCIS completes data entry of lottery selected petitions. At this time USCIS starts returning un-selected petitions May 3, 2017 May 2, 2016
Petition return USCIS completes returning all the un-selected petitions ?? July 8, 2016

H1b 2018 cap

General cap: 65,000; Advanced Degree cap: 20,000

Students who studied in the U.S. (Masters degree and above) are eligible for the 20,000 master’s cap. Everybody else will be qualified for the general 65,000 category.

H1b 2018 predictions

For the last 3 years there has been an overwhelming demand for the 85,000 visas slots available. Filing LCA is the first step before applying for the H1b. Hence, tracking LCA data can give insight into the number of expected H1b petitions for the cap. LCA data indicates strong start to this year’s season and compares to the last 2 years. USCIS 2018 H1b lottery is inevitable. The question is what are the odds of getting selected in the lottery? The higher the demand, the lesser the chances. That one is obvious. So, without further ado here is what we think. LCA data upto this point indicates,

Around 230,000 new H1b petitions can be expected this year. So approximately, 3 out of every 5 H1b applicants will be rejected

Following is the tracked LCA data (updated frequently),

Applications 2016 2017 2018 2018 estimation
Total H1b petitions 230,000 236,000 ?? 230,000
Number of LCA decisions made as of March 3rd 54,995 53,322 54,706 230,000
Number of LCA decisions made as of March 7 63,159 63,128 64,693 230,000
Number of LCA decisions made as of March 11 82,932 91,780 82,013 Around 230,000
Number of LCA decisions made as of March 15 96,392 96,264 97,116 Around 230,000
Number of LCA decisions made as of March 17 122,915 134,928 126,812 Around 230,000
Number of LCA decisions made as of March 21 130,926 139,504 135,257 Around 230,000
Number of LCA decisions made as of March 23 142,254 150,134 162,535 Around 230,000
Number of LCA decisions made as of March 25 167,882 170,266 186,181 Around 230,000
Number of LCA decisions made as of March 28 182,496 188,775 195,146 Around 230,000
Number of LCA decisions made as of March 31 196,046 205,897 215,900 Around 240,000

2015 and 2016 H1b lottery involved 230,000 and 236,000 petitions respectively. The above graph compares the LCAs decisions announced by DOL by March 3rd of the respective years. As you can see above, 2018 LCAs are roughly inline with the last 2 years. Hence, if the 2018 numbers continue to trend like the last 2 years, the projection for final H1b petitions is around 230,000 petitions. As more data becomes available in the upcoming weeks, the projections might change.

This season is different from the last years because of the new president Trump. H1b also took a center stage during the campaign. So, the future of H1b program is uncertain. Already may bills are in the works in Congress. Economy in general has been robust and unemployment rates at the lowest. Given all these, employers may want to take one last swing at the available opportunity. That may lead to increased H1b demand this year.

But, on the other hand, with H1b under lots of scrutiny, H1b sponsoring employers may choose to play a wait and watch game. Traditionally, the so called outsourcing companies have depended on the H1b visas. They may tweak their business model to rely less on H1b visas. We are already seeing signs of it. Last month, a top executive of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) a top H1b consumer indicated that they are preparing to operate in a visa constrained environment. He also revealed that TCS already reduced their H1b petitions even last year.

So there are strong reasons for the demand to go either ways. But the LCA data that we track doesn’t seem to indicate any these new circumstances. So it may be business as usual. Or things may change as we go deeper into March. So, we will continue to monitor and update the pages as and when we get new data. So, keep an eye on this page.

  • Single LCA may be used to apply for multiple H1b petitions. For the purposes of the prediction, that data is not included
  • For simplicity, prediction doesn’t separate out the lotteries for master’s and general cap

In the last few years the cap is reached within the first week. Before that it has taken longer time of reach the cap. In those years there will not be a H1b lottery. Typically a random lottery is held by USCIS if the cap is reached within the first week. Here is more historical details about the petitions and time it took to reach the cap,

Disclaimer: Efforts are made to ensure the accuracy of data used. But this website is not responsible for any descrepancies or any impacts arising out of them.


H1b visa 2018 lottery date

In the past years USCIS accepts H1b visa petitions for the first week. At the end of the first week, USCIS stops accepting any new visa petitions. USCIS also announces the number of petitions received and proceeds to perform a randomized computer lottery. The lottery has happened in the second week of April. This year also, it will be the similiar. Here are the lottery dates in the past,

Year Date
2014 April 10, 2014
2015 April 13, 2015
2016 April 9, 2016
2017 April 13 - 17, 2017 (estimated)

Little bit about the lottery process if you are new to the game. If the number of petitions received by USCIS exceeds the 20,000 cap then all those petitions are included in random lottery just for the 20,000 cap. Those who did not get selected in that lottery is then grouped with rest of the applications for the lottery for the next 65,000 visas. So, Masters students get 2 chances.

Either ways, first week of April is important deadline and the petitions from the employers have to reach USCIS by then. Otherwise, the petitions will not be included for the H1b lottery.

USCIS rejects and returns the petitions that are not selected in the lottery along with the H1b fee paid.

H1b 2018 updates

  • 3/7/2017 : LCA data updated as of March 7th. Trend still seems to be inline with last 2 years. Eventhough 2018 seems a slight increase we have to see if it becomes a trend in the next few days

  • 3/4/2017 : USCIS [suspended premium processing of H1b applications] (https://www.uscis.gov/news/alerts/uscis-will-temporarily-suspend-premium-processing-all-h-1b-petitions) USCIS reasons that it is to clear the long pending H1b extensions, amendments etc. This also means new H1b petitions for the FY 2018 H1b cap cannot be applied in premium processing. This may be minore inconvenience if you were planning to apply in premium. It could also be an indication that USCIS is expecting lots of new H1b petitions. Hence this suspension of premium processing for 6 months could be part of the plan to handle the load.

  • 3/4/2017 : Another new H1b reform bill was introduced. This bill is just in early stages, and hence this year H1b will not be affected.
  • 3/3/2017 : Latest LCA are updated and H1b lottery projections updated

H1b 2018 and Trump

Summary: Nothing to worry this year. H1b is under news for the last 2 years, primarily fueled by the election year. Specially, since President Trump took over the administration there has been significant attention on the H1b visa program. There has been flurry of bills introduced in congress this year. But the bills are in early stages and they have to undergo a long process before it becomes a bill.

Here is a quick summary of the bills introduced so far,

Minimum $130,000 salary
  • This bill as not as bad as it is made to look like.
  • Minimum $130,000 salary is not for everyone, but only for H1b dependent employers. H1b dependent employers are the ones who have at least 15% of their work force on H1b.
  • Even for the H1b dependent employers, it’s not the end of the world, employers have to file additional paper work to hire people less than the $130,000.

Minimum $100,000 salary bill

  • This bill proposes to increase the minimum salary of H1b positions to $100,000 a year. It’s not clear if the minimum salary will be adjusted according to the location

Stricter H1b and L1 visa bill

  • This bill proposes to redefine the qualifications for the H1b and L1 visa programs. This bills aims to put in place checks and balances so that it rewards candidates with better education, high skills and high salary.

Trump’s executive orders.

There were rumors that President Trump will issue an executive order around the H1b program. However, in the recent weeks the rumors have died down. Recently in his speech in Congress, he called for introducing a Merit based immigration program. But not much details are available about it and it can take many years to put in place. More importantly for such total sweep of the program, Congress has to act. President cannot act unilaterally to achieve this.

Efforts from India

India has been traditionally a high user of the H1b visa program. So, with all the news going around about H1b, India has naturally initiated diplomatic contacts with the U.S. around the program. The out come of it will not be known until later.

The bottom line is that all these bills are not going to affect this years H1b. This is going to be another high demand year.

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