By Robert Kraft, CEO, FirstPathway Partners; President, IIUSA. Originally Published in the Morning Consult
As everyone in the EB-5 community knows, this reauthorization saga is like no other we have ever faced. Our typical legislative vehicle for convenient extension is gone. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 extended the EB-5 Regional Center Program authorization through June 30, 2021, decoupling it from the government’s annual spending bill.
The EB-5 Regional Center Program allows qualified regional centers across the country to pool EB-5 visa applicants’ investments to execute impactful economic development projects that create thousands of jobs. Regional centers facilitate billions of non-U.S. taxpayer dollars every year to create or retain the jobs, but even more important is the role these investments serve in catalyzing larger economic development initiatives. In fact, without EB-5 investments, many projects – and the jobs they create – are simply not viable.
Where many see a reauthorization challenge, I see an opportunity. Congress decoupled the Regional Center Program to bring attention to a powerful job-creating initiative that otherwise sits among a disparate group of immigration programs awaiting tacit approval each budget cycle. It was not decoupled to die, but to live and to thrive. I have confidence in the power of our program and the difference it has made in communities across the country, both rural and urban. Advocates for the reauthorization are numerous and diverse, and there are countless positive stories to uncover and share with our united voice.
We have the same bipartisan support we have always had, but we will soon have a vehicle to get us to long-term reauthorization. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) plan to introduce an integrity reform bill to improve the EB-5 program by achieving long-sought protections for investors and eliminating bad actors from program involvement. With these improvements, Congress will see the program the way it was intended – to stimulate the economy and create jobs. This will open doors to expand and make the program more accessible.
The bill, as presented at the end of 2020, has bipartisan support and would positively impact thousands of communities while protecting valued investors from around the globe. And this couldn’t come at a better time. On our shores, now more than ever, we need economic development to recover from the pandemic immediately and cannot afford to wait for comprehensive immigration reform, which may take years to pass.
In addition, all the way across the ocean, investors who have already placed their investments in our communities wait for conditional green cards and the certainty of a long-term authorization.
Once it passes, the EB-5 program will be on solid ground for further policy debates around Targeted Employment Areas, additional visas and other improvements the EB-5 community desperately needs and wants.
In addition to the legislation, a new attitude has emerged in Washington, D.C., born from the new and motivated Biden administration’s efforts to prioritize the importance of immigration for the United States. A strong possibility exists for visa recapture and a proper interpretation of derivatives (investor applicants’ family members), which would still allow their migration, but remove them from counting against the overall visa cap.
There is even discussion about increasing visas in the employment-based categories, which would be a huge boost for the U.S. economy. It is important to note, however, that being able to take advantage of these possible policy changes hinges on the Program’s reauthorization before June 30, 2021. Invest in the USA is assiduously working to advocate for the Program and its reauthorization representing its members’ interests and concerns to Congressional Offices.
We eagerly await the introduction of the EB-5 bill from Sens. Grassley and Leahy. Once the bill is introduced, the EB-5 community and its partners must rally behind it or the U.S. economy faces the possibility of losing billions of investment dollars and missed opportunities for tens of thousands of American jobs. We cannot let this opportunity slip through our hands.
Robert Kraft is president of Invest in the USA’s board of directors; IIUSA is the national, membership-based not-for-profit industry trade association for the EB-5 Regional Center Program.