Indians may see jam on EB-5 visa route to the United States

NEW DELHI: The EB-5 visa route to the United States may not continue to offer a smooth ride to well-heeled Indians for long. Indian applicants are likely to breach the annual cap of 700 for the first time, according to consultants, making the once-easy-to-obtain immigrant “visa-for-cash” more elusive. 

A growing number of Indians have been opting for the EB-5 immigrant investor programme owing to stricter regulations on other visa categories such as H-1B and H-4 .

Under the programme, entrepreneurs and their spouses as well as children under 21are eligible to apply for a green card, which allows permanent residence if they make an investment of $500,000 and plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for US workers. 

As per the latest official figures, more than 500 applications have been filed by Indians under the EB-5 visa category in the ongoing year (October 2017-September 2018). “We absolutely see a continuous rush of EB-5 applications continuing until September. With expected changes to the programme, like an increased investment amount, we anticipate the rush of applications to go up significantly in the next few months,” said Pankaj Joshi, managing director at consulting firm NYSA. 

The firm has seen an over threefold jump in EB-5 visa applications from Indians over the past year or so, he said. “At the USA EB-5 advocacy conference in April, an official from the US visa office announced that India will hit its country cap in June 2019 and will start to see waiting periods of two-three years for allotment of green cards for EB-5 applicants who are approved,” Lindy Bradford, marketing manager at Florida-based US Immigration Fund told ET in an emailed response. USIF, one of America’s EB-5 regional centre operators with 6,000 clients, has seen about half the Indian investors who were earlier pursuing the H-1B route to the US turn to the EB-5 programme. 

“It is when our agents reach out to potential investors for the first time and ask them why they are looking at the EB-5 visa, we captured the information that they were earlier pursuing H-1B visa,” said Bradford. Each year, the US government allocates 10,000 visas for foreigners who invest through the EB-5 programme. Unlike H-1B visa, EB-5 visa is not dependent on employment or educational qualification, and the applicant is allowed to work anywhere in the country. The processing time for an EB-5 application is 18-24 months for approval, and six-nine months for processing of green cards.

EB-5 visa filings from India have increased from 99 in 2014 to more than 500 in 2017. As per the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data, Indian EB-5 visa applicants have consistently increased in recent years with 307 petitions filed in 2017, a 178% increase from 2015. Consultants said that the US government might double the investment required under EB-5 visa, along with tightening of other visa categories. 

About 15% of H-1B applicants moved on to the EB-5 visa programme route at CanAm Enterprises, an EB-5 visa immigration firm.“One of the main reasons for increased migration from H-1B visa to EB-5 is certainty,” said Abhinav Lohia, vice president, India and the Middle East at CanAm Enterprises. 

“H-1B will continue to get tougher and it only makes sense for those who are seriously looking at permanent US citizenship to look at other alternatives like the EB-5 programme,” he said. Lohia said, “H-1B will continue to get tougher and it only makes sense for those who are seriously looking at permanent US citizenship to look at other alternatives like EB-5 programme.” 

Article as on TOI dated may 14, 2018.