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Explained: Fewer green cards for Indians? EB-5 visa issuances decline 22%

Only 512 EB-5 visas were granted to Indians between October 1, 2023, and May 31, 2024

American dream

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Surbhi Gloria Singh New Delhi
The US EB-5 programme, a popular route to obtaining American Green Cards, has long seen interest from Indian applicants. However, recent data shows a notable decrease in participation. Between 1 October 2023 and 31 May 2024, there was a 22% drop in EB-5 visas issued to Indian investors, with only 512 visas granted during this period. This decline is particularly striking given the programme's overall growth in FY2024. More than 7,000 EB-5 visas were issued through consular processing between October 1, 2023 and May 31, 2024, marking a 42% increase from the same period in FY2023.

What is the EB-5 visa?

USCIS administers the EB-5 Programme. Under this programme, investors (and their spouses and unmarried children under 21) are eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence (become a Green Card holder) if they:

- Make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States; and
- Plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified US workers.

The EB-5 visa, also known as the Employment-Based Fifth Preference visa, allows individuals to obtain a US green card by investing in the US economy. Saurabh Arora, CEO of University Living, explains how it works using Nebraska as an example:

1. Investment amount: To qualify for the EB-5 visa, you must invest between $800,000 and $1.8 million in a US city or state. The amount depends on the area's employment rate. In areas with higher unemployment rates (Targeted Employment Areas or TEAs), the minimum investment is $800,000. In areas with lower unemployment rates, the investment requirement can be up to $1.8 million.

2. Job creation: Along with your investment, you must create or preserve at least 10 full-time jobs for US workers.

3. Regional centres: You can choose to invest through regional centres, which are organisations that focus on economic growth in specific areas. For example, in Nebraska, there might be a focus on developing data centres or enhancing medical facilities. Your investment would support these local economic initiatives, helping to generate jobs and stimulate the local economy.

Key numbers

22% decline: EB-5 visa issuances to Indians dropped by 22% over the last eight months.
Monthly issuances: The US Consulate in Mumbai processed only four EB-5 visas in May 2024.
Residency data: 120 Indian applicants who received their EB-5 visas in FY2024 reside outside India.
Overall growth: 7,173 EB-5 visas were issued through consular processing between October 1, 2023 and May 31, 2024, marking a 42% increase from the same period in FY2023.

Factors behind the fall in number of EB-5 issuances to Indians

Rohit Turkhud, Immigration Attorney at CSG Law (Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC), suggests several factors contributing to the slowdown in processing:

- Consulate backlog in Mumbai
- Staffing levels, especially officers trained to adjudicate EB-5 cases
- Priority given to processing EB-5 cases

Turkhud mentions having a client whose case has been pending for over a year despite being documentarily qualified since 1 February 2023. "There is a noticeable lack of transparency in the IV scheduling process, as other clients have been scheduled within less than a year. Additionally, the frequency with which the USCG decides that a case needs to be returned to the USCIS for additional processing or revocation can influence the final favourable adjudication of the immigrant visa. More cases being placed into ‘administrative processing’ may also slow down the issuance of EB-5 immigrant visas," he says.

Saurabh Arora adds:

Golden visas: Countries like Dubai offer "Golden Visas" that require less investment, attracting many Indian business families and individuals.

Rising costs: The EB-5 visa investment amounts have increased. The application fee has risen from $3,675 (around Rs 300,000) to $11,160 (over Rs 900,000). The minimum investment amount has also increased to $1.8 million from $1 million to account for inflation.

Strengthening US dollar: The US dollar has strengthened compared to the Indian rupee, making the required investment amount higher for Indian investors.

Emerging alternatives: Other countries like Germany, Malta, and Portugal are becoming attractive destinations for Indian investors, offering competitive residency or citizenship programmes.

Monthly visa issuance trends

After a surge in visa processing in December 2023, the US Consulate in Mumbai saw a steady decline in productivity. Monthly visa issuances fell to 50-60 visas, with only four EB-5 visas processed in May 2024. According to Invest in the USA (IIUSA), the national trade association for the EB-5 visa programme, this decline highlights potential bottlenecks in the processing system.

Strategic pathway for Indian students

The EB-5 visa remains a strategic option for Indian students looking to study, work, and eventually settle in the United States. The estimated processing time for an EB-5 visa for Indian citizens is about 5-6 years, including the time required for gathering documents, petition approval, and receiving a Conditional Green Card, as per Immigrant Invest.

India's role in the EB-5 programme

Despite the decline in visa issuances, India remains a significant player in the EB-5 category. Alongside China, Vietnam, Taiwan, and South Korea, India accounts for nearly 92% of all EB-5 visa issuances up to May 2024. This underscores India's continued importance in the programme, even with fewer visas issued via consulates.

Benefits of the EB-5 programme for Indians include:

Clear path to permanent residency: The EB-5 visa offers a direct path to a green card, unlike other visa categories that may have backlogs and uncertainties.
Access to world-class schools and universities: Indians may benefit from access to world-class schools and universities.
Strong economy: Indians may benefit from the strong economy of the U.S.

How Indian EB-5 investors get green cards

Many Indian EB-5 investors obtain their green cards through the adjustment of status (AOS) with USCIS. This means the lower number of consular-processed visas might not fully represent the overall participation of Indian applicants. Interestingly, May 2024 saw the second-highest monthly issuance rate in FY2024, with 1,222 EB-5 visas issued through consular processing alone.

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First Published: Jul 11 2024 | 11:10 AM IST

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