Foreign Entrepreneurs – The Facts

The United States has long been attractive to foreign entrepreneurs due to the county’s historically open marketplaces and tolerance for new ideas and new products. Foreign entrepreneurs have come to the United States in many different ways; however, there is still no direct “entrepreneur visa” or immigration status for entrepreneurs looking to come to the United States in order to grow a U.S.-based business enterprise. On this account, oftentimes foreign entrepreneurs will run into roadblocks while in the United States as they seek to both grow their businesses and obtain and maintain lawful immigration status.

More so, with global competition growing, the United States is no longer the default stop for the best and the brightest to set up their shops—in fact, numerous studies have shown that a growing number of would-be entrepreneurs are choosing to start and run their business elsewhere due to financial and societal incentives. Other countries are seeking to prevent their native entrepreneurs from leaving as nations such as China and India set up policies to dissuade would-be entrepreneurial immigrants from leaving their home countries.

Legal Avenues for Foreign Born Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurial Parole

On January 17, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule establishing a parole program for international entrepreneurs seeking to improve the ability of certain startup founders to remain in the United States legally in order to grow their companies and help create new jobs for U.S. workers.

On July 11, 2017, less than a week before the final rule was set to take effect, DHS delayed the implementation of the rule, foreshadowing that it would seek to rescind the rule altogether pursuant to an Executive Order (EO) signed by the President on January 25, 2017. DHS originally estimated that approximately 3,000 entrepreneurs will be eligible to apply under this rule annually. If the rule is allowed to take effect, these entrepreneurs would then be granted a stay of up to 30 months, with the possibility of an additional 30-month extension if they meet certain criteria, in the discretion of DHS.

As there are currently limited visa options for international entrepreneurs, this rule would create an avenue in our immigration system for innovators and allow entrepreneurs the opportunity to establish new businesses in the United States, contribute to the economy, and help maintain the United States’ competitive edge in the world marketplace of ideas.

E Visas

Some entrepreneurs may be eligible for an E visa, which is a visa category reserved for nationals of certain countries that have treaties with the United States. Specifically, there is the E-1 and the E-2 visa category—E-1s can be for foreign nationals who conduct “substantial trade” between the United States and their home country, while E-2s can be for foreign nationals who come to the United States in order to develop and direct the operations of an enterprise in which they have invested a “substantial amount” of capital. Also, the E visa applicant must control at least 50% of the company.

E visas are nonimmigrant visas, meaning that they are by nature “temporary”; however, there is no limit to the amount of extensions an applicant may be eligible for, and, in certain instances, it can lead to permanent residence (i.e., a green card).

H-1B Visas

Although most people probably don’t think of the H-1B visa as an “entrepreneurial visa,” with proper planning and advice the H-1B visa category can be a viable option for an entrepreneur looking to start their own company and invest in the United States. For USCIS to grant an individual an H-1B visa they must demonstrate that there is a valid “employer-employee” relationship; this can be an issue with entrepreneurs since they are more often than not their own bosses and therefore will have trouble establishing the requisite employer-employee relationship between themselves and their companies. Even so, one option for the entrepreneur would be to set up an independent board of directors for their company that can exercise control over the entrepreneur’s employment. This requires extremely careful planning and oversight and the assistance of competent counsel. Also, the fact that H-1B visas are statutorily capped at 85,000 per year makes this visa category less appealing for entrepreneurs.

EB-5 Investor Visas

The EB-5 program is a statutory program that allows for investors to obtain conditional permanent resident status (and eventually full permanent resident status) based on a qualifying investment of between $500,000 and one million dollars. The required investment amount is dependent on the type of program in which the investor is participating (whether it be participating in a USCIS-designated regional center, investing in Targeted Employment Area, or direct investment in a new or existing company); however, in any scenario, in order for the investor to eventually obtain their full-fledged permanent residency, they must be able to create at least 10 U.S. jobs within two years. If the investment is successful after the initial 2 year trial period, then the investor may apply for their permanent green card with USCIS.

EB-2 National Interest Waiver

Certain foreign nationals may be eligible for permanent residency pursuant to the National Interest Waiver (NIW) provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) if they either: (1) are members of the profession holding an advanced degree (or their equivalent); or (2) possess exceptional ability in the arts, sciences, or business, and they will “substantially benefit the national economy, cultural or educational interests, or welfare of the United States.” In most cases, such workers are also required to obtain a Labor Certification from the Department of Labor (DOL) prior to filing their petition with USCIS; however, the INA gives USCIS the authority to waive the Labor Certification requirement, in their discretion, if it is determined that it would be in the national interest to do so. More so, NIW cases allow for so-called “self-petitioners” (meaning that no job offer or employee sponsor is required), which is uncommon in U.S. immigration law. These features therefore make this category extremely desirable as it allows for both skipping the tedious and pedantic Labor Certification process and for petitioning without the sponsorship of an employer (something that is ideal for an entrepreneur seeking to start their own business in the United States).

When a foreign national’s work will be deemed to be in the “national interest” is subject to a three-part test, which includes: (1) the foreign national’s proposed endeavor has both substantial merit and national importance; (2) the foreign national is well positioned to advance the proposed endeavor; and (3) that, on balance, it would be beneficial to the United States to waive the requirements of a job offer and thus a labor certification.  This new standard—which was announced in early 2017—is less demanding than the old standard, but will still undoubtedly provide challenges to immigrant entrepreneurs seeking to utilize the category.

Conclusion

As seen above, there are several solid options for immigrant entrepreneurs seeking to enter the United States in order to start, manage, and run their own businesses. However, petitioning the United States government for any sort of immigration benefit is a complex process which requires competent counsel, proper planning and close oversight.

 

© Copyright 2018 Murtha Cullina
This post was written by Michael J. Bonsignore of Murtha Cullina.
Read more on Immigration Matters at the NLR’s Immigration Page.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Pens Op-Ed in Support of the EB-5 Program

Thomas J. Donohue, President and Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has penned an op-ed  for The Hill  on the benefits of the EB-5 program that discusses how the program is simply smart government policy.  The op-ed breaks down the process and the nuances of the program under current law.  Mr. Donohue identifies several projects that have been crucial to the United States, including hotels, schools, technology centers, and nursing homes.  Infrastructure projects are also the latest type of developments that utilize the EB-5 program.  He recognizes that the EB-5 program is an important and critical part of turning these projects into reality, and due to the economic benefit (both in terms of job growth and investment capital) it brings to each local economy, it should not be allowed to lapse.

The op-ed includes recognition that major organizations around the United States have rallied around the EB-5 program, and that have supported and championed its use, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups.  These groups have also recognized that there is a need for reform of the program to prevent fraud and abuse, and as such, should be updated to include provisions for integrity, security, and oversight measures.

Mr. Donohue identifies a current concern surrounding the use of the EB-5 program in certain areas, and he does not believe that Congress should direct EB-5 investment into certain areas of the United States at the expense of other areas, since the program was designed to encompass all the areas in the United States that need job creation.  Because job creation is one of the purposes of the program, the way that jobs are counted are important, but should not be unreasonably limited or restricted.

Lastly, Mr. Donohue discusses the current backlog EB-5 petitions are receiving- to date, there are currently more than 13,000 EB-5 petitions pending approval, and if there are any changes to the program, these petitions should not be unfairly affected.  By applying any changes to these pending petitions would be to unfairly penalize and disrupt both current and potential projects.

Mr. Donohue stresses that the purpose of the EB-5 program should be on job creation and also economic stimulus.  Thus, attracting foreign capital that leads to U.S. job creation is an important factor to boost the United States’ presence in the foreign marketplace.

©2015 Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All rights reserved.

White House Releases ‘Modernizing & Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century’

The White House has just released a new report titled “Modernizing & Streamlining our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century,” which builds on the President’s executive actions of Nov. 21, 2014. This report provides for plans to improve the immigration system to modernize and streamline the processes for certain visa categories and to address security issues. The report also calls for plans to strengthen the United States’ humanitarian system by providing benefits for certain individuals.

The report specifically addresses the EB-5 program in important ways. The White House acknowledges that the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) has undergone significant changes in an effort to enhance the program’s processes and to improve its integrity, including the creation of a new team with expertise in economic analysis and specific EB-5 components, as well as the issuance of updated policy guidance to provide better clarity as to program requirements.

The White House recognizes that there is a need for additional enhancements and improvements to address the integrity and impact of the EB-5 program. Specifically, the White House recommends additional measures including enhancements to avoid fraud, abuse, and criminal activity; measures to ensure that the program is reaching its full potential in terms of job creation and economic growth; and recommendations to streamline the program to make it efficient and stable for participants in the program, including petitioners and Regional Centers.

The report announces that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has adopted the creation of a new protocol, announced previously, intended to insulate the EB-5 program from “the reality or perception of improper outside influence.” Further, the report reiterates the Secretary’s recommendations to Congress to provide the department with authority to deny or revoke cases based upon serious misconduct; prohibit individuals with past criminal or securities-related violations from program participation, and a mechanism to ensure regional center compliance with securities laws. It is notable that these recommendations are included in the bill that Senator Leahy and Senator Grassley introduced on June 3, 2015.

The report makes two specific recommendations. First, it announces that DHS will pursue rulemaking to improve program integrity, including conflict-of-interest disclosures by Regional Center principals, enhanced background checks and public disclosure requirements, and an increase in the minimum qualifying level of investment. The department will also pursue new regulations to improve adjudication of Regional Center applications. Second, the report announces that the State Department will amend guidance in the Foreign Affairs Manual to permit potential EB-5 investors to obtain visitor visas for the purpose of evaluating investment.

In addition, DHS will propose a parole program for entrepreneurs who “provide a significant public benefit.” The examples of “significant public benefit” include innovation and job creation through new technology development.

©2015 Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All rights reserved.

White House Releases ‘Modernizing & Streamlining Our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century’

The White House has just released a new report titled “Modernizing & Streamlining our Legal Immigration System for the 21st Century,” which builds on the President’s executive actions of Nov. 21, 2014. This report provides for plans to improve the immigration system to modernize and streamline the processes for certain visa categories and to address security issues. The report also calls for plans to strengthen the United States’ humanitarian system by providing benefits for certain individuals.

The report specifically addresses the EB-5 program in important ways. The White House acknowledges that the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) has undergone significant changes in an effort to enhance the program’s processes and to improve its integrity, including the creation of a new team with expertise in economic analysis and specific EB-5 components, as well as the issuance of updated policy guidance to provide better clarity as to program requirements.

The White House recognizes that there is a need for additional enhancements and improvements to address the integrity and impact of the EB-5 program. Specifically, the White House recommends additional measures including enhancements to avoid fraud, abuse, and criminal activity; measures to ensure that the program is reaching its full potential in terms of job creation and economic growth; and recommendations to streamline the program to make it efficient and stable for participants in the program, including petitioners and Regional Centers.

The report announces that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has adopted the creation of a new protocol, announced previously, intended to insulate the EB-5 program from “the reality or perception of improper outside influence.” Further, the report reiterates the Secretary’s recommendations to Congress to provide the department with authority to deny or revoke cases based upon serious misconduct; prohibit individuals with past criminal or securities-related violations from program participation, and a mechanism to ensure regional center compliance with securities laws. It is notable that these recommendations are included in the bill that Senator Leahy and Senator Grassley introduced on June 3, 2015.

The report makes two specific recommendations. First, it announces that DHS will pursue rulemaking to improve program integrity, including conflict-of-interest disclosures by Regional Center principals, enhanced background checks and public disclosure requirements, and an increase in the minimum qualifying level of investment. The department will also pursue new regulations to improve adjudication of Regional Center applications. Second, the report announces that the State Department will amend guidance in the Foreign Affairs Manual to permit potential EB-5 investors to obtain visitor visas for the purpose of evaluating investment.

In addition, DHS will propose a parole program for entrepreneurs who “provide a significant public benefit.” The examples of “significant public benefit” include innovation and job creation through new technology development.

©2015 Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All rights reserved.

Retrogression for EB-5 Predicted at IIUSA Conference; July 2013 Cut-Off Discussed

Greenberg Traurig Law firm

The Chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division of the U.S. Department of State, Charles Oppenheim, reported that the EB-5 immigrant visa category would likely retrogress in July 2015. However, this does contradict his prediction provided to AILA earlier last week of retrogression occurring in May 2015. What is striking about Oppenheim’s announcement was that retrogression of the EB-5 immigrant visa category would cause him to establish a cut-off date of July 2013. A cut-off date has the effect of establishing an orderly line for the issuance of EB-5 immigrant visas. The cut-off date is determined based on the date an I-526 Petition was filed and is the date included on each I-526 Petition approval notice in the “Priority Date” box. For example, if a cut-off date of July 2013 is established in July 2015, during the month of July 2015, only those EB-5 investors (and their derivative beneficiaries) with a Priority Date in July 2013 or earlier (i.e. June 2013, May 2013, etc.) may apply for an EB-5 immigrant visa.

As we have stated previously, EB-5 investors should continue to file I-526 Petitions in the regular course of business because retrogression will have no effect on the adjudication of I-526 Petitions by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services. By filing an I-526 Petition, an EB-5 investor is reserving his or her place in line by establishing his or her Priority Date, which has the effect of determining when he or she may apply for an EB-5 immigrant visa after receiving approval of his or her I-526 Petition. However, there are other effects of retrogression which should be evaluated when making a decision to pursue an EB-5 immigrant visa.

Oppenheim attributed the establishment of a July 2013 cut-off date to the increasing volume of I-526 Petition approvals by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (the USCIS) and his estimation of approximately three derivatives per I-526 Petition. According to his own calculations, this would indicate that there are roughly 3,333 principal investors under the EB-5 Program, with the remaining 6,667 EB-5 immigrant visa slots filled by family members of EB-5 investors. As retrogression of the EB-5 immigrant visa category may cause a drop in market demand for the EB-5 immigrant visa, it appears the inclusion of dependents against the 10,000 limit of EB-5 immigrant visas available for each U.S. government fiscal year (Oct. 1 to Sept. 30) would likely constrain the flow of foreign investor capital to the United States.

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EB-5 Visas: A Source of Funding for US Businesses But Not Without Risk

Poyner Spruill

China’s wealthy investors are known for seeking secure havens for their money overseas.  In addition to being considered a secure environment for their money, the US offers the EB-5 program providing the investor and his or her immediate family with permanent US residence, known as getting “green cards” in return for making an investment.

Basically, in return for an investment of either $500,000 or $1,000,000, which can be shown to the satisfaction of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to create 10 US jobs per investment over a two year period, the investor and his family get green cards.  Since it started in 1990, the EB-5 visa program has brought approximately $6.7 billion to the US and has created 95,000 jobs.  In fact, the EB-5 visa program was not very popular until the 2008 financial crisis when traditional sources of financing became more difficult to obtain.  Since then, numerous businesses have attempted to use the EB-5 program to raise money.  For example, Vermont’s Trapp Family Lodge of “Sound of Music” fame advertises that it seeks EB-5 investors to open a beer hall and renovate its existing resort facilities.

There are two distinct EB-5 routes — the Basic Program and the Regional Center Pilot Program. Both programs require that the immigrant make a capital investment of either $500,000 or $1,000,000 (depending on whether the investment is in a Targeted Employment Area [TEA]) in a new commercial enterprise located within the United States.  A TEA is defined by law as “a rural area or an area that has experienced high unemployment of at least 150% of the national average.”  The new commercial enterprise must create or preserve 10 full-time jobs for qualifying US workers within two years (or under certain circumstances, within a reasonable time after the two year period) of the immigrant investor’s admission to the US as a Conditional Permanent Resident.

Entrepreneurs across the nation have set up regional centers for foreign investment to market local EB-5 projects to investors.  There are over 230 such regional centers, some of which are state-run  like Vermont’s Jay Peak. The flexibility offered by a regional center is attractive to both the investor and developer since the investor does not have to play a role in the company. With a direct EB-5 investment, the investor must have some sort of “managerial” function.  Seeing a lucrative opportunity when connecting an investor with regional centers, an industry has sprung up, particularly in China, to connect US businesses with potential investors. These go-betweens charge the regional center as much as $175,000 per investor for making the introduction.

Some projects have not produced the requisite number of jobs that would prompt US immigration authorities to withhold green cards – resulting in exposure to lawsuits from the investor against the developer or regional center that has solicited the investment.  Approximately 31 investors, 15 from China, filed a federal lawsuit alleging the only thing they had to show for a $15.5 million investment was an undeveloped plot of land across the Mississippi River from New Orleans.  In San Bruno, California, three Chinese investors alleged in a lawsuit filed last year that they lost $3 million when an EB-5 developer disappeared with his associates concocted a story about his death.

In contrast, the Marriot and Hilton hotel chains have successfully solicited and obtained EB-5 investment funds to build new hotels; Sony Pictures Entertainment and Warner Brothers have used the EB-5 program to raise funds for film projects; and the new home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, Barclay Center, was funded through EB-5 investment.

Even if successful, EB-5 visa approval has become much slower due to suspicion of fraud and developers’ inaccurate estimate of creating 10 jobs per investor.  With the economic downturn, the USCIS has hired economists and securities lawyers to review EB-5 applications. Now showing it that it means business, the Securities Exchange Commission has filed its first lawsuit against an EB-5 project alleging that the promoters of a Chicago hotel and convention center project fraudulently sold more than $145 million in securities and collected $11 million in administrative fees from over 250 Chinese investors.

The Canadian government has decided recently to halt its immigrant investor program due to the number of Chinese applications.  This has left Chinese investors potentially turning their attention to the US equivalent as they seek a financially and politically stable haven for themselves and their families.

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Department of State Predicts EB-5 Visa Retrogression for China

GT Law

 

Based upon the demand for EB-5 visa numbers and the volume of approved I-526 Petitions, the Department of State has issued a preliminary warning that a cut-off date may need to be established for China. No other countries in the EB-5 category will be impacted. If a cut-off date is established, it will not take effect until sometime after July 2014. This will only affect those born in mainland China and does not apply to those born in Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan.

Despite this preliminary warning, EB-5 investors should think hard before delaying the filing of an I-526 Petition or taking any other actions directly related to the possibility of EB-5 retrogression in China. In December 2012 the Department of State also predicted the establishment of a cut-off for China, but then reversed itself in February 2013. New EB-5 visas will become available on the first day of the next fiscal year, October 1, 2014, and the extremely slow processing of I-526 Petitions could spread the demand for EB-5 visas into the next fiscal year. It is important to note, the slow I-526 Petition processing times has also impaired the ability of the Department of State to predict whether EB-5 visa retrogression will occur.

On the flip side, if U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) speeds up I-526 processing the possibility of EB-5 visa retrogression will increase. As we have noted before, whether or not EB-5 visa retrogression takes place will have no effect on the processing of I-526 Petitions by USCIS. If the EB-5 visa does retrogress, it will likely delay individuals with approved I-526 Petitions from entering the U.S. and obtaining conditional permanent residency. This also may affect the way jobs are allocated to those EB-5 investors in the regional center context. Furthermore, once an I-526 Petition is approved, a child who is a derivative beneficiary of that I-526 Petition does not receive protection under the Child Status Protection Act. This could result in some children of EB-5 investors “aging out” if an I-526 Petition is approved but there are no EB-5 visas available.

In the regional center context, EB-5 visa retrogression may affect EB-5 investors from other countries. Some regional center projects involve loans which cannot be paid off until each EB-5 investor in that project has had their respective I-829 Petition adjudicated. Similarly, many new commercial enterprises in the regional center context have clauses in their operating agreements which prevent distributions from occurring until every EB-5 investor in that new commercial enterprise has had their respective I-829 Petition adjudicated.

Article by:

Dillon R. Colucci

Of:

Greenberg Traurig, LLP