As Congress works to pass renewal legislation to the EB-5 Regional Center Pilot Program that will expire on December 11, 2015, most observers in the EB-5 space have no idea what will happen. Initially most of us thought that Congress would not have the time to review and vote on several new bills that would overhaul the program. Everyone guessed that Congress would “punt the ball” and pass interim legislation extending the program again until May 2016. Well as of this afternoon, it looks like Congress might actually pass one of the bills. The bill that looks most likely to pass would completely redefine the requirements of an eligible EB-5 regional center based project. The minimum capital threshold requirement would jump from $500,000 to $800,00 for a project in a TEA census tract. A project developed in a non-TEA census tract would stay at $1,000,000.
The bill contains a 5 year extension of the EB-5 Regional Center Pilot Program. It also includes an enhanced compliance provision. The compliance section of the bill provides for annual site visits by USCIS personnel. USCIS personnel would be authorized to request job creation documents from the project developer and/or regional center. It would also require that ownership of regional centers be limited to individuals who are nationals or permanent residents of the United States.
Greater compliance and transparency in the EB-5 program translates into a new background check that would be required of all principals of regional centers. As a result, no person shall be permitted to be involved with any regional center, new commercial enterprise, or job-creating entity if the person has been found to have committed a criminal or civil violation involving fraud or deceit within the previous 10 years; a civil violation resulting in a liability in excess of $1,000,000 involving fraud or deceit; or a crime resulting in a conviction with a term of imprisonment of more than 1 year. The bill also limits ownership of regional centers where the principal has a final order entered by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for a violation of law or regulation involving fraud or deceit.
As part of the bill’s compliance provision, principals of regional centers would have to execute an attestation that would certify that their regional center was in full compliance with all SEC regulations. All regional centers will have to pay an annual fee in order to continue with their USCIS designation. The fee for regional centers that have 20 or more investors the preceding year shall be $25,000.00 Those regional centers with less than 20 investors shall be $10,000.
Also, the ability of investors to receive funds that have been gifted will be restricted. Gifted funds may be counted toward the minimum capital investment requirement only if such funds were gifted to the alien investor by the alien investor’s spouse, parent, son, or daughter, but not children, sibling, or grandparent and such funds were gifted in good faith and not to circumvent any limitations imposed on permissible sources of capital.
A bit of good news in the bill is that census tracts can still be combined (up to 12) and averaged in order to qualify a geographic area as a TEA. This seems to be a concession made to important metropolitan areas such as New York City that have benefitted from the EB-5 program.
The EB-5 picture should be come clear by the end of this week as Congress wrestles with a challenging task, an overhaul of the EB-5 Regional Center Pilot Program.