US Business Immigration in 2017

As the first quarter of 2017 draws to a close, it is clear that 2017 continues to offer opportunities for companies to expand into the US market, transfer foreign employees to a US branch, and the opportunity for foreign investors to obtain green cards through a Qualified Capital Investment. Yet many people wonder what changes are coming regarding US business immigration law, as well as whether the new presidential administration will affect their ability to travel to the United States for work or pleasure.

Regardless of the potential changes in US immigration law resulting from the Trump presidency, the United States remains a safe place to invest and grow a business. Since the elections, interest in visa programs such as the E2 Treaty Investor Visa and the EB5 Immigrant Investor Visa continues to grow. This may be due in part to the fact that Trump’s immigration rhetoric did not extend to these visa categories. However, since the election, Trump has even backtracked on his hardline stance regarding the H1B specialty occupation visa category.

While the fate of undocumented aliens in the country remains uncertain, American business immigration will likely remain popular and contribute to the thriving American economy. Additionally, any significant change in US immigration policy should be approved by Congress. A sitting president cannot do much using executive orders.

Some potential clients have raised concerns that a Trump presidency will lead to the dissolution of popular categories of business immigration like the E2 treaty investor visa. Fortunately, this is unlikely. Many of the E2 Treaty countries have had the relevant treaty with the United States for dozens of years. Some, as in the case of the UK, have been in place for hundreds. The treaty of commerce and navigation between the United Kingdom and the United States has been in force since the reign of George III, in 1815. The United States can only withdraw from a ratified treaty in accordance with the terms of the agreement. Furthermore, for Trump to unilaterally withdraw would be highly unpopular with E2 treaty countries, the American public, and American citizens who enjoy the same benefits of starting a foreign business in a reciprocal E2 treaty country.

Immigrant entrepreneurs and investors were rarely mentioned during the campaign (if at all), and it was even revealed that President-elect Trump’s son-in-law used EB5 investor funds for one of his real estate development projects. In fact, the recent extension of the EB5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program has made it even more attractive to foreign investors looking to permanently immigrate to the United States.

The EB5 Regional Center investment would expire on December 9, 2016. As in the past, the program was temporarily funded and extended through April 28, 2017, with no changes to the minimum investment amount or requirements. What makes this extension unique is that it will likely be the last one before Congress increases the minimum capital contribution, something that has been under discussion for the past several years. This temporary extension ‘as is’ allows investors to submit their EB5 petitions during the first four months of 2017 at the reduced investment amount of $ 500,000 USD for projects located in Specific Employment Areas (TEA). This is certainly a welcome relief for investors who have not been able to organize their requests before the December 9, 2016 deadline.

Along with the extension of the EB5 Program, USCIS will significantly increase its filing fees for the I-526 Petition and I-924 Application for Regional Center Designation, effective December 23, 2016. Currently, the filing fee for filing an EB5 Petition is $ 1,500 USD. As of December 23, that fee increases to $ 3,675 USD, an increase of $ 2,175 USD. Perhaps the most significant EB5 rate increase is for business people seeking to establish a USCIS approved Regional Center. That fee, which is currently $ 6,230, goes up to $ 17,795, an increase of 186%.

Regional Centers must also submit an annual certification to maintain their designation with the USCIS. There is currently no fee for this process, but a fee of $ 3,035 USD will be introduced along with the other USCIS fee changes. The large increase in filing fees for regional center designation aims to prevent EB5 fraud by limiting applications to serious businesses with the means to support large EB5 projects. In 2017 there will likely be a decrease in I-924 applications given the large fee.

The pending USCIS fee increases will affect other categories of US business immigration along with the EB5 visa. Form I-129, used to file L and H1B visas, among others, will increase to $ 460 USD. Sponsoring a foreign worker to obtain a green card through form I-140 will increase to $ 700 USD. These rate increases, while significantly less than the EB5 rate, can discourage smaller US businesses from sponsoring foreign workers in nonimmigrant or immigrant status.

Despite rate hikes and a new US president, the business immigration outlook for 2017 looks bright. Businesses are still expanding in the United States, and the need for specialized foreign employees remains high. The extension of the EB5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program will continue to make the United States a profitable option for immigrant investors seeking permanent resident status.

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