USCIS gives priority to the accelerated approval of EB-5 projects in rural areas
The Reform and Integrity Act was signed into law in March 2022 and gave new life to rural investments in the form of priority processing and set asides, for foreign investors who invest in these rural areas.
What is a rural TEA?
A rural Targeted Employment Area (TEA) are areas not located within a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) as designated by the Office of Management and Budget; or on the borders of a municipality with a population of 20,000 or more based on the most recent decennial census.
What does a rural TEA mean for industry professionals and investors?
A project that is located in a rural TEA qualifies those EB-5 investors for the reduced minimum investment amount of $800,000 and priority processing of Form I-526 by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Those investors also qualify for set-aside visas from the rural TEA classification, which makes up 20% of the yearly allocation of EB-5 visas.
EB-5 developers and investors must provide documents and proof, such as location and population data, with their form I-526 that an EB-5 project site qualifies as a rural TEA. USCIS requires the information to be current and from credible sources of information. Under the 2022 Act, only USCIS can now designate high-unemployment TEAs.
How did the RIA change TEAs?
The RIA states that USCIS must prioritize processing and adjudicate EB-5 petitions for regional center investments in rural TEA areas. The RIA also states certain EB-5 immigrant visa set-asides for investors in TEAs, namely 20% for investor projects in a rural TEA area.
A notable change in the RIA bill was the creation of reserved visas. Since the reserved visas make up a new category of available immigrant visas there is no cut-off date making the wait time for investors much shorter. Reserved visas help investors from countries with visa backlogs to skip the line in front of other applicants and speed up the process to immigrate. Reserved visas are given priority even when a particular country is experiencing retrogression. The RIA provides that USCIS shall prioritize I-526s based on investments in rural areas. As a result, some investors may be able to immigrate to the U.S. much earlier. The benefit of rural TEA’s is that they make up a small percentage of EB-5 projects, which means there is lower likelihood of competition for reserved visas.