Beginning this summer, foreigners that help finance job-creating U.S. ventures will be able to apply online for visas through the federal government's long-suffering effort to computerize immigration applications.
Citizenship and residency casework largely has been paper-based since the days of Ellis Island. Much of it still is.
But on Thursday evening, federal officials said a form for the EB-5 investor program will mark the second application to be processed through Transformation -- an information technology program facing decades of delays and $2.5 billion in cost overruns. Its public website, called the Electronic Immigration System, or ELIS, launched in September with an application for visa holders who want to extend or change the status of their stays.
The government plans to recompete the Transformation program later this year in an effort to bring down costs and reduce delays.
Unlike legal residency documents granted to preserve families, the EB-5 visa is one of several employment-based perks offered to stimulate the U.S. economy.
Generally, EB-5 investors must create or preserve 10 jobs for U.S. workers within two years after arriving in the country. The minimum dollar contribution is $1 million. If the enterprise is in a rural location or an area with high unemployment, the requirement is $500,000.
President Obama advocated simplifying the enrollment process for job-based green cards in his January immigration reform plan: "By addressing the backlogs in the employment based immigration system and reforming country caps, we can better enable immigrants to contribute to our future growth and competitiveness. Other critical reforms include targeted administrative actions to streamline access to visas for companies and expanding opportunities for entrepreneurs and talented workers."
While the EB-5 visa has increased in popularity since Congress authorized it in the early 1990s, successful applicants are scarce. In 2011, nearly 4,000 forms -- titled I-526s -- came in and about 1,500 were approved, according to a 2012 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ombudsman annual report.
The large percentage of unused EB-5 visas is due to the murky economic climate, competition from other countries with more appealing immigration programs, and clerical headaches for financiers, the ombudsman concluded. In addition, federal officials are slowing reviews to scrutinize recipients of the funds because of past business scams and false job claims, according to a March 18 Wall Street Journal article.
The newspaper reported that, today, several U.S. attractions are seeking EB-5 financing to stay afloat, including a New England ski lodge run by Johannes von Trapp, a descendant of the family depicted in "The Sound of Music.”
Developers of the new Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, were able to secure funding through the EB-5 program, USCIS officials said.