The immigration debate in the United States has obscured a host of neglected legislative issues. The anti-immigrant sentiment in the nation belabors the notion that immigration is an issue that only encompasses illegal border crossings. Rather, legal immigration impacts economic considerations as a net gain, perhaps well beyond the potential economic burdens of illegal migrant issues.

The EB-5 visa investor program, which stands for employment-based fifth preference created by Congress in 1990, is among the more important immigration related issues that has finally been addressed. The revised EB-5 program forwarded by Senator’s Mike Rounds, Lindsey Graham, and John Cornyn, and endorsed by President Trump, extends the EB-5 program until September 30, 2025 and provides long overdue revisions aimed at deterring fraud and optimizing national security.

The program was designed to stimulate the economy through job creation and investment by foreign investors by allowing qualified foreign applicants to engage U.S. commercial interests via regional U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) designated economic growth centers. There are currently 811 such centers representing every state in the Union.

Under the bi-partisan supported revised rules which went into effect November 21, EB-5 visa applicants are required to invest $1,800,000 (up from $1 million) in an approved commercial project, or $900,000 (up from $500,000) if the project is in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA), which are rural areas or an area that has an unemployment rate of 150% of the national unemployment rate. Some 30% of annual visas granted under this program must be to individuals investing in a TEA. The investment must also create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers. In return, the investor is granted legal immigrant status — not citizenship.

From the perspective of the current trends in domestic oil and gas investments, the EB-5 program may hold tremendous potential for shoring up recent capital investment declines in the oil and gas upstream sector.

In The Spotlight

The Western Energy Regional Center in Oklahoma is one such example in providing foreign investors with investment opportunities in the oil and gas sector in Oklahoma by where EB-5 investors lend money to the center to fund oil and gas production.

Access Texas Oil and Gas LLC is a company that, as part of its larger investment portfolio work, provides EB-5 qualified investment options for oil and gas interests. Their Colonial EB-5 Investment Project located in the Austin Chalk Formation is slated to include up to 100 participants for EB-5 investment.

As the new rule is expected to actually increase EB-5 applications, the oil and gas sector is expected to see a significant bump in this type of investment, especially in Upstream concerns.

Certainly, there are arguments against the program as some have complained that it essentially is a legal method of “selling green cards” to wealthy foreigners. Encouragement of investment in the United States has always been incentivized in some way, and should be. The EB-5 program offers a work visa as that incentive rather than tax incentives that cost American tax payers. Additionally, it has been widely held that the program was previously vulnerable to fraud. The revisions are aimed at closing loopholes in retaining the integrity and intentions of the original bill.

Senator Rand Paul is the only notable opponent to the rule but only due to his belief that it does not go far enough to ensure investment goes where it is most needed. Regardless, what is lost in any argument against the program is that it has resulted in over $35.6 billion in foreign investment (over $19 billion in the last 4 years with another $8 billion pending), and has created hundreds of thousands of jobs held by Americans (276,000 from 2010 to 2015 alone). Texas alone saw nearly $1 billion in EB-5 investments from 2014 to 2015.

Finding such investments for upstream activities simply requires a call to the nearest U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) designated economic growth center or by “Googling” “USCIS, Immigrant Investor Program.”


Eric Sharpe
About The Author Eric Sharpe
Eric Sharpe is editor and feature contributor of Energy Ink Magazine, which covers the energy industry in the Rocky Mountain West and Northern Plains. He holds a Master’s degree in Educational Technology from Pepperdine University.

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