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Changes To Investor Visa Program May Affect Houston Development

The EB-5 program provides green cards to wealthy foreign investors.

Immigration attorney Christian Triantaphyllis says foreign investment as part of the EB-5 program has helped Houston development.
Florian Martin/Houston Public Media
Immigration attorney Christian Triantaphyllis says foreign investment as part of the EB-5 program has helped Houston development.


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This week, requirements for a little-known visa program that gives foreign investors a path to a green card are set to change and it could affect some future Houston development.

The EB-5 program provides permanent U.S. residency to foreigners who invest at least $1 million into a commercial project in the United States that creates 10 or more jobs, or $500,000 if the project is in a rural or high-unemployment area.

Starting on Nov. 21, the minimum amount will go up to $1.8 million and $900,000 for rural or high-unemployment areas, called "targeted employment areas."

The changes are meant to adjust for inflation since 1990 and close loopholes.

But Christian Triantaphyllis, immigration attorney and partner at the law firm Jackson Walker, said it could change where foreign investors put their money in Houston.

He said several Houston developments have benefited from this program, including in downtown and the Galleria area.

With the new rules, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will designate what is a "targeted employment area."

"Right now it's easier to qualify for the $500,000 investment amount as a project located in downtown Houston because it's up to the local authorities to designate areas that can qualify for the lower amount,” Triantaphyllis said.

The USCIS says by taking on that responsibility it wants to ensure there will be no more combining of high-unemployment areas with prosperous ones to be able to invest at the lower level.

"So it'll be a shift in terms of where investors are choosing to invest," Triantaphyllis said. "Truly in those areas that are experiencing high unemployment or will they go ahead and invest that $1.8 million because they want to develop a brand new luxury high-rise building?"

Generally, he said, foreign investors are more inclined to choose projects in well-known areas.

The stricter requirements could also lead to fewer wealthy foreign investors settling in the United States. The majority of those taking advantage of the EB-5 program are already here on temporary work visas, Triantaphyllis said.

"And they're cobbling together all their savings just to make the $500,000 investment amount," he said. "And in the future, they won't be able to use the program if it's set up to be $900,000 or $1.8 million."

Triantaphyllis also wonders if potential investors will choose other countries instead of the United States.

"There are programs all around the world that offer similar investment immigration programs," he said. "For years the U.S. has been one of the better bargains in terms of being able to immigrate based off the investment. And I'm curious to see how increasing that investment amount will affect the program overall."

Click on the audio above to listen to the interview with Christian Triantaphyllis.