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What is the difference between the EB-5 direct investment and regional center program?

By September 28, 2023EB-5 Visa
Choices and options

The EB-5 immigrant investor visa is an ideal option for those interested in pursuing a U.S. green card by making an investment in the United States.

Background on the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa (Green Card)

The EB-5 is an immigrant visa that provides permanent resident status (also known as a “green card”) to those who invest at least $1,050,000 into a business in the United States. If the business is located in a rural or high unemployment area (called a targeted employment area), the investment amount can be reduced to $800,000. The EB-5 applicant must show that their investment led to the creation of at least ten jobs for US workers. For an overview of the EB-5 requirements and application procedure, please see here.

The Two Pathways to an EB-5 Green Card: Direct Investment and Regional Center

There are two pathways available to an EB-5 green card: the direct investment program and the regional center program. While they share some requirements, there are some fundamental differences between them.

The Direct Investment Program Requirements

To pursue an EB-5 green card through the direct investment option, the EB-5 applicant would invest in a business that they either manage on a day-to-day basis, or that they have a role in forming policies for. Their investment must lead to the creation of at least ten jobs for U.S. workers, which the business must directly employ. This means that the employees will typically receive a W-2 form showing their compensation.

An example of a common direct investment EB-5 business is a restaurant. The EB-5 applicant could invest the required amount into the restaurant, which would then employ at least ten people as servers, cooks, dishwashers, and hosts and hostesses (for more information on the EB-5 job creation requirement, see here). The EB-5 applicant would usually have an ownership stake in the restaurant and have an active role in the business, such as by working as its manager.

The Direct Investment Program: Limited to One EB-5 Applicant

Before March 15, 2022, there could be more than one EB-5 investor applying through a single direct investment project. For example, two EB-5 investors could invest the required amount into a single restaurant and grow the restaurant’s staff to twenty employees. However, after March 15, 2022, any project that supports more than one EB-5 investor must be registered as a regional center project. For more information on the number of EB-5 applicants that a single project can support, see our earlier post here.

The Regional Center Program Requirements and Benefits

In contrast to a relatively small business like a restaurant, a regional center project is usually a large-scale, capital intensive project like a hotel or a resort. Regional center projects can require tens of millions of dollars, and can support dozens of EB-5 investors.

Since regional center projects are usually in targeted employment areas, the lower $800,000 investment amount is usually sufficient. The EB-5 investors in a regional center project usually have no active role in the project and are able to have a relatively passive role.

Each EB-5 investor in a regional center project must show that their investment has created at least ten jobs for US workers. But unlike with a direct investment project, the regional center option allows both “indirect” and “induced” jobs to be counted toward the employment requirement. An indirect job is one that was created as a result of the EB-5 business, but that is not directly employed by it (such as construction workers who are contracted to build the hotel, but who are not directly employed by it). Induced jobs are those that are created when direct and indirect employees spend incomes that are generated by the regional center project.

Given the fact that the EB-5 investor can have such a passive role and that most regional center projects are in targeted employment areas, it might not be surprising that the majority of EB-5 applicants pursue the regional center option rather than the direct investment option.

Regional Center Program: Downsides

When compared to the direct investment program, there are a number of downsides that come with the regional center option.

First, Congress must proactively fund and reauthorize the regional center program. If Congress fails to do so, the regional center program shuts down. This happened in 2021 and 2022 – as a result, USCIS abruptly stopped processing regional center applications for almost nine months. Fortunately, Congress reauthorized the regional center program in 2022. When it did so, it ensured that the program would continue to function through September 30, 2027.

The regional center program also imposes significant recordkeeping requirements. The regional center itself must file an application with USCIS that is in addition to the I-526 application that each investor must file. Additionally, the regional center must file an annual statement with USCIS. On top of this, the Department of Homeland Security is required to audit each regional center at least once every five years.


For many EB-5 applicants, the ability to be a passive investor outweighs the burdens that apply to the regional center program. However, for those who wish to have a more active role in growing and developing a business in the United States, the direct investment option remains a great choice for many.

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