Insights from Conversation with Director Mayorkas
January 18, 2012 2 Comments
And now a guest post from Joseph McCarthy, an immigration attorney and EB-5 expert who was one of the select few in-person participants at both “Conversations with the Director” in Washington DC on 1/12/2012 and 9/14/2011. I’m one of the hundreds who struggled to follow by phone what exactly was going on in the lively discussion with USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, so I prevailed on Mr. McCarthy to share his first-hand experience and highlight key topics and notifications from the session. I don’t know how he found time to write this, but thank you Joe for this generous and useful report from the front. We look forward to hearing more from you.
For the second time in sixth months, USCIS Director Ali Mayorkas offered a small-audience EB-5 “conversation” as part of his ongoing outreach efforts to EB-5 stakeholders. Much like the first event last fall, the meeting took place in an intimate conference room located within USCIS headquarters in Washington DC. This time, however, the audience was noticeably smaller and primarily composed of veteran immigration attorneys and senior USCIS staff (accompanied by 350 passive participants who listened-in via teleconference). The events also differed in tone and format. The first event introduced the beginning of a new EB-5 policy memo, but the meeting as a whole might fairly be characterized as a “listening session” in which Director Mayorkas invited audience topics and concerns. This most recent event largely focused on the content of the revised memo wherein USCIS more vocally espoused positions on policy topics.
While one could devote many pages to analyzing the new memo, perhaps the biggest conceptual change added to the most recent draft is related to what many EB-5 practitioners refer to as the “venture capital model.” USCIS inserted several paragraphs discussing how an immigrant investor may diversify their total EB-5 investment across a portfolio of wholly-owned businesses, so long as the minimum required investment and number of jobs occur within a new commercial enterprise. The language chosen by USCIS clearly contemplates a traditional, or non-Regional Center, investment, which quickly led to a discussion as to how the model might apply to Regional Center projects, how job creation could be verified (the ongoing debate between tracing an individual’s investment to job creation versus the creation of jobs by the commercial enterprise (8 CFR §204.6(j))), and the effect of multiple projects with varying TEA status. While discussion was provocative, as one might anticipate, no resolution resulted. Nonetheless, Director Mayorkas acknowledged that USCIS would further drill down into the topic and the Agency on the whole appeared receptive.
In subsequent topics, there appeared to be less agreement between the Agency and stakeholders. In truth, not all debate may have been over closely held policy positions, but rather informed discussion of how certain hypothetical fact patterns play out given proposed ideas. The topics varied and reached beyond the content of the memo, including:
- Timing of job creation with respect to the two-year provisional residency period: What is considered to be a “reasonable” period of time following the two year timeframe if the full number of jobs hasn’t been created? USCIS appeared committed to the idea that idea of a reasonable timeframe only contemplated a “short tail” following the initial two years.
- The extent to which USCIS should scrutinize the legitimacy of petitioner’s funds: Again, USCIS appeared unapologetic about hyper-technical examination of source of funds, perhaps even addressing compliance with foreign laws.
- The source and necessity of the delay in adjudications pending the resolution of unknown policy issues at USCIS headquarters: Frustratingly, USCIS appeared unwilling to identify either the source of the delay, or the expected timeline when adjudications would renew.
At times the debate appeared to get fairly contentious; the Agency seemed highly resistant to particular stakeholder positions or interpretations of law, at times even conveying their own frustrations. Yet overall, Director Mayorkas maintained a professional meeting posture in the spirit of fostering dialogue. An amateur poll of attendees indicated that most participants felt encouraged and appreciative of the increased dialogue with the Agency, but reserved their final impressions until after the January 23rd quarterly stakeholder call.
Two small, yet highly important notifications were made at the meeting. Director Mayorkas stated that three contract economists and/or business analysts (the distinction was blurred, so it was unclear) have already been hired by USCIS, and the Agency is interviewing for three more contract positions and one full time federal economist. The Director implied that the Agency may be vetting for a corporate or securities attorney, which seemed curious, given that this is within the purview and available expertise of other federal agencies. And certainly the question that is on every client’s mind: there currently is no available timeline for the advent of premium processing, but Director Mayorkas renewed his commitment to the idea. Many EB-5 practitioners continue to wonder if premium processing will manifest as originally proposed – strictly for the I-924 Regional Center petitions – or if some other alternative can be explored that will result in getting money to projects faster. My guess is that will be the topic of conversations with Mayorkas to come…