FAQ for potential regulatory changes and visa bulletin updates

Nothing is changing at the moment. The EB-5 modernization regulation is still pending review at OMB, the Visa Bulletin is still current for India and moving forward for China and India, IPO remains silent, and there are no hints of EB-5 legislation.

But for the sake of being prepared, this post considers “what if” questions related to possible forthcoming changes.

To start with the Visa Bulletin, here are the most recent predictions I’ve heard (from the February 2019 Visa Bulletin and Charles Oppenheim’s presentation at IIUSA in October 2018):

  • China: Final action date was expected to move about one week per month between January and May 2019. When the new fiscal year starts in October 2019, the final action date is expected to be October 22, 2014 (best case) or October 8, 2014 (worst case)
  • Vietnam: Final action date was expected to move about three weeks per month between January and May 2019, and progress at least to September 2016 this fiscal year.
  • India: Will get a final action date when visas available to India for the year have been used up, likely “no later than July 2019.” The final action date will initially be the same as for China, to effectively stop visa issuance to India-born for the fiscal year. When FY2020 starts in October 2019, the final action date for India will move forward enough to release enough Indian applicants to claim the new year’s visas. The final action date will likely be in 2017 at that time.

IIUSA recently announced that Charles Oppenheim of Department of State will speak at the Advocacy Conference on May 6. We look forward to hearing his updated projections.

Regarding regulations, the final rule for the EB-5 Modernization Regulation RIN: 1615-AC07 could be published as early as tomorrow or as late as never, and take effect 30 or so days after publication. We don’t yet know the content of the final rule, but there’s a fair chance that it will be similar to the proposed rule (NPRM) from January 2017 (full text here). If the regulation gets finalized with content that mirrors the NPRM, then here are some issues and considerations to keep in mind.

Investment Amount and TEA Changes:

  • Proposed change: The minimum EB-5 investment will increase significantly for TEA and non-TEA investments (the NPRM proposed $1.8M and $1.35M). The incentive to invest in a TEA will likely be reduced (the NPRM proposed 25% discount instead of 50% discount from the standard investment amount). Many fewer urban areas will qualify as TEAs, due to limits on TEAs that combine census tracts. USCIS, rather than states, will become responsible for TEA designation.
  • Effect: The NPRM says that “unless otherwise specified,” the investment amount and TEA changes will apply to “EB-5 immigrant petitions filed on or after [INSERT EFFECTIVE DATE OF FINAL RULE.]” i.e. changes will apply to all I-526 filed after the rule becomes effective. The NPRM mentions no exceptions, not even for capital raises in progress, or for projects that have filed or approved I-924 exemplars or other approved I-526. On the other hand, the NPRM specifically applies the investment amount and TEA changes to new I-526 filings – i.e., not to people at other stages in the process (not to I-526 pending, I-526 approved and waiting for a visa, conditional permanent residence, or I-829)
  • Practical consequences: Considering the chance that we might need to deal soon with a Final Rule that looks like the NPRM,
    • Prospective investors: If I were planning an EB-5 investment, I’d make every effort to get I-526 filed soon under the current lower investment threshold. In vetting potential projects, I’d consider how much EB-5 money the project still needs to raise (the larger the EB-5 raise, the more exposure to risk from rules changing for future investors).
    • People past I-526 filing: I’d congratulate myself on being already in the system, so the investment amount and TEA changes do not affect my eligibility. If my project still hasn’t completed its EB-5 raise, I’d consider its ability to adapt to the changes for incoming investors. (If the project can still attract the investment, past investors will benefit from changes that mean fewer investors to claim the available job creation.)
    • Project companies and regional centers: If I were promoting an EB-5 investment, I’d try to complete the raise asap, before new rules constrict the market. Meanwhile, I’d strategize about what can work under the new rules. It seems likely that a dramatic investment amount increase, combined with reduced and restricted TEA incentive, will create an environment that privileges high-end projects with attractive ROI.  Some people can afford to write off $500,000, but an investor committing $1-$2 million of equity will likely care about it as an investment, not just an immigration opportunity.  The ideal project will offer security, a solid return, and be located in a distressed or rural area. Since economic reality makes such opportunities very rare, security and profitability will probably carry the day. Sadly, the NPRM proposed to make TEA status both more difficult to obtain and less valuable – not a recipe for competitive advantage for distressed and rural areas. But for what the revised TEA incentive is worth, it’s possible check whether a given project would qualify. The revised TEA designation rules in the NPRM are basically the same as the current rules, except when it comes to making a TEA from census tracts. Look at a mapping tool that shows unemployment rates by census tract (this one for example). A project can qualify under new rules if the census tract where it’s located (combined, if needed, in a weighted average with one or more of the immediately contiguous census tracts) has high unemployment. The difference from current practice is that a special TEA as defined in the NPRM can only include census tracts that touch the tract where the project is located, not larger and more extended groupings.

Priority Date Retention Change:

  • Proposed change: An EB–5 immigrant petitioner may to use the priority date of an approved EB–5 immigrant petition for any subsequently filed EB–5 immigrant petition. This provision would provide some protection from material change, allowing the investor to keep her priority date even if changed circumstances require filing a new I-526 petition.
  • Effect: The NPRM proposed that priority date retention would specifically apply to anyone in the stage between I-526 approval and conditional green card. The NPRM does not offer the protection to people with pending I-526, people whose I-526 was denied or revoked, or people who already have conditional permanent residence.
  • Practical consequences:
    • Prospective investors: This change is promising – an additional future protection that’s particularly important to anyone from oversubscribed countries (China, Vietnam, India) who faces a long wait between I-526 approval and green card.
    • People with pending I-526: The change is no help yet, but a nice promise for the future
    • People with approved I-526 and still waiting for a green card: The priority date retention could be a game-changer. It means that so far as USCIS is concerned, you’re free and welcome to withdraw from one project and invest or reinvest in another. At this stage you’d still have to file a new I-526 for changed circumstances (and deal with the rules that apply to new I-526 filings), but could keep the original I-526 priority date, and original place in the visa wait line. Priority date retention removes some of the sting from material change, and opens the door for investor-lead redeployment.  USCIS can’t force terminated regional centers or under-performing projects give investor money back. But at least the regulation removes barriers on the immigration side to change and voluntary reinvestment.
    • People with conditional permanent residence: The priority date retention does not apply to them, in the NPRM. However, note that EB-5 policy already allows significant leeway for change during the CPR period without need to refile I-526.
    • Project companies and regional centers: For underperforming projects, priority date retention could lead to a rush of investors pushing to withdraw so that they can reinvest somewhere else. For attractive projects, priority date retention could open a new market: people with approved I-526 who need a new investment after the original one didn’t satisfy. Priority date protection could effectively create a secondary market in EB-5 investment, and entirely change the redeployment issue by giving investors power to reinvest their own funds. But there’s an important limiting factor: priority date is all that investors could retain from the original I-526 filing. The NPRM does not offer to let people reinvest under the same rules for minimum investment and TEAs that applied to the original I-526 filing. People who could invest $500,000 in Project A last year may be practically unable to invest $1.35 million in Project B this year, even if USCIS allows and facilitates withdrawing from Project A and reinvesting in Project B. But still, priority date protection could have significant implications for the EB-5 landscape.

I-829 Changes:

  • So far as I can tell, the proposed I-829 changes are an unmixed good. The NPRM would make people more free to grow up, marry, divorce, and die, knowing that family members will still be able to file I-829 to remove conditions. CPR status would be automatically extended between I-829 receipt and adjudication, blunting the pain of long processing times. Interviews would be conducted within reason as to time, place, and content.

And now the waiting game, to see whether EB-5 regulations ever get finalized, and if so which provisions get included in the final rule. Congress, if only you would act instead, and provide the modernization that EB-5 really needs to protect integrity and incentivize economic development!

FY2018 Q4 Petition Processing Data

USCIS is finally starting to update its Immigration & Citizenship Data page with data for petitions processed in FY2018 Q4 (July to September 2018). As usual, I’ve made charts to highlight salient features.

I like to look at annual trends in receipts and adjudications, because this reflects demand and allows understanding and predicting processing times at the Investor Program Office.

The backlog of pending petitions grows and processing times increase when IPO receives more petitions in a year than it can process in a year. That happened for I-526 from 2010 to 2017, when IPO finally started to catch up. In 2018, IPO surged ahead, processing more than twice the number of I-526 received. At this rate, the entire backlog of I-526 pending as of year-end 2018 will be adjudicated in 2019, and new I-526 can expect processing times of less than one year. I-526 processing times were a major factor for people who filed during peak demand in 2015 and 2016, and thus faced years-long processing on average. I-526 processing times will fade as a consideration, as new petitioners can expect months-long waits on average. (My I-526 prediction spreadsheet forecasts future processing times from petition volume.) Meanwhile, I-829 faces continued long processing times because adjudication volume is so small compared to the backlog. So long as IPO can only process less than 3,000 I-829 in one year, it will take 2-3 years just to get through the backlog of 7,660 I-829 pending as of October 2018. But we hope to see I-829 volumes improve considerably in 2019.

IPO’s total output was about the same in FY2018 Q4 as in Q3, just with a few more I-829 processed at the expense of a few fewer I-526. Meanwhile, the number of forms received by IPO remained relatively low in Q4. There was a small I-526 surge in advance of the September 30, 2018 regional center program sunset date, but nothing like in previous years. There continue to be very few new regional center applications and amendments, and high denial rates for previously-filed I-924.

I’m putting out my PayPal link again, particularly as an appeal to industry colleagues who depend on me to research and report news. How much more work would you have to do, if blog.lucidtext.com weren’t here to watch for and process EB-5 updates? If this blog saves you considerable time and effort, consider helping to make it worthwhile for me. (I am also contemplating advertising options, but have not settled on a strategy for appropriate and effective presentation within the constraints of the blog format.)

EB-5 Modernization Regulation Advances

The Office of Management and Budget List of Regulatory Actions Currently Under Review shows that the EB-5 Modernization Regulation advanced on Friday to the OMB Review stage.

OMB Review is the last step in the rulemaking process before publication of a final rule.

How long does OMB review take? It usually takes many months, as evidenced by other DHS regulations currently listed on the OMB site with receipt dates as early as June 2018, and still with “Pending Review status.” Or it occasionally happens in as little as a month, I’ve noted in my time tracking the OMB site.

After OMB review, the Final Rule will be published in the Federal Register. How long after publication will the final rule become effective? Here’s the answer according to The Federal Register’s Guide to the Rulemaking Process: “When an agency publishes a final rule, generally the rule is effective no less than thirty days after the date of publication in the Federal Register. If the agency wants to make the rule effective sooner, it must cite “good cause” (persuasive reasons) as to why this is in the public interest. Significant rules (defined by Executive Order 12866) and major rules (defined by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act) are required to have a 60 day delayed effective date.”

And the most burning question of all — what will be in the Final Rule? We know what was in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for RIN: 1615-AC07, but that was published in January 2017, and DHS has spent almost two years since making some kind of changes.  It’s unfortunately plausible that DHS just spent two years writing out why they’re not accepting any suggestions in public comments, but I’d like to think that they made some significant adjustments in response to public concerns and insights. I hope to see a different minimum investment amount in the final rule, considering that nearly every single commenter informed DHS that the NPRM proposal would be fatal.  But for what it’s worth, here’s a summary of provisions in the NPRM from 2017:

  • Increase the standard minimum EB-5 investment amount to $1,800,000, or $1,350,000 in a TEA.
  • A TEA is based on high unemployment and incentivized with 25% reduction to the investment amount (not other factors or incentives as proposed by Congress).
  • A TEA can only be designated for a high-unemployment MSA, county, city, single census tract, or limited group of census tracts. DHS, not the states, is responsible for TEA designation.
  • Give priority date protection (an investor with an approved I-526 could choose to file a new I-526 while keeping the original priority date, subject to certain restrictions)
  • Spouse and children may be able to file I-829 even if not included on the principal investor’s petition.
  • Other technical changes.

 

Retrogression Math

Retrogression — as people imprecisely call the visa wait times resulting from oversubscription — is my least favorite EB-5 topic. The problem threatens my market, and I’d love for it to go away. There are two ways to make the retrogression problem go away: solve it or ignore it. Solving retrogression requires convincing Congress to give EB-5 more visa numbers, or to change allocation. More visas = smaller backlogs = shorter wait times. Different allocation = spreading out the backlog impact = shorter wait times for some.  But solving retrogression is hard because of Congress, so that leaves ignorance. Ignoring retrogression is easiest if one shrouds it in mystery and doubt.  If EB-5 visa availability and wait times seem impossibly complicated and uncertain, then it’s natural to ignore the issue because what else can one do. But that’s not responsible. In fact, retrogression is in the realm of math, not of myth. China is exceptional (the future demand factor introduces need for a crystal ball, and results in variable/unreliable timing forecasts for China), but future EB-5 visa availability and wait times for other countries are calculable. Investors from countries nowhere near demanding 700 EB-5 visas annually need not fear retrogression. For countries that are over (Vietnam) or near (India) the approx. 700 limit, the risk from retrogression can be calculated from the accruing excess over that limit.

For India, we have ballpark figures for number of visas already spoken for as of the end of 2018, and know something of priority dates within this backlog. The fixed number of annual visas available to India simplifies the calculation for wait times implied in past and potential future demand. The math isn’t fun – especially when calculating the wait time for a particular priority date, because of course people at different places in line face different waiting times, and variables vary over time. But still, workable estimates can be made based on available data, with areas of variation and uncertainty accounted for with math plus judgment. “We just can’t know, no one can really predict” gave an alibi for China wait times and backlog buildup, but that excuse is not available for India.  We can’t know exactly but we can generally predict how long someone investing today from India will need to wait for conditional permanent residence. We can predict the result of looking to India for billions of dollars in EB-5 investment, so long as fewer than 700 EB-5 visas are available per year for India.

I collect all relevant data that comes to my attention in my Backlog Calc file, available to anyone undertaking his or her own analysis.  And do undertake your own analysis, because who is motivated and able to do it well for you? (Even some industry veterans have misconceptions.)

I put several analysis worksheets into my Backlog Calc file as a starting point.  For example, here’s a screenshot of the India Calc tab.

This sheet breaks down the data, assumptions, and equations behind Charles Oppenheim’s estimate for the India backlog and wait time as of Q1 2019, and offers models for calculating scenarios and the impact of future EB-5 capital raises in India. Being in the realm of math, when you doubt a conclusion, you can examine the variables, trace assumptions to underlying data, rethink the equations, and test alternate assumptions. My spreadsheet is your spreadsheet. Download the Excel and play with it on the big screen. Let clients play with it and reach their own conclusions. Just don’t tell prospective EB-5 users “we can’t know, it’s a mystery,” because predictions are possible and necessary.

We must try to be realistic about timing, because EB-5 isn’t only about waiting for a visa. It’s about tying up investor capital, and putting issuers on the line to deploy and redeploy capital for as long as it takes investors to get visas. Projects care whether they have to deal with EB-5 investors for 5 years or 10 or 20. Investors care whether their life savings are deployed at risk with negligible interest for 5 years or 10 or 20.  And lawmakers need to know if our current EB-5 visa limits soil the past, and gut the present and future economic potential of EB-5.

We need “real visa capacity relief,” as IIUSA says in a recent blog post. I’ll be interested to hear more about what specifically IIUSA can and will do toward visa capacity relief, which has historically not been a plank of the advocacy platform. (Not that the industry hasn’t wanted it, but that Congress hasn’t been willing to hear about it.) Certainly, the issue has become central to the long-term health of the EB-5 program.

 

USCIS email: Zhang Class Action

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services <uscis@public.govdelivery.com>
Sent: February 12, 2019 3:55 PM
Subject: Class Action Member Identification Notice

On Nov. 30, 2018, in Zhang v. USCIS, No. 15-cv-995, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia certified a class that includes any individual with a Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, that was or will be denied on the sole basis of investing loan proceeds that were not secured by the individual’s own assets. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia vacated these denials and ordered USCIS to reconsider the petitions.

If you believe you have received an I-526 denial solely on this ground and would like to identify yourself as a potential class member, please email USCIS.ImmigrantInvestorProgram@uscis.dhs.gov, using the subject line “Zhang Class,” and provide the following:

  1. Name
  2. Alien Number (if any)
  3. Date of birth
  4. I-526 receipt number (if available)
  5. Date of I-526 denial
  6. Copy of I-526 denial (if available)

Note: Identification as a potential class member is subject to USCIS verification and does not grant any immediate rights, as immigrant petitions must meet all eligibility requirements and the court’s decision is presently under consideration for appeal.

Background:   Zhang et al. v. USCIS et al. addressed whether loan proceeds invested as cash constituted “cash,” as the plaintiffs claimed, or “indebtedness,” as USCIS claimed. The court ruled in favor of the two EB-5 investor plaintiffs, and also agreed to certify a class that comprises all I-526 petitioners who received or will receive I-526 denial solely on the ground that a loan used to obtain invested cash fails the collateralization test created by IPO in a 2015 IPO Remarks announcement. The court vacates USCIS denial of class members’ petitions, and remands the denials to USCIS for reconsideration. For more analysis, see 5 Things to Know About Ira Kurzban’s New “Use of Loan Proceeds for EB-5” Decision by the D.C. District Court (Wolfsdorf, Barnett)

Updates (reauthorization, visa cap, redeployment, AAO decisions)

Reauthorization

There seems to be optimism that Congress and President Trump will agree before February 15 on a deal to fund the government for 2019. I assume and trust that the deal, when unveiled, will include extension of regional center program authorization at least to September 30, 2019. [Update: H.J.Res 31, which became law on 2/15, has regional center program authorization to 9/30/2019 in Division H, Title 1, Sec. 104 (PDF page 463), and no other changes that affect EB-5.]

Luckily for EB-5, the case against it has been taken up by the pariah Rep. Steve King. Last month he introduced H.R.773 – To terminate the EB-5 program, proposing that EB-5 be erased from the INA, and that DHS cease to accept new petitions and dismiss all pending petitions and applications. The bill has gained 0 cosponsors, reflecting what other lawmakers think of this proposal and/or of supporting anything associated with Steve King.

Visa Availability

The per-country cap for EB visas continues to be an issue in the new Congress, with at least two new bills proposing to eliminate it: H.R. 1044 ‘Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 and S.386 – A bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act. These bills have quite a few cosponsors. This time around, IIUSA has taken a stand on the issue. “While the elimination of per-country caps may make sense for some categories, the elimination of the per-country caps for EB-5 will be to the detriment of the program,” stated IIUSA Executive Director Aaron Grau. [2/18 Update: IIUSA has expanded on its statement.]

IIUSA members, note the in-depth data report linked to the IIUSA post. Or for a briefer and publicly available discussion of implications, see my post from last year. (My analysis from last year did not account for the transition period and protections for past applicants included in H.R.1044.)

EB-5 Activity at USCIS

Here’s what USCIS has done publicly so far for EB-5 in 2019:

  • Not finalized EB-5 regulations (or at least, not yet advanced them to OMB for review)
  • Not approved or terminated any regional centers
  • Not published petition processing data for July-Sept 2018 (I expected this to happen by December 2018)
  • Not held or announced any stakeholder engagements
  • Made a couple tweaks to petition processing time reports, each time adding or subtracting a few days. Currently, petitioners can be considered “outside normal” processing times if they are 796 days from I-526 filing, 1,077 days from I-829 filing, or 715 days from I-924 filing.  Dear me. However, I’m hearing anecdotally of I-526 adjudicated within a year.
  • Published a number of AAO decisions on EB-5 appeals (a few of which I discuss below)

Material Change and Redeployment

I have something to add to the redeployment discussion, as a business plan writer who has spent years grappling with the intersection of EB-5 theory and business practice. But until I have time to actually write the post I have in mind, here FYI are two planks to my thinking on the redeployment issue:

  • Carolyn Lee’s analysis of the EB-5 at-risk requirement and its misapplication in redeployment policy. USCIS, be sure to read this article, which helps explain why applying redeployment policy is so hard for us. When a policy makes sense theoretically, then we don’t have to badger you with questions about how to apply it. Then we can figure it out ourselves with reference to the statue/regs/precedents etc., with the help of our smart lawyers. As it is, we do hassle you with questions because there’s a broken link to the established rules, giving us and you no firm foundation to stand on in applying the policy, and leaving us all vulnerable to capricious case-by-case determinations.
  • A number of redeployment complications and constraints arise from the fact that redeployment policy is a subset of the material change policy. In preparation to discuss that aspect of redeployment, I’ve refreshed my post What is Material Change.  The post discusses the theory and links to most AAO decisions that have addressed material change in specific cases.

USCIS decision-making

AAO decisions on EB-5 appeals shed light on an important question: “If anything goes wrong with an EB-5 investment, is there any way to recover?” What if a principal goes rogue and makes off with some funds, but then there’s new management and funds are recouped and put to work again? What if a regional center was terminated, but currently well-placed to promote economic growth? What if a project did not develop as originally anticipated, but can succeed and create jobs in a new direction? These questions fall in policy grey areas, giving the agency leeway for positive flexibility or reflexive naysaying.  Unfortunately, recent AAO decisions show the later trend, and I hope that there will be pushback.

DEC102018_06B7203 Matter of L-X- is one of two decisions on appeal by investors who put money into an NCE originally managed by Emilio Francisco, who was charged by the SEC in December 2016 with defrauding investors. The NCE and other defendant entities went into receivership, it was determined that a portion of EB-5 investor funds had been diverted, and USCIS denied I-526 petitions for NCE investors. In an attempt to salvage the situation, several EB-5 investors executed an LOI with an institutional investor and amended the NCE’s LP agreement to replace the NCE manager, remove the NCE from receivership, provide necessary funding to the NCE, and complete and operate the project. USCIS/AAO claimed to be “sympathetic to the Petitioner’s situation,” but claimed that the investors still could not satisfy EB-5 requirements. Here’s the USCIS/AAO reasoning:

  • The petitioner could not satisfy the “at-risk” requirement if she replaced diverted capital with additional investment, because that new capital would not be her original capital, and Izummi requires showing that the full amount of “original capital” was made available to the NCE to create jobs. “Petitioner must establish the necessary job creation with capital invested at the time of filing, not based on later infusion of additional funds.” (I don’t quite follow the justification from Izummi, or the “original capital” idea generally. Is the thought that the very dollar bills first passed between the investor and NCE must be the same dollar bills used to pay employee salaries? USCIS sometimes talks about a “path of funds” from investment to job creation – as if cash flowed through a business with each note radio-tagged and leaving a colored path as it goes. In practice, investment goes together into a pool and economic activity and jobs and ROI come out of the pool. A “path of funds” from X original dollar to Y job never exists, and USCIS/AAO should not make demands that presume such a path.)
  • If the investor replaced $182,133.33 of diverted capital with $182,133.33 in additional investment, then the petitioner would be committing impermissible material change because that would effectively increase the minimum investment amount from $500,000 to $682,133.33. (Really, USCIS? How does investing more than the required minimum undermine eligibility?)
  • USCIS couldn’t tell whether the Petitioner had actually invested the additional funds, or only intended to do so. (This is a fair point, but why did USCIS raise this issue if against additional investment in principle?)
  • The Petitioner did not demonstrate that all approvals needed for the proposed NCE restructuring had been obtained, making USCIS doubt whether the restructuring could go forward. (Fair point, if true.)
  • The Petitioner did not file an updated business plan to describe the current status of the project and its current job creation potential. (I wonder if this was fundamentally the most important problem with the Petitioner’s appeal. A business plan is a chance to tell a compelling story about use of investment and job creation, reconcile apparent inconsistencies, argue that changes aren’t material, make an eligibility case, and pre-emptively address questions, doubts, and misconceptions that the reader might have. Don’t miss the prime opportunity to tell your story! As a business plan writer, I’m sensitive to the critical and delicate role of the business plan in presenting changed circumstances to USCIS.)

DEC042018_01K1610 Matter of P-A-K  is AAO’s third decision regarding the designation of  Path America KingCo regional center. This decision was compelled by US District Court, where the regional center filed a complaint after the AAO denied its initial appeal and motions to reopen and reconsider. AAO gives 21 pages this time to reiterate the denial, with arguments that can be summed up in this sentence that the decision quotes from INS v. Abudu: “The INS should have the right to be restrictive.” Path America KingCo presents a compelling case for its current and future potential to promote economic growth, but the AAO finds that this isn’t relevant to its current designation status. AAO rests on this technical claim: that appellate decisions are final, and cannot be reconsidered in light of new evidence, but only reassessed in terms of evidence that existed at the time the decision was made. One might think that Path America KingCo deserves designation if it is continuing to promote economic growth, but AAO says no – the relevant issue is whether it was promoting economic growth at the time it was terminated. A different agency might’ve looked at the fact pattern – a company that has good management (now), good projects, and committed investors dependent on the designation – and found a way to say yes. The so-called “balancing test” discussed in prior terminations claims that “we take into account a variety of factors, both positive and negative, that encompass past, present, and likely future actions.” However, it appears that this test does not apply on appeal, as USCIS does not consider positive present or likely future actions once a termination letter has been issued.

Letter to Senator Collins in the USCIS electronic reading room shows USCIS responding frostily to a plea from Senator Susan Collins regarding a small town in her constituency that planned to use EB-5 investment to rebuild after the catastrophic closing of a paper mill. The scenario sounds like textbook example of what Congress hoped EB-5 could do, but it did not move USCIS, which terminated the regional center purchased for the town before the town had a chance to use it, and just offered Senator Collins the cold comfort of filing an AAO appeal. Is this administering the Immigrant Investor Program in a fair and efficient manner? Fair and efficient, I suppose – the RC was apparently inactive prior to being taken over for Millinocket, Maine. But is the decision in tune with EB-5 program logic and objectives? No.

To be fair, AAO appeals sometimes work. JAN252019_01B7203 is an example of a denial that AAO remanded back to USCIS for more precision in identifying specific problems in credibility and eligibility, and for more rigor in assessing relevant evidence.

And as a reminder that court cases also sometimes work, EB-5 investors have another win on use of loan proceeds for EB-5 investment.

Approaching Feb 15

The regional center program authorization granted in 2018 is now active again, with another continuing resolution that extends previous funding and authorities for a few more weeks — through February 15, 2019. USCIS has updated its Regional Center program page to remove the language about lapse in authorization. My Washington Updates page has the detail on the legislation.

The shutdown from December 22 to January 25 turned out to be much gentler on EB-5 than it could’ve been, thanks to the USCIS decision to continue to accept regional center I-526 and I-485 filings during the lapse in RC program authorization. Adjudications were delayed, but not that much in the scheme of long processing times. So we survived the lapse and are reauthorized again, and the drama is just beginning.

Regional center program authorization got extended by default in the continuing resolution, and has to be included on purpose in a new funding bill for 2019. And immigration issues are at the center of appropriations negotiations. The White House says “Once the government is open and the immediate crisis is addressed, President Trump will hold weekly bipartisan meetings to reform our immigration system.” A group of 17 Congressional representatives has been appointed to work out a compromise on border security funding – a compromise that could implicate wider immigration issues and visa allocation. The White House statement mentioned these priority issues: “interior enforcement, asylum reform, worksite verification, the 11 million people living in the country unlawfully, and moving toward a merit-based immigration system.” If only someone would speak up in this negotiation for the EB-5 regional center program, and the need to put immigrant investment on a stable footing (ideally with more visas for these merit-full immigrants). But I’m not sure who in that group of 17 negotiators is a friend of EB-5. I hope that the group includes someone who knows positive stories to balance member Patrick Leahy, whose wounds from Vermont Regional Center disappointments are still fresh. Leahy used strong language to complain in 2018 that “The recently-passed omnibus spending bill included a clean extension of EB-5, and did not include any reforms to crack down on well-documented fraud, abuse and national security concerns.” The EB-5 regulations that Leahy called for then have still not been finalized (I keep checking the OMB site for evidence that they’re under review, but nothing yet). Will Leahy or others in Congress be motivated by DHS delay to address EB-5 again now? But then the border security negotiation is so large and EB-5 is such a tiny visa category. EB-5’s problems are dwarfed by the size of the program’s positive economic impact, and negligible in the big picture of immigration problems. When Congress can’t manage progress on a single major pressing issue – border security – how likely is it that the minor regional center program will earn a moment’s thought now, beyond the minimum necessary to keep the program going? We shall see.

IIUSA says that it is “active on Capitol Hill and will continue to visit offices and advocate on your behalf. As we learn more leading up to the next sunset date of February 15, we will keep you informed of progress made on a long-term reauthorization of the Program.” We certainly need such advocacy now.

In other news, a thank you to industry colleagues for recognizing me again this year as one of the Top 5 Business Plan Writers in EB-5. Blogging is a sideline but business plans are my profession, and I’m delighted to be honored by peers for excellence in my core work.

FY2018 EB-5 Visas by Country

The US Department of State has published Report of the Visa Office 2018 Table V Part 3, which gives a tally of visas (conditional green cards) issued by country for the Employment Fifth preference (EB-5) in FY2018. The major story in the FY2018 report is the increase in EB-5 visas issued to applicants born outside of mainland China.

 

EB-5 in the early 2000s used relatively few visa numbers overall, and only really took off with the increase of EB-5 interest from/in China after 2008. Then China-born investors drove growth and claimed a majority of visas until the total number of EB-5 visas possible to issue hit its ceiling: the annual quota of about 10,000 visas. Since that ceiling was reached in FY2014, there’s been no room for EB-5 to grow — China and the rest of the world just have to jockey each other for the available annual visas. The decreasing number of EB-5 visas issued to China-born applicants since 2014 does not primarily reflect decreasing demand from China (China still dominates the backlog), but increasing demand from other countries that decrease the number of visas available to China.

FY2018 data shows a marked increase not only in total number of applicants from outside China, but also in the number of countries supplying those applicants, and in the number of countries with a relatively large number of applicants each. EB-5 marketers care about this, because it helps identify the range and depth of market potential outside of China. Past China-born investors care about this, because their future wait times depend on the nature of incoming non-China demand (with best case scenario being demand concentrated in a few countries that will become blocked by the per-country cap, and worst case being large total demand spread out over many countries).

We want to read EB-5 visa reports and draw conclusions about demand for EB-5 investment opportunities. So a few reminders to qualify such conclusions:

  • The Visa Office report indicates the number of green cards issued for conditional permanent residence. To track visa numbers back to investor detail, it’s necessary to factor in the time between investment and visa issuance (about 1 to 5 years in 2018 depending on investor origin and I-526 processing time), and the number of visas per investor (about 3 on average).
  • The Visa Office report only directly reflects demand for countries that take significantly less than 700 visas (ie less than the 7% per-country cap). For countries that exceed the cap, the number of visas issued is not the number they demanded, but the number they could get. In FY2018, Vietnam got 7% of total EB-5 visas pursuant to the per-country cap, regardless of how many Vietnamese were ready to apply, and China got 48% of visas because that’s what was left for the oldest applications after demand from undersubscribed countries was satisfied. On the other hand, India remained under the per-country cap in FY18, so its 585 visas directly reflect the number of FY18 applicants (more than threefold increase from the previous year). But keep in mind, lengthy I-526 processing times mean that the FY18 surge in India visa applications reflects a surge in investments from India that happened 1-2 years ago. For a better sense of recent demand trends, see the log of pending I-526 by country and priority date that USCIS published in October 2018.

I’ve expected to see an increasing number of visas associated with direct EB-5 investments, but that hasn’t been true so far. Regional center investments accounted for 94% of EB-5 visas issued in FY2018, as compared with 93% in FY2017 and 91% in FY2016.

For reference, here is my post on FY2017 EB-5 Visas by Country

I haven’t had time yet to update and recalculate my backlog calculation spreadsheet. But I will add one table here as follow-up to ILW’s article EB-5 Industry Misunderstands Retrogression (12/31/2018). The article estimates that “India generated close to $500 million in EB5 investments in 2018, and it is on track to generate $1 Billion in 2019 and $2 Billion in 2020. Indian EB-5 is a $3 Billion opportunity in the coming two years.” The article goes on to rightly correct misconceptions about how EB-5 visa allocation works, but omits one important calculation: what happens if one puts $3 billion dollars (12,000+ visa applicants) from one country in line to a gate that can only issue about 700 visas annually.

If we want to make Row A in that table a reality, and how wonderful that would be, then we have to deal with the constraints that turn successful markets into backlog tragedies. Let’s put the pressure on Congress for visa relief. Otherwise, ethical promoters will have no option but to reduce the amount of investment they try to raise, or to support proposals dramatically increasing the minimum investment per investor.

2018 in Review

A reader asked me this question a couple weeks ago: Is EB-5 still a choice?  Can it be a good option today for project companies or prospective immigrants? The answer: yes, though it’s complicated. In 2018, we felt the sting of legislative, regulatory, and policy uncertainty, and the pressure of limited visa numbers and associated wait times. Limited visas mean that EB-5 is no longer a good choice for the ones who used it most in recent years: China-born immigrants and mega-projects. EB-5 can still work well today on a small scale – for immigrants from not-backlogged countries (or not in a hurry), and for projects that don’t rely on massive EB-5 raises. Uncertainty remains an issue, as regional center program authorization depends on Washington’s ability to pass funding bills, and basic EB-5 program terms are subject to change from new regulations and policy. This post looks back at major developments reported by this blog over the past year.

Regional Center Program Authorization

EB-5 itself is permanent, but the regional center program was established in 1992 with an initial five-year term, and has required reauthorization since then.  Authorization has typically been attached to appropriations bills — a blessing when the appropriations process goes smoothly, and a curse when it doesn’t. Congress did not intend to harm the RC program in 2018, but drama over government funding meant that the RC program faced five sunsets this year, and temporarily lost authorization twice: with the 3-day government shutdown in January 2018, and with the current shutdown since December 22. The choppy history of RC program authorization is really just the dismal history of appropriations bills and Washington’s struggle to agree on government funding.

The regional center program needs permanent or at least long-term authorization to put it on a stable footing, no longer vulnerable to every unrelated funding dispute over health care or abortion or The Wall or whatever. IIUSA has been advocating this since 2005, but without significant success so far. There was one stab at EB-5 legislation in 2018 – the “EB-5 Reform Act” negotiated behind closed doors by Grassley, Goodlatte, Cornyn, and Flake, and revealed in draft form to the industry in March 2018. I saw the bill as flawed and pandering to New York City interests, but reportedly the NYC interests didn’t like it either and prevented its inclusion in the March appropriations act. The EB-5 Reform Act would’ve given the RC program a welcome five-year authorization, but also made the program broadly unusable. We missed that opportunity and dodged that bullet. Since then, I’ve heard no report that anyone in Congress is working on EB-5 legislation. When the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on EB-5 in June, most senators ignored EB-5 and just talked about the southern border. Senator Grassley, previously a force behind EB-5 legislation, turned his energy to writing letters urging action on regulations. At least until border security and DACA are out of the way, we apparently can’t depend on Congress to go beyond the minimum for EB-5: to keep regional center program authorization in the funding bills. (1/3/2019 Update: IIUSA says in its Year in Review post that “We are working productively with the EB-5 Investment Coalition (EB5IC) to further a true ‘industry bill’ that, when introduced in the 116th Congress, will provide for a full five-year reauthorization of the EB-5 Regional Center Program.”)

Changes to EB-5 Requirements

We spent all of 2018 thinking that DHS was just about to finalize new regulations increasing the EB-5 minimum investment amount and changing TEA rules. The OMB Unified Agenda anticipated a Final Rule by 02/00/2018, and then by 11/00/2018, but neither of those targets were met. USCIS has had since April 2017 to consider public comments on the regulation and come up with a final rule, but the task is complicated. The public generally didn’t like the draft rule, and DHS has had staff turn-over in nearly every position responsible for the EB-5 regulation.

USCIS did make four updates in 2018 to the EB-5 section of the USCIS Policy Manual. The updates (1) reaffirmed that USCIS provides documentation of CPR status to those with pending I-829, (2) rescinded previous guidance on tenant occupancy methodology, (3) updated guidance on regional center geographic area requirements, and (4) clarified policy on debt arrangements.  USCIS did not issue or promise any new guidance on the most pressing policy grey area: redeployment.

EB-5 Visa Usage and Petition Volume

Some of us have been talking about EB-5 visa numbers and trying to crunch numbers for wait time estimates since 2015, but 2018 was the year when everyone joined the conversation. In 2018, Department of State lengthened its estimate for the EB-5 visa wait for China-born investors, gave a cut-off date to Vietnam for the first time, and predicted oversubscription for India. EB-5 visa availability and wait time estimates went from being a fringe topic for killjoys with confusing spreadsheets to being a primary and widely-discussed factor in marketing strategy, investment decisions, and litigation.

The best attempt in 2018 to alleviate the visa number problem came from a lawsuit pointing out Congress’s expressed original intent to grant 10,000 visas to EB-5 investors, and the error of applying that limit to investors plus family members. So far the judge denied a preliminary injunction in the case, but the plaintiffs are continuing to pursue the matter.  Meanwhile, proposed legislation suggested changes to visa number allocations, but not changes that benefited EB-5. Fortunately those proposals did not become law.

Demand for EB-5 continued fairly strong in 2018, with about 4,000 I-526 filed from January to October. Of these, about 1,000 were filed in a surge in September 2018, in advance of possible changes/sunset date, and over 850 were filed by people born in India. Overall, I-526 receipts were well below totals from previous years, and should continue to fall as people adjust to the hard limit imposed by the 10,000 annual EB-5 visa quota for investors plus family members.

Trends at IPO

In 2018, IPO got a new chief and (I think?) several new division chiefs, issued four policy manual updates, held no stakeholder engagements until three appearances in November, significantly improved I-526 processing volume and times, dropped the ball on I-829, further confused processing times reports, issued many RFEs on issues related to the “at risk” requirement, and terminated 138 regional centers (mostly for inactivity or not filing Form I-924A).

EB-5 on the Ground

In 2018 I wrote EB-5 business plans for new projects in hospitality, multi-family, retail, assisted living, manufacturing, distribution, and storage, as well as E-2 work. I enjoyed hearing good news from past clients with approved petitions, and tried to help clients struggling with timing issues, redeployment challenges, policy changes, and political uncertainty. This blog had 49 new posts in 2018, and received 407,967 views from 121,349 visitors. Of these visitors, 56 made a contribution to support the blog. I appreciate the people who work hard to make EB-5 work, and especially the clients who have let me be a part of the process. We shall see what 2019 brings.

Regional Center List Updates

Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 09/11/18 to 12/31/18

  • Ameri-Link Midwest Regional Center (Illinois, Indiana)
  • Ameri-Link Ohio Regional Center, LLC (Ohio)
  • American Equity Fund Texas, LLC (Texas)
  • BC Central Florida Regional Center LLC (Florida)
  • Brilliant EB-5 Regional Center, LLC (Nevada)
  • FCA South Carolina Regional Center, LLC (South Carolina): www.fcaeb5.com
  • Los Angeles International Regional Center, LLC (California)
  • Mayaguez Regional Center, LLC (Puerto Rico)
  • National EB-5 Wealth Center, LLC (Texas): www.eb5wealthcenter.com
  • Southern California EB-5 Fund, LLC (California)
  • York Resources RC Funding, LLC (Connecticut, New Jersey, New York)

Renamed:

  • Smith Western Regional Center (former name Western Pacific Regional Center) (California, Oregon, Washington)
  • Native American Regional Center, LLC FKA Native American EB-5 Corporation (Illinois, Indiana)

Removed from the approved list, but not listed as terminated:

  • US Access Florida Regional Center, LLC (Florida)

New Terminations:

  • Civitas Miami Regional Center, LLC (Florida) Terminated 9/6/2018
  • Live in America – Colorado Regional Center LLC (Colorado) Terminated 9/7/2018
  • Civitas Great Plains Regional Center (Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma) Terminated 9/12/2018
  • Encore Colorado RC, LLC (Colorado) Terminated 9/24/2018
  • Northern Mississippi Regional Center, LLC (Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee) Terminated 9/7/2018
  • Civitas Alabama Regional Center (Alabama) Terminated 9/6/2018
  • Civitas Michigan Regional Center (Michigan) Terminated 9/6/2018
  • USHoldings Regional Center (Georgia, South Carolina) Terminated 9/24/2018
  • Civitas Laredo Regional Center, LLC (Texas) Terminated 9/6/2018
  • Civitas Atlanta Regional Center (Georgia) Terminated 9/6/2018
  • Civitas Rio Grande Regional Center (Texas) Terminated 9/10/2018
  • US Freedom Capital-Texas, LLC (Texas) Terminated 9/18/2018
  • E Development Corporation dba EDC (Island of Guam) Terminated 10/15/2018
  • Civitas Washington D.C. Regional Center (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia) Terminated 9/5/2018
  • Civitas Illinois Regional Center (Illinois) Terminated 9/5/2018
  • Central Arizona Regional Center (Arizona) Terminated 12/19/2018
  • American Dream Fund San Francisco Regional Center, LLC (California) Terminated 10/3/2018
  • Civitas Louisiana Regional Center (Louisiana) Terminated 9/11/2018
  • Golden State Economic Development Fund, LLC (California) Terminated 12/6/2018
  • Carolina EB-5 RTP Regional Center, LLC (North Carolina) Terminated 12/20/2018
  • San Diego Regional Investment Center, LLC (California) Terminated 11/16/2018
  • EB5 Affiliate Network Washington, D.C. Regional Center, LLC (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia) Terminated 9/13/2018
  • Mag Ventures 1, LLC (Ohio) Terminated 9/11/2018

Updates (reauthorization or shutdown, indebtedness, visa numbers, litigation)

–12/22 UPDATE–

The page for the Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program at USCIS.gov has been updated with the following information.

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program expired at the end of the day on Dec. 21, 2018, due to a lapse in congressional authorization to continue the program. All regional center applications and individual petitions are affected. USCIS will not accept new Forms I-924, Application for Regional Center Designation Under the Immigrant Investor Program, as of Dec. 21, 2018. Any pending Forms I-924 as of Dec. 21, 2018, will be put on hold until further notice.

Regional centers should continue to submit Form I-924A, Annual Certification of Regional Center, for fiscal year 2018.

We will continue to receive regional center-affiliated Forms I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, and Forms I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, after the close of business on Dec. 22, 2018. As of Dec. 22, 2018, we will put unadjudicated regional center-affiliated Forms I-526 and I-485 (whether filed before or after the expiration date) on hold for an undetermined length of time.

All Forms I-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status, filed before or after the expiration date, will not be affected by the expiration of the program.

USCIS will provide further guidance to the public if legislation is enacted to reauthorize, extend, or amend the regional center program.

The Department of State website has this notice:

Operations During a Lapse in Appropriations

At this time, scheduled passport and visa services in the United States and at our U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas will continue during the lapse in appropriations as the situation permits.  We will not update this website until full operations resume, with the exception of urgent safety and security information.  The National Visa Center, National Passport Information Center, and Kentucky Consular Center will still accept telephone calls and inquiries from the public.  Please note we will be closed for scheduled federal holidays on December 24 and 25 and will reopen on December 26.

–ORIGINAL POST–

Reauthorization or Shutdown

It remains to be seen whether our elected representatives decide they gain more from running the government past December 21, or from grandstanding over a shutdown. (I add any news as I hear it to the Washington Updates page.)

Just in case there’s no DHS funding bill or continuing resolution by December 21, here are the probable EB-5-related consequences of a shutdown:

  • The regional center program would lapse for the duration of the partial government shutdown, until a bill reauthorizes the RC program. During this lapse period, it’s likely that (1) any incoming regional center-associated I-526 and I-924 will be rejected, (2) no action will be taken on regional-center associated I-526 and I-924 already pending at USCIS, (3) adjudication will probably continue as usual for all I-829 petitions, (4) no regional-center based visas will be issued overseas, and no final action taken on adjustment of status cases involving regional center investment. Action can begin again as usual for all these petitions and visas as soon as a bill passes that renews regional center program authorization.
  • The EB-5 program itself is permanent program with no sunset date — only the regional center portion of EB-5 is subject to reauthorization. Petitions for investors without regional center sponsors (“direct EB-5”) are not affected by a lapse in RC program authorization.
  • USCIS is a fee-for-service agency not dependent on DHS funding, so IPO could remain open for business as usual and keep working on direct EB-5 and I-829 even during a shutdown.  But the Administration could choose to shut down USCIS operations to make a point. So far, there’s just a White House Executive Order that all federal departments and agencies will be closed Monday December 24. This may be an innocent Christmas Eve gift.
  • US Customs and Border Protection is deemed essential to national security and so will probably also keep operating during a shutdown. But travelers with any visa type should note that consular operations may be affected, and interviews may be may not be available.

I get my information from Government Shutdown (January 22, 2018) by Carolyn Lee, and Effects of a Potential Government Shutdown on Immigration Processing and Programs (December 12, 2018) by William Stock

Meanwhile, no evidence yet of action on the EB-5 Modernization regulation.

Source of Funds Victory

A US District Court has ruled in favor of EB-5 investors on a source of funds question.  The specific issue in Zhang et al. v. USCIS et al. was whether loan proceeds invested as cash constituted “cash,” as the plaintiffs claimed, or “indebtedness,” as USCIS claimed. The court ruled in favor of the two EB-5 investor plaintiffs, and also agreed to certify a class that comprises all I-526 petitioners who received or will receive I-526 denial solely on the ground that a loan used to obtain invested cash fails the collateralization test created by IPO in a 2015 IPO Remarks announcement. The court vacates USCIS denial of class members’ petitions, and remands the denials to USCIS for reconsideration. For more analysis, see 5 Things to Know About Ira Kurzban’s New “Use of Loan Proceeds for EB-5” Decision by the D.C. District Court (Wolfsdorf, Barnett)

Visa Numbers Case Setback

In less good news, State Dept. Can Still Count Relatives Toward EB-5 Visa Cap. The following excerpts from the Law360 article tell the story.

A D.C. federal judge refused to forestall the U.S. Department of State’s policy of counting foreign investors’ family members toward the EB-5 visa cap, dealing an early blow to a lawsuit levied by a group of Chinese investors who claim that the policy creates a lengthy visa backlog and conflicts with Congress’ intent.
U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan on Thursday denied the provisional class’ motion for a preliminary injunction against the government’s counting policy for the EB-5 visa program, which provides a path to permanent residency for foreign citizens who invest in U.S. enterprises, reasoning that language in the Immigration and Nationality Act does in fact support that policy.
…Ira J. Kurzban of Kurzban Kurzban Weinger Tetzeli & Pratt PA, who is representing the Chinese investors and the regional center, told Law360 that the plaintiffs will continue to pursue their claims in the district court, and “if necessary,” in the appeals courts.
“We recognize the issues in this case are difficult and the judge resolved them against our clients on a preliminary basis. We know that the court will take a fresh look at the matter when we seek summary judgment,” Kurzban told Law360 in an email. “We believe, that despite the longevity of the current method in counting visas, the process is simply wrong. [State’s] current counting policy is contrary to the law and the legislative history of the EB-5 program.”

Litigation

The busiest people in EB-5 now may be ambulance chasers looking to exploit the disappointment of backlogged EB-5 investors from China. Chinese investors – don’t get burned twice! If you wish now that you’d known more before putting money in a project, take the lesson to know more before putting money into litigation. Examine (1) does my counsel know EB-5 well enough to make accurate claims that could possibly win my case, and (2) what’s the best I could get out of the case, if I win?  The hot button retrogression/redeployment issue has a particularly complex history and factors, so be smart. Otherwise money gets spent on claims like this “Defendants were fully aware when they solicited investments from plaintiffs in 2014 and 2015 that plaintiffs’ capital would need to be reinvested into a different project beyond the term of the partnership’s initial investment.” In fact, a project redeployment requirement was not suggested until August 10, 2015 (in a draft memo never finalized), was not instituted as policy until July 14, 2017, and has not been clarified to this day. Homework needs to be done. This blog, which has a record of EB-5 updates from 2010 to the present, provides one textbook.

SEC Action

The SEC announces Three Developers Settle Charges of Fraudulent EB-5 Offering (December 12, 2018). In this tidy case, the developers allegedly told investors that funds would be used exclusively for one real estate project, and then in fact used some funds for purchases at two other unrelated real estate projects. No personal yachts or condos involved here, but transferring funds from one valid project to another valid project is still wrong if not properly disclosed to investors. The developers agreed to settle the case by paying back all the investors’ money, with a penalty.

Regional Center Compliance

My post from September Preparing to file I-924A Annual Certification has resources for the I-924A, which is due from all regional centers by December 29.

A helpful RCBJ article: Regional Center Compliance Reviews, by Lincoln Stone, Susan Pilcher, Elsie Hui Arias (October 2018)

Approaching Dec 7->Dec 21

— 12/7 UPDATE –

H.J.Res.143 – Making further continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2019, and for other purposes is a continuing resolution that replaces the previous 12/7 deadline for remaining government funding and authorizations with a new deadline: 12/21. IIUSA continues to press for longer-term regional center program authorization.

— ORIGINAL POST 11/26–

Washington has a deadline of December 7, 2018 to fully fund the government for FY2019, and to reauthorize programs (including the EB-5 regional center program) previously authorized by appropriations acts.

Those of us concerned with EB-5 wait with bated breath for language such as this, which may or may not get into legislation passed in the next few weeks:

  1. Section 610(b) of the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1993 (8 U.S.C. 1153 note) shall be applied by substituting ‘[future date]’ for ‘September 30, 2015.’
  2. Such amounts as may be necessary, at a rate for operations as provided in the applicable appropriations Acts for fiscal year 2018 and under the authority and conditions provided for in such Acts, for continuing projects or activities (including the costs of direct loans and loan guarantees) that are not otherwise specifically provided for in this Act, that were conducted in fiscal year 2018, and for which appropriations, funds, or other authority were made available in the following appropriations Acts: … title II of division M of Public Law 115-141
  3. Section 202(a)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1152(a)(2)) is amended – (1) In the paragraph heading, by striking “AND EMPLOYMENT-BASED”; (2) By striking “(3), (4), and (5),” and inserting “(3) and (4),”’ (3) By striking “subsections (a) and (b) of section 203” and inserting “section 203(a)”;

To translate each statement into common English:

  1. The EB-5 regional center program is reauthorized to a future date past the current sunset date
  2. The FY2018 authorization of the EB-5 regional center program is extended into FY2019
  3. The EB-5 category will no longer have a per-country cap on visas (among other changes)

None of these statements are true yet; they may or may not be in forthcoming legislation. In order to reauthorize the regional center program past its current sunset date of December 7, 2018, either Statement #1 will need to appear in a funding bill for FY2019, or Statement #2 will need to appear in another continuing resolution extending part of FY2018 funding into FY2019.  In order to change the per-country visa cap, Congress would have to agree about Statement #3 (which was in the House version but not the Senate version of FY2019 DHS funding bills voted out of committee in June/July, as discussed here). Congress could potentially attach other EB-5 changes to the FY2019 spending bills, but I’ve heard zero chatter about any substantial EB-5 legislation in progress.

So what will happen? I guess that the next few weeks will be full of wall-funding arguments and shutdown threats, followed by another continuing resolution for DHS funding into January/February 2019, and finally a FY2019 appropriations act that will extend regional center program authorization to September 30, 2019, and will not change visa allocation. I guess this outcome because it’s most consistent with the assumption that Congress has no time right now for EB-5 or EB immigration generally, for good or ill. EB-5 is the least pressing of all immigration issues. I guess that few of our representatives can even parse Statement #1 or Statement #2, much less have motivation to block such statements from being included again, as per long-standing practice, in the next round of funding bills. Apparently, few people can interpret Statement #3 either, since even the House Appropriations Committee has it wrong on its website.  Statement #3 appeared in a controversial early version of the DHS funding bill that’s already in conflict with the Senate and won’t be loved overall by the incoming Democrat-controlled House either. I just can’t imagine partisans charged up to deal with border security and asylum and childhood arrivals having any interest in agreeing now, by the way, on a tweak to EB visa allocations.

I expect to hear no news about EB-5 concerns in connection with spending bills, but will update my Washington Updates page on the off chance of any reports, and when I see legislation. Note that the bottom of my Washington Updates page includes “what if” discussions for several scenarios, including what would happen in case of RC program sunset or government shutdown.

Meanwhile, I regularly check the OMB List of Regulatory Actions Currently Under Review, and have yet to see the EB-5 Modernization Regulation RIN 1615-AC07 progress to the OMB review stage. This makes me doubt the OMB Fall 2018 estimate that we’ll see a Final Rule by 11/00/2018.

11/19 Stakeholder Meeting with USCIS (redemption, redeployment)

Anyone not already depressed and frustrated is welcome to my recording of today’s EB-5 stakeholder teleconference with USCIS.

A commenter asked: can you please clarify what was expected outcome of this teleconference and what did not go well. That’s an excellent question, and makes me admit that the teleconference was no worse than could have been expected. This was the first public engagement with IPO in over a year, and absence makes the heart forget how public engagements work. Public engagements are not the right venue for delivering new policy guidance, so we can’t expect interesting answers to important questions. IPO can’t limit who asks questions, so much time gets wasted in obvious responses to ignorant inquiries. The call did provide some nice program updates and input that didn’t interest me because I’m well-informed and already knew and previously reported on them. But I can’t blame IPO for repeating the information for the general public.

Here’s what I learned:

  • A few pieces of information:
    • “The agency has considered public comments on USCIS’s Immigrant Investor Program Modernization Regulations (NPRM) and is working to finalize this NPRM soon.” (I-829 Division Chief Tisa Weatherall in minute 15) In follow-up questions, IPO declined give any time estimate for EB-5 regulations, or comment on whether they expect the OMB Fall Agenda estimate of 11/00/2018 to be met. The regulations are “moving forward through the formal process.”
    • IPO will put additional resources on I-829 in FY2019
    • “In terms of redemption agreements, we also received questions regarding new language in the recently published Policy Manual, specifically regarding redemption provisions with respect to those I-526 petitions or immigrant visa applications that have been denied. To clarify, agreements allowing redemptions of investors’ equity whose I-526 petitions or immigrant visa applications have been denied are not permissible are not impermissible.” quoting Division Chief Chris Mason at minute 20-22 of the recording. This resolves an ambiguity pointed out by Carolyn Lee in her incisive comments on the New USCIS EB-5 Redemption Policy Update.
    • Division Chief Ricky Murry clarified that the Policy Manual updates on geographic area amendments and regional center boundaries were intended to be separate updates, and were not intended to impose new requirements. IPO thinks that the addition of the word “contiguous” to the geographic area section of the Policy Manual simply harmonizes with the I-924 Form and Instructions, which have used the word “contiguous” since 2010. (at minute 21-22)
    • When a project is completed before the investor achieves conditional permanent residence, the NCE may, can, but above all must redeploy the capital. (at minute 43)
    • IPO has not seen any recent increase in active criminal investigations, and has noted decrease in Requests for Information from law enforcement partners. But it encourages the public to report any known or suspected fraud or abuse. IPO Chief Sarah Kendall pointed out this page on Combating Fraud and Abuse and email address for tips.
    • FYI here are links to other resources mentioned on the call:
  • IPO’s division chiefs sound fresh and sweet, and capable of reading aloud from the policy manual, the USCIS website, and past stakeholder meeting notes. Additional powers were not on display, except from our old friend Jan Lyons who dared at one point to interpret policy in direct answer to a simple question (starting at minute 37), only to have his comments shut down and thoroughly retracted (several times later in the call).
  • These appear to be the available answers to policy questions: (1) let us read to you the current public written guidance, with no comment on what we think it means; (2) the current statutory scheme and regulatory framework limit our ability to address, clarify, or fix this policy, sorry; (3) we make decisions from the gut on a case-by-case basis, and therefore cannot generally state how policy could apply to a fact pattern, sorry; or (4) send an email to the public engagement mailbox and we’ll think about it.
  • IPO has not publicly clarified its policy on further deployment because IPO itself is not sure how to interpret the policy at this time. IPO has not agreed or decided such basics as whether further deployment needs to be in the same geographic area as the original deployment (within the original regional center geographic area or not), whether it needs to be in the same form as the initial deployment (e.g. whether preferred equity must be followed by preferred equity, or could be followed by a loan), whether the redeployment must be in the same type of project (e.g. whether initial deployment in hotel must be followed by another hotel investment), whether the redeployment must be new money in a project or could replace existing financing, what about municipal bonds makes them an option, and when, and how the sustainment rules apply in case of bankruptcy after the job creation requirement was met. IPO at least clarified on this call that these answers do not yet exist – that they’re all points that they still “need to look into,” and about which they have yet to agree internally. Here’s how the call ended at the one hour mark.
    • Public: So can I make one further comment? So a lot of these redeployment deals, they’re going on now, right. So we would like USCIS to apply whatever policy it comes up with prospectively and not retrospectively. Because we’re redeploying now, because we have no choice. We don’t want all of our investors to later get denied because we guessed wrong about what we thought you were ultimately going to come out with. To the extent that we’re redeploying before you come out with a policy, we would greatly appreciate if you don’t, you know, later deny all of our investors for not meeting the policy that hadn’t been promulgated yet.
    • USCIS: So, duly noted. No promises, but duly noted.

Applying data to questions (I-526 timing, visa timing)

This post applies data that’s recently become available to practical questions that EB-5 issuers and past/potential investors keep asking. [FYI: many edits made since first posting.]

Question 1: How long does I-526 take?

This question has a nice answer for new petitioners: much less time than before.

As inventory falls and flow rate increases, processing times fall. People who filed I-526 in 2016/2017 entered at the top of a mountain of pending petitions (as illustrated in Figure 1), and have suffered long processing times as a result. But people who file I-526 now in November 2018 are just standing on a molehill by comparison, plus benefiting from improved completion rates. They can expect their petitions to be processed in less than a year, I estimate. (I estimate processing times based on USCIS data for pending and processed petitions. See my I-526 time spreadsheet.)

As I-526 times improve, the many countries in the world with no visa wait (all but China, Vietnam, and (soon) India) will be able to enjoy EB-5 as a fast track once again. And project companies, investors, and program integrity all benefit from prompt attention by USCIS to investor petitions.

Question 2: If I’m a Vietnam-born person with pending I-526 or pending visa application, how long can I expect to wait for EB-5 visa availability?

This question has a better answer than many people fear. Last month when Charles Oppenheim of Department of State predicted a 7.2-year wait for Vietnam-born, he was giving a prediction for one point: people filing I-526 on October 30, 2018. If that point-in-time prediction is correct, then the wait time will be less than that for everyone who filed I-526 before October 30, 2018. The blue columns in Figure 3 mark the data points we have: actual wait times for past applicants (calculated by subtracting Final Action Date from Visa Bulletin Date in past Visa Bulletins), and Oppenheim’s future predictions. Fit a trend line through those points, and you can estimate wait times for other priority dates, between the past actual and future predictions. (The trend won’t turn out neatly linear in real life, but I think this is good for a rough estimate. If you want a better trend line, you can factor in quarterly fluctuations in I-526 filing and approvals, and guidelines for allocating visas by quarter. Or you could push for legislative/administrative fixes that would change the picture entirely.) These charts and source data are in the “Vietnam Calc” tab of my Backlog calculation spreadsheet.

[NOTE: When I first put up this post, I included a Figure 2 for China with linear trend through past visa bulletin waits for 2014 priority dates up through Oppenheim’s 14-year prediction for Chinese filing in October 2018. But the more I thought about it, the more I disliked the China chart — because that 14-year estimate for 10/2018 is questionable, and because complicating factors will likely make the China trend look more like the craggy mountain in Figure 1 than a slope. So I edited out Figure 2.]

Question 3: If I’m an India-born person with pending I-526 or pending visa application, can I expect to get a visa number in FY2019, before visas for India get used up for the year (i.e. before Department of State sets a Final Action Date for India)?

This question is tough, because the answer depends on predicting which petitions get adjudicated in the next few months, and how many. Table 1 and Table 2 below highlight the data points (from among those provided in the 10/30/2018 presentation by Charles Oppenheim) that I consider particularly relevant to the question. (These tables are also in the “India Calc” tab of my Backlog calculation spreadsheet.)

The worst case scenario is that in the next couple quarters, USCIS approves a lot of the I-526 pending for India-born people who filed I-526 in 2013-2017. If that happens (and the newly-approved petitioners quickly become documentarily qualified for a visa), the result could be that no one born in India who filed I-526 more recently will get a visa number in FY2019, no matter how quickly their I-526 was/will be processed or when they filed I-485 or the visa application. This risk exists because visa numbers get issued to qualified applicants in order by priority date, not based on when they filed their visa applications. The risk is accentuated by the fact that Charles Oppenheim at DOS is required by statute to dole out available visas gradually over the course of the fiscal year (no more than about 27% each quarter in the first three quarters), not all at once to as many people as qualify for them. That delay gives time for the pool of documentarily qualified applicants to grow, as USCIS approves more petitions.

The best case scenario is that in the next couple quarters, the pool of India-born people qualified for a visa doesn’t grow much, and additions to the pool mainly consist of people who filed I-526 recently. In that case, everyone already qualified for a visa as of Q1 FY2019 (500+ people) could actually get a visa in FY2019. Plus a few more people (about 60 investors with their families) who will get I-526 approval and become documentarily qualified in FY2019 may also get allocated visas before the approx 700 visas available for FY2019 run out. The best case scenario is possible because expedited projects have been popular with Indians, USCIS can be slow to process older I-526 (and has a lot of older petitions in the backlog from countries besides India), and the process between I-526 approval and becoming documentarily qualified can also be very slow.

The facts in Table 1 and Table 2 suggest to me that an India-born person filing I-526 today is unlikely to get a visa number in FY2019, regardless of how quickly they can get I-526 approval and qualified for a visa. There are just so many older petitions and applications already in the system. I don’t have my life savings and family on the line, however.  If you do have a major life decision depending on EB-5 timing, you should spend more time with the reports and spreadsheets to make your own estimate between the best and worst case possibilities. And talk with the immigration lawyer about limitations and benefits of being at various points in the process (I-526 pending, I-526 approved but not yet documentarily qualified, I-485 pending, documentarily qualified at NVC…) at the time when DOS publishes a Final Action Date for India.

For anyone who doesn’t manage to get a visa number in FY2019, don’t be too discouraged. India will have a trend line, like Vietnam as discussed above. You don’t automatically wait 5.7 years for a visa by virtue of having been born in India. Your wait time will depend on your priority date, with dates before October 2018 promising shorter wait time.

My post EB-5 Visa Waiting Line and Visa Allocation explains in more detail how visa allocation works. FYI, the Telegram group https://t.me/EB5VisaGroup notified me that they assembled their own India prediction spreadsheet. I’m not posting it here because I don’t know how to explain all their calculations and sources, but you can reach out to the group to request their additional analysis.

To the extent that my analysis and reporting benefits your decision-making, please consider my PayPal contribution option (corrected link). My spreadsheets and posts take a lot of time and thought that can only be rewarded if others share their benefit. I hope the work helps my clients who need information, and an industry that needs transparency, but it’s a sacrifice for me personally as a service provider dependent on new EB-5 business.

AILA/IIUSA Forum Updates (Kendall, Oppenheim, visa availability)

Last week I attended the 2018 AILA & IIUSA EB-5 Industry Forum, which featured appearances by new IPO Chief Sarah Kendall and Department of State Visa Control Office Chief Charles Oppenheim.

Ms. Kendall is a career civil servant and spoke accordingly. She gave the impression of being competent, in control, and unlikely to say anything unexpected. I didn’t note anything major in her speech that I hadn’t already heard from the USCIS Policy Manual, OMB Unified Agenda, or previous stakeholder meetings. (UPDATE: Here is a copy of Ms. Kendall’s prepared remarks.) The headlines: no update on regulations beyond what OMB said, and no significant new input on the hot issues of redeployment, bridge financing, material change, or minors as investors. Stakeholder meetings are not the proper venue for policy announcements, so I suppose there’s really not much to do but repeat existing guidance and say “thank you, we’ll consider it,” for everything else. One would expect Ms. Kendall to have a law enforcement orientation, considering her background. And indeed she stated that “focus must be on program integrity,” and listed these objectives for IPO: improve transparency, protect national security, lawful administration of our nation’s laws.  I appreciate that she started with transparency, which is foundational to the other two objectives. And it was gracious of Ms. Kendall (and former Interim Chief Julia Harrison) to attend the AILA/IIUSA event and take time to chat with attendees.

In the past I’ve sometimes felt like a lone crusader with my spreadsheets and numbers reports. I attended the AILA/IIUSA forum in person partly because I suspected that Charles Oppenheim would give information about visa numbers and wait times that my clients need to know, and no one else would process it or publicly report on it. But I was wrong. A wonderful panel on visa numbers not only provided a very extensive data set but analyzed and drew actionable conclusions from it, and then IIUSA made the right choice to promptly publish the full presentation where anyone can access it. And now other people are already reporting on it, without pausing to worry about messaging. Integrity depends on transparency – an important lesson for everyone.

Here is the gold mine: Presentation Materials from Department of State Visa Control Office Chief Charles Oppenheim (UPDTATE: IIUSA has also published commentary on the presentation.)

The slides provide the most comprehensive and current set of visa-availability-related data yet, with helpful interpretation and conclusions. Bottom line: how long should an investor filing I-526 on October 30, 2018 expect to wait for an EB-5 visa number?  Mr. Oppenheim made the following prediction: China, 14 years; Vietnam, 7.2 years; India, 5.7 years; South Korea, 2.2 years; China-Taiwan, 1.7 years; Brazil, 1.5 years. Here’s the famous slide:

These time predictions refer to the time between I-526 filing and visa availability for people filing I-526 on October 30, 2018. People who filed I-526 before October 30, 2018 have fewer people ahead of them in line, and thus can expect correspondingly shorter wait times. People who file later can probably expect longer waits (unless trends or rules change, as they could). The predicted visa wait times for South Korea, Taiwan, and Brazil are now short enough as to be likely imperceptible (i.e. even shorter than I-526 processing time). Mr. Oppenheim foresees that South Korea, Taiwan, and Brazil will remain current (no cut-off date) through 2019 and probably 2020. The predicted wait time for an India-born investor filing today has lengthened since the last prediction from April, but not as much as I’d feared. Mr. Oppenheim now predicts that the Visa Bulletin will have a Final Action Date for India “no later than July 2019.” In other words, the annual EB-5 visa allocation available to India in FY2019 is expected to run out in July. In October 2019, when new FY2020 visas become available, India will have a Final Action Date in 2017, meaning that India-born applicants with priority dates before the 2017 Final Action Date will then be able to apply for visas.  As for China, Mr. Oppenheim predicts that by October 2018, the Final Action Data for China-born applicants will progress to 10/22/2014 (best case) or 10/8/2014 (worst case), and that China will advance (at best) two months in 2019. Mr. Oppenheim expects to be able to move Vietnam’s Final Action Date as far as September 2016 this year, before the FY2019 visas available to Vietnam run out.

For the full background to these predictions, and very helpful commentary on how the visa process and allocation work, potential variability, and what we do and do not know, see the full slide presentation and my voice recording of the panel. (And if you want all the backlog-related data I know, though all you really need is Charlie’s predictions, see my backlog spreadsheet.)

A shout-out to other colleagues reporting on the conference:

Wolfsdorf Rosenthal is holding a free webinar on 11/8 to discuss the DOS data and implications.

See also the conference program/RCBJ Business Journal available online. I particularly recommend these articles:

Regarding legislation and potential developments in Washington, I did not hear anything particularly newsworthy. Industry lobbyists say that they see hope for the future because they are finally united for the first time. This talking point would be more encouraging if we hadn’t heard the same statement last year, before the last attempt at EB-5 legislation that excluded most of the industry until the 11th hour and then met with industry discord. The panel last week did not specify compromises or concessions that have been made since then, and did not reflect specifically on what went wrong. The panel foresaw possibility for renewed legislative efforts in 2019, initiated in the House. EB-5 has best chance of getting attention after border wall funding and DACA are no longer taking all available oxygen, and after more representatives have been educated on EB-5. The panel hinted that we might be looking at more continuing resolutions in December, particularly for DHS funding if Democrats do well in the midterms. The proposal to eliminate per-country caps (in the Yoder amendment to the House version of the DHS funding bill, and H.R.392) got little mention, and no one said they thought it likely to be enacted.

FY2018 Q3 EB-5 Form Processing Statistics

After months of famine we suddenly have a feast of EB-5 numbers: data for FY2018 EB-5 form completions through September 2018 from the USCIS/IIUSA meeting on October 5, data for pending I-526 as of October 2018 from an IPO mailbox response to my blog reader, per-country I-526 data through FY2017 on sale by IIUSA, data relevant to the EB-5 visa waiting line from a wonderful panel with Charles Oppenheim at the AILA/IIUSA conference, and now official figures from USCIS for EB-5 forms received, approved, denied, and pending in the third quarter of FY2018 (April to June 2018). I’ve already reported on the first two data sets, and will cover the Oppenheim presentation in a forthcoming post when I’ve had time to process the information. As time permits, I may also do a post that tries to make sense of how these various data sets intersect, and some apparent contradictions and mysterious gaps. But for now, here are my charts highlighting trends in the official FY2018 Q3 data. The numbers come from the USCIS Immigration and Citizenship Data page, with Form I-526 and I-829 data in the Employment Based subsection, and Form I-924 data in the Forms subsection in the “All Forms Report.”

A few notes:

  • Overall, IPO is receiving fewer forms and processing more forms than before. That should be a good sign for processing times at least, and will result in smaller backlogs. However, performance improvement is currently all focused on I-526. Q3 showed a record-breaking number of I-526 processed (22% improvement over the previous quarter) but drop in number of I-924 and I-829 processed.
  • Q3 I-526 receipts were lower than any quarter I’ve recorded since 2013, likely reflecting concerns about visa wait time.
  • In Q3, I-829 receipts exceeded I-526 receipts for possibly the first time ever.
  • I-829 completion rates look terrible, with an almost-linear 65% drop in completions over the last four quarters. What’s happening, I-829 team? Why are you getting fewer and fewer I-829 adjudicated? IPO should put more resources on I-829 adjudication, considering the receipt trend across all forms.
  • A surprising 51% of Form I-924 adjudicated in Q3 were denied. The denial rate for I-829 was higher than usual, at 13%. The I-526 denial rate remained at 9%.
  • USCIS is not infallible when it comes to inconsistencies, and the Q3 reports contain significant revisions to the Q2 and Q1 numbers previously reported. In the I-829 reports, for example, the May report indicated 1,046 receipts in Q1, the July report indicated 694 receipts in Q1, and now the October report indicates 862 receipts in Q1. You make us doubt that you know what happened in with I-829 in Q1, USCIS! This should make USCIS recognize and sympathize with the difficulty of reporting consistent numbers, even with the best of intentions. FYI, here is my file on the ongoing mystery of the pending petition count.

PM Update (redemption agreements, debt arrangements)

USCIS has updated the USCIS Policy Manual immigrant investor section with a new subsection titled “Redemption Language” that clarifies policy on debt arrangements. This new language follows up on a flurry of denials in 2017/2018 based on  suspected debt arrangements, and subsequent successful litigation. I await analysis from experts, but the new Policy Manual language comes close to granting “okay, we were wrong and you were right.” Regarding redemption provisions only exercisable by the new commercial enterprise, the PM now states that “USCIS generally does not consider these arrangements to be impermissible debt arrangements,” and footnotes the Kurzban’s recent Chang v. USCIS case over call options. However, the PM language also adds several qualifications. We’ll see whether the lawyers now agree that the clarified policy is fully justified under the regulations and Matter of Izummi. (UPDATE: In her analysis of the New USICS EB-5 Redemption Policy Update, Carolyn Lee points out problematic language that could be interpreted to prohibit even denial-based repayments. She also notes that the PM update reinforces the flawed marriage analogy from Matter of Izummi.)

I’ve copied below the policy alert and the new policy language. As usual, I also made a new file for the current 6 USCIS PM G (saved in this folder), and performed document comparison with the previous version (dated August 24, 2018) to confirm that nothing changed besides the one new subsection under 6 USCIS PM G(2)A(2).

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services <uscis@public.govdelivery.com>
Sent: October 30, 2018 11:02 AM
Subject: USCIS Policy Manual Update

USCIS is revising guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to clarify its policy on debt arrangements in Volume 6: Immigrants, Part G, Investors. Please see the Policy Alert for more detailed information:

Visit the Policy Manual for Comment page for more information on stakeholder review and comment.

***

New language added to USCIS Policy Manual Volume 6 Part G Chapter 2 Section A(2)

Redemption Language

The regulatory definition of “invest” excludes capital contributions that are “in exchange for a note, bond, convertible debt, obligation, or any other debt arrangement.” [Footnote: The full definition of invest is provided at 8 CFR 204.6(e).]

An agreement evidencing a preconceived intent to exit the investment as soon as possible after removing conditions on permanent residence may constitute an impermissible debt arrangement. [Footnote: See Matter of Izummi22 I&N Dec. 169, 183-188 (Assoc. Comm. 1998).] Funds contributed in exchange for a debt arrangement do not constitute a qualifying contribution of capital.  [Footnote: EB-5 regulations contain two basic requirements in order to have a legitimate qualifying investment: (1) 8 CFR 204.6(e) defines “invest” to require a qualifying (that is, non-prohibited) contribution of capital; and (2) 8 CFR 204.6(j)(2) requires a qualifying use of such capital (placing such capital at risk for the purpose of generating a return). In order to satisfy the evidentiary requirement set forth at 8 CFR 204.6(j)(2), an investor must first properly contribute capital in accordance with the definition of invest at 8 CFR 204.6(e). If the contribution of capital fails to meet the definition of invest, it is not a qualifying investment, even if it is at risk for the purpose of generating a return.] In general, the petitioner may not enter into the agreement knowing that he or she has a willing buyer at a certain time and for a certain price.  [Footnote: See Matter of Izummi, 22 I&N Dec. 169, 186-187 (Assoc. Comm. 1998).]

Any agreement between the immigrant investor and the new commercial enterprise that provides the investor with a contractual right to repayment is an impermissible debt arrangement. In such a case, the investment funds do not constitute a qualifying contribution of capital.  [Footnote: See Matter of Izummi, 22 I&N Dec. 169, 188 (Assoc. Comm. 1998). Matter of Izummi addressed redemption agreements in general, and not only those where the investor holds the right to repayment. USCIS generally disfavors redemption provisions that indicate a preconceived intent to exit the investment as soon as possible, and notes that one district court has drawn the line at whether the investor holds the right to repayment. See Chang v. USCIS, 289 F.Supp.3d 177 (D.D.C. Feb. 7, 2018).] Mandatory redemptions and options exercisable by the investor are two examples of agreements where the investor has a right to repayment. The impermissibility of such an arrangement cannot be remedied with the addition of other requirements or contingencies, such as conditioning the repurchase of the securities on the availability of funds; the delay of the repurchase until a date in the future (including after the adjudication of the Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status (Form I-829)); or the possibility that the investor might not exercise the right. In other words, repayment does not need to be guaranteed in order to be impermissible. It is the establishment of the investor’s right to demand a repurchase, regardless of the new commercial enterprise’s ability to fulfill the repurchase, that constitutes an impermissible debt arrangement.  [Footnote See Matter of Izummi, 22 I&N Dec. 169 (185-86) (Assoc. Comm. 1998).]

The following table describes certain characteristics that might be present in agreements and explains whether their inclusion creates an impermissible debt arrangement.

Characteristics of Redemption Provisions
Type of Provision Description Impermissible Agreement?
Mandatory redemptions Arrangements that require the new commercial enterprise to redeem all or a portion of the petitioner’s equity at a specified time or upon the occurrence of a specified event (for example, once the conditions are removed on the petitioner’s permanent resident status) and for a specified price (whether fixed or subject to a specified formula). USCIS considers this an impermissible debt arrangement. Such impermissible obligations are not subject to the discretion of the new commercial enterprise (although it may have some discretion regarding the timing and manner in which the redemption is performed).
Options exercisable by the investor Arrangements that grant the petitioner the option to require the new commercial enterprise to redeem all or a portion of his or her equity at a specified time or upon the occurrence of a specified event (for example, once the conditions are removed on the petitioner’s permanent resident status) and for a specified price (whether fixed or subject to a specified formula). USCIS considers this an impermissible debt arrangement.
Option exercisable by the new commercial enterprise A redemption agreement between the immigrant investor and the new commercial enterprise that does not provide the investor with a right to repayment.

One example of such an agreement is a discretionary option held by the new commercial enterprise to repurchase investor shares. These options are typically structured similarly to options exercisable by the investor, except that the option is held and may be exercised by the new commercial enterprise. When executed, these options require an investor to sell all or a portion of his or her ownership interest back to that entity.

USCIS generally does not consider these arrangements to be impermissible debt arrangements. [Footnote: See Matter of Izummi, 22 I&N Dec. 169, 188 (Assoc. Comm. 1998). See Chang v. USCIS, 289 F.Supp.3d 177 (D.D.C. Feb. 7, 2018).]

However, such an option may be impermissible if there is evidence the parties construct it in a manner that effectively converts it to a mandatory redemption or an option exercisable by the investor (considered a debt arrangement). For example, an arrangement would be impermissible if ancillary provisions or agreements obligate the new commercial enterprise to either (a) exercise the option (at a specified time, upon the occurrence of a specified event, or at the request of the investor) or (b) if it chooses not to exercise the option, liquidate the assets and refund the investor a specific amount.

Pending I-526 by country as of 10/2018

There’s an EB-5 Support page on the USCIS website that provides an email address for IPO, and instructions for how and when to communicate through the IPO mailbox. I’ve dismissed this contact option, having only heard and experienced reports that emailing the IPO mailbox yields nothing but a canned response and no action. But what do you know, sometimes it works. On October 25, 2018, IPO responded to an email from one of my readers with this extremely valuable information: “Shortly after replying to your email, Immigrant Investor Program Office management asked the webmaster to post online a table containing I-526 data. Here’s the link: https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Working%20in%20the%20US/i526list.pdf” The link leads to a table that breaks down all I-526 pending at IPO as of October 2018 by investor country of origin and priority date. Thank you IPO management for this transparency! Program integrity depends on informed decisions, which in turn depend on information. We understand that these figures are probably subject to change since they’re so recent, and haven’t gone through the months-long review process that normally precedes public data posting. That’s just fine — our decisions need data timeliness far more than minute precision. And thank you reader for making the request and for bringing the answer to public attention. Otherwise this data treasure might have rested unnoticed on the USCIS website, or been hoarded by a few.

The charts and tables below highlight features of the data that I consider particularly interesting. The pending I-526 numbers by country help explain why Department of State predicts backlogs and visa wait times for certain countries. The pending I-526 numbers by receipt date illustrate how long currently-pending petitions have been waiting for adjudication. And the figure for total pending petitions, combined with data from other sources, suggests that I-526 receipts may have plummeted in FY2018. That’s bad news for the US economy, job creation, and destitute business plan writers like me whose revenue depends on new EB-5 demand. But it’s good news for EB-5 program sustainability. So long as the EB-5 visa cap remains at about ten thousand for investors plus family, the program can unfortunately only sustainably accommodate three to four thousand investor I-526 per year on average.

1

calc

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I’ve added the data from USCIS to the I-526 tab and Country Focus tab of my Backlog spreadsheet.

USCIS meeting with IIUSA (regs, redeployment, processing times), Analysis of Litigation

Report on USCIS Meeting with IIUSA

Thank you USCIS for posting a complete transcript of the USCIS Meeting with IIUSA on October 5, 2018. Such transparency is so helpful. Program integrity suffers from general lack of information, and from the industry’s inclination to promote asymmetry for what little info is given.

At the meeting, USCIS Director Cissna spoke about current developments in EB-5, IIUSA representatives described areas of concern for the industry, and new IPO Chief Sarah Kendall commented on IPO performance.

The entire transcript is worth reading, but here are the most newsworthy elements from my perspective:

  • Regulations: Director Cissna, speaking in October, did not make it sound as of the EB-5 Modernization regulations (regarding investment amounts and TEAs) were on the brink of finalization. He said: “So on the main one, the proposed rule that has yet to go final, it is going to go final. We’re just not ready yet. We’re still working on it. You might have seen, I testified in front of the Senate a few months ago, back in June, and I got screamed at because Senator Grassley was wanting that regulation to be final even quicker. So I told him what I’ll tell you is the answer hasn’t changed. We are going to finalize it; just we’re not done yet. It’s a lot of work to finalize a regulation. But that should come soon.” And then later “Well, I think, I mean, you asked, you know, what are our priorities for the next fiscal year. I think, you know, putting aside the regulations which we already discussed, I think the main one is continuing to ensure the integrity of the program. That’s what it’s about. The reg., it might take a while yet before it gets finally published.” This is a grain of salt to go with the “last chance in November 2018” marketing pushes currently fueled by the OMB Fall 2018 Unified Agenda, which estimated 11/00/2018 for a final rule.
  • Redeployment: IIUSA representatives spoke strongly for the need to clarify policy around redeployment. USCIS sounded receptive but vague — not as if they are currently working on redeployment policy. Kathy Neubel Kovarik, Chief of the USCIS Office of Policy and Strategy, threw out a couple ideas:  that the industry might submit suggestions for how to clarify the policy, and what if USCIS published the details of approved redeployments for industry reference. IIUSA pointed out pros and cons.
  • Processing Times/Petition Backlog: The USCIS website has only published EB-5 petition data through March 2018, and we desperately want to know numbers for filing and adjudication volume for the year. This meeting transcript includes charts with completion information at least. The charts show a heartening increase to processing volume across all EB-5 forms in 2018 vs 2017: +21.9% for I-526, +2.5% for I-829, and +72.5% for I-924. Ms. Kendall acknowledged that I-829 (or as the transcriber tellingly heard it, “oh, no, we’re not,” haha) has “a bit of a bump going on.” She indicated that “in the next year we anticipate putting additional resources to the [I-829] so that we can address the needs of that particular line of adjudication.” She reports that IPO is now fully staffed with 200+ personnel, spread across FD&S, Fraud Detection and National Security, and Adjudications Management, plus “an excellent support team.”

I will report further when IPO Chief Sarah Kendall speaks at the AILA/IIUSA conference in Chicago next week.

Litigation in EB-5

I’m behind in reporting on litigation and enforcement actions in EB-5, but Friedland and Calderon have picked up the slack with a paper analyzing the couple SEC actions and flurry of investor-initiated litigation this year. Here is their helpful introduction to the paper.

In December 2017 when we released the first edition of “Understanding EB-5 Securities: NYU Stern Database of SEC EB-5 Securities Enforcement Actions,” we were skeptical as to whether there would be sufficient developments in this area to justify annual updates. However, any doubts were removed during the first 10 months of 2018.

Below is a link to our latest paper, entitled “EB-5 Securities – New Developments and Updated NYU Stern Database – 2018 Edition,” with the updated database as an appendix.

Topics covered by this paper include:

  • The pending litigation in the CMB Century Park Hotel case, with a detailed analysis of the Investment Company Act of 1940 aspects of the case, as well as discussing the relevance to this case of the recent SEC Order against CMB even though the Order relates to unrelated projects
  • The 2018 SEC enforcement action, the DOJ prosecution and the pending bankruptcy auction of the Palm House Hotel where an affiliate of the Related Companies is apparently the stalking horse bidder
  • The immediate impact of the 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision in SEC v. Kokesh based on recent SEC testimony before Congress
  • The SEC settlement with Ariel Quiros, the mastermind of the Jay Peak fraud; a comparison of the distribution of proceeds with the distribution under the Raymond James Financial settlement; and possible SEC Whistleblower awards
  • The pending litigation against USIF alleging a secret restructure of the EB-5 investors’ capital, in its atypical role as an in-house regional center
  • DOJ criminal prosecutions in 2018, as well as expected future prosecutions
  • Unregistered broker-dealer actions, including the recent enforcement action against an immigration attorney wearing multiple hats, and a 2018 US Supreme Court decision prompting a rehearing of aspects of the Hui Feng decision
  • The pending litigation against People’s United Bank for its role in Jay Peak and its potential impact upon other banks’ willingness to establish and maintain EB-5 subscription escrows
  • Updates to our SEC EB-5 Securities Enforcement Action Database
  • Our dim outlook on the likelihood of enactment of EB-5 integrity reform measures, although a recent announcement by OMB, DHS and USCIS provides a glimmer of hope

Link to new paper: EB-5 Securities – New Developments and Updated NYU Stern Database – 2018 Edition

Link to webpage on NYU Stern CREFR site listing our EB-5 research:
EB-5 Research Papers and Articles by Gary Friedland and Jeanne Calderon

EB-5 Engagement 11/19

From: “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services” <uscis@public.govdelivery.com>
Date: October 19, 2018 at 11:05:39 AM PDT
Subject: USCIS: EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program: Public Engagement, November 19, 2018
Dear Stakeholder,

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) invites you to participate in a public teleconference on Monday, Nov. 19, from 1 to 2 p.m. (Eastern) to discuss the Immigrant Investor Program, also known as the EB-5 program. This engagement is part of our ongoing efforts to enhance dialogue with the public on the EB-5 program.

During the first part of this engagement, we will provide EB-5 program updates. The second part will be a question-and-answer session. We encourage the public to provide questions and comments on the EB-5 program in advance.

To register for this session, please follow the steps below:

  • Visit our registration page to confirm your participation
  • Enter your email address and select “Submit”
  • Select “Subscriber Preferences”
  • Select the “Event Registration” tab
  • Be sure to provide your full name and organization
  • Complete the questions and select “Submit”

Once we process your registration, you will receive a confirmation email with additional details.

We recommend calling in 10 to 15 minutes before the teleconference begins.

Email public.engagement@uscis.dhs.gov by Thursday, Nov. 1, at 5 p.m. (Eastern) and put “EB-5 Engagement” in the subject line if you would like to:

  • Submit questions in advance; or
  • Request a disability accommodation to participate.

Note to Media: This engagement is not for press purposes. Please contact the USCIS Press Office at 202-272-1200 for any media inquiries.

We look forward to engaging with you!

Regulations update (Fall 2018)

The Fall 2018 OMB Unified Agenda has been published with updated timetables for two EB-5 regulations in progress, and notice of a third EB-5 regulation to come.

  • RIN1615-AC07 EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization, with proposed changes to TEAs and the minimum investment amount:
    • Timetable for Final Rule updated to November 2018 (The Spring 2018 agenda had anticipated August 2018)
  • RIN 1615-AC11  Regional Center Program Regulation, with proposed changes to regional center designation requirements and process:
    • Timetable for Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is still March 2019 (same as in the Spring 2018 agenda)
  • RIN 1615-AC26 EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Realignment, which “will solicit public input on proposals that would increase monitoring and oversight, encourage investment in rural areas, redefine components of the job creation requirement, and define conditions for regional center designations and operations”
    • Timetable for Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking announced for September 2019

We’re most concerned about RIN 1615-AC07, since that’s the one at the Final Rule stage. If it does actually become a Final Rule next month, then it could potentially take effect before the end of the year. (I understand that the effective date for a Final Rule is usually at least 30 days after its finalized.) We won’t know the content of the Final Rule until it’s published, but here, as a reminder, is a summary of what the draft rule NPRM proposed:

  • Increase the standard minimum EB-5 investment amount to $1,800,000, or $1,350,000 in a TEA.
  • A TEA is based on high unemployment and incentivized with 25% reduction to the investment amount (not other factors or incentives as proposed by Congress).
  • A TEA can only be designated for a high-unemployment MSA, county, city, single census tract, or limited group of census tracts. DHS, not the states, is responsible for TEA designation.
  • Give priority date protection (an investor with an approved I-526 could choose to file a new I-526 while keeping the original priority date, subject to certain restrictions)
  • Spouse and children may be able to file I-829 even if not included on the principal investor’s petition.
  • Other technical changes.

When DHS opened the draft for comment in 2017, the industry told DHS how disastrous some of the proposals could be as written. We’ll see whether DHS listened and revised the draft. (My May 2017 post New EB-5 Regulations: Comments Discussion reviews the industry response.)

It remains to be seen whether the Fall 2018 Unified Agenda action dates will be more reliable than previous deadlines. I believe that RIN 1615-AC07 is still at at Step 7 in the Rulemaking Process, since I haven’t yet seen it listed by the OMB as a Regulatory Action Currently Under Review for Department of Homeland Security. But we may really see action this time, after DHS missed the previously-predicted deadlines of February 2018 and August 2018. USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna testified at the June 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on EB-5 regarding the regulations that “USCIS is currently reviewing the comments and moving forward in the regulatory process with both of these items as expeditiously as possible.” (UPDATE: Mr. Cissna told IIUSA on October 5, 2018 that “the proposed rule that has yet to go final, it is going to go final. We’re just not ready yet. We’re still working on it” and “The reg., it might take a while yet before it gets finally published.”)

As for the third new regulation, with an Advance Notice foreseen for a year from now, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. The vague and sweeping precis and long lead time makes me suspect that DHS itself does not know yet what will go into this regulation. To the extent that its promised content overlaps with the content of the two regulations already on the table, it seems to question and undermine those regs. (AC07 already proposes to modify TEAs and AC11 is already about conditions for regional center designation. Why would AC26 propose to cover the same areas, unless judging those other regs faulty? We agree that those regs are faulty, at least in draft form, but then why are they still going forward, with vague promise of future correction? Is this about conflict among current/former policy staff at IPO and Office of Policy and Strategy?) AC26 apparently takes for granted that Congress will never act on EB-5, as it covers policy changes previously expected Congress. It also takes for granted that EB-5 will be a robust market to oversee into 2019 and beyond.