Questions for USCIS Engagement

From: suzanne@lucidtext.com
Sent: August 11, 2019 6:03 PM
To: ‘public.engagement@uscis.dhs.gov’
Subject: EB-5 Engagement

The following are my questions for the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program: Listening Session, Monday, September 9, 2019.

  1. Processing Volume Questions
  2. In the October 5, 2018 meeting with IIUSA, IPO Chief Sarah Kendall reported significant productivity improvements, which “represents that it was a good decision for the leadership here to invest additional resources in the program.” The changes to processing volume (completed adjudications) between FY2017 vs FY2018 YTD were +21.9% for I-526, +.2.6% for I-829, and +72.5% for I-924. However, productivity has fallen since then. Comparing FY2018 and FY2019 YTD (Q1 and Q2), the number of EB-5 forms processed decreased by half or more: -47% for I-526, -50% for I-829, and -76% for I-924.

    Does IPO’s dramatic drop in productivity in FY2019 represent loss of resources, or a different approach to adjudications? If loss of resources, what caused this loss, and can it be remedied? (Has the large drop in EB-5 receipts resulted in reduced investment in EB-5 adjudications?) If reduced productivity is due to changes to the adjudications process or standards, what are these changes? (Has there been a change in workflow? In deference policy? In RFE standards?) Does IPO see any prospect of returning to the processing volume achieved in FY2018? If yes, when? If not, why not?

  3. Staffing Questions
  4. In the October 5, 2018 meeting with IIUSA, IPO Chief Sarah Kendall reported that “we are fully staffed now,” with “close to 200-plus personnel at this time” including FDNS, Adjudications Management, and  a support team. What is the current staffing situation – total, and by department? How many personnel are dedicated to each type of adjudications: I-526, I-829, and I-924? Does IPO anticipate any additional hiring this year, or any reallocation of staff?

  5. Adjudication Priority Questions
  6. The “Check Case Processing Times” page on the USCIS website says that “we generally process cases in the order we receive them.” However, the wide spread in the “estimated time range” reported on this page indicates that some cases are being processed two or more years earlier than others. Can IPO comment on reasons for this wide range in processing times? Do any of these factors result in some petitions experiencing longer wait times than others: whether direct EB-5 or regional center investment, the number of EB-5 investors in the project, the investor’s nationality.

  7. Response Time Questions
  8. After a petitioner has filed a response to a RFE or NOID, how long should the petitioner expect to wait for a response from USCIS? What does USCIS consider a “normal” time between RFE response receipt and decision?

    Considering the recent flood of Mandamus complaints, would USCIS like to suggest any additional measures short of Mandamus for petitioners with long-delayed petitions?

  9. Regulations Questions
  10. What is IPO doing to prepare for the November 21, 2019 effective date of the EB-5 Modernization Regulation? Will Form revisions and policy manual revisions be complete by that time? Will IPO issue additional guidance regarding TEA evidence (to address ambiguities in the regulation regarding acceptable data and methodologies), and priority date retention (to address ambiguities in the regulation regarding the conditions under which the qualifying investment in a previously-filed petition can be counted toward the qualifying investment required for a newly-filed I-526).

    Meanwhile, does IPO have any update or timeframe for the Regional Center Program regulation (RIN 1615-AC11) and EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Realignment regulation (RIN 1615-AC26)?

  11. Regional Center Compliance Questions
  12. IPO terminated 83 regional centers in 2017, 133 regional centers in 2018, and only 11 so far in 2019. Does this drop in terminations reflect a change in standards for regional center activity or compliance?

  13. Pending I-526 Data
  14. In October 2018, IPO posted on the USCIS website a list that itemized pending I-526 by country of investor origin and priority date. This data was extremely valuable to program integrity, helping prospective investors to make informed decisions in light of the EB-5 backlog. But this list has since been removed from USCIS.gov. Will IPO publish an updated version of the list?

  15. Public Engagement

What can the industry do to best support IPO at this time? How can we help to reduce processing times? What input would be helpful from us?

We really appreciate this opportunity to engage with USCIS. Thank you!

Suzanne Lazicki
Lucid Professional Writing
(626) 660-4030
http://lucidtext.com/

USCIS EB-5 Engagement 9/9

NOTE: Now updated with registration page link.

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Sent: August 9, 2019 10:58 AM
Subject: USCIS: UPDATED – EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program: Listening Session, Monday, September 9, 2019

Dear Stakeholder,

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) invites you to participate in a public listening session on Monday, September 9, 2019, from 2 to 3 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.

USCIS will provide updates on the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, including the publication of the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization final rule on July 24, 2019. We encourage the public to provide questions and comments about the EB-5 program in advance. There will be an opportunity during the engagement for USCIS to hear feedback from members of the public.

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

  1. Visit our registration page to confirm your participation
  2. Enter your email address and select “Submit”
  3. Select “Subscriber Preferences”
  4. Select the “Event Registration” tab
  5. Be sure to provide your full name and organization
  6. Complete the questions and select “Submit”

Once we process your registration, you will receive a confirmation email with additional details on how to join the event.

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

Email public.engagement@uscis.dhs.gov by Monday, August 19, 2019 at 5 p.m. Eastern and put “EB-5 Engagement” in the subject line if you would like to:

  • Submit questions or comments 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!

Business Plans and RFE Response

Do responses to Requests for Evidence need business plans? What if the RFE for an I-526 petition includes this dread sentence “Upon reviewing the business plan, USCIS finds that the evidence in the record does not establish that the business plan is Matter of Ho compliant.” Should the RFE response submit an updated/revised business plan, or take another strategy?  Which forms of evidence will be most compelling to USCIS and most effective for the petitioner, when addressing USCIS questions and concerns related to the I-526 business plan?

The question is important, because Requests for Evidence have become so common and lengthy as to constitute, effectively, an additional stage in the EB-5 process.  The official EB-5 process includes the I-526 stage, which provides a business plan to reasonably predict prospective job creation, and the I-829 stage, which provides evidence to document actual job creation. The unofficial EB-5 process introduces the I-526 RFE stage, which preemptively asks for verification of actual job creation, masked as request for evidence that business plan predictions are reasonable.

It’s necessary to read the RFE carefully, to identify the concerns behind the requests. A statement in the RFE that “the I-526 business plan is deficient” has four possible meanings, each calling for a distinct response.

  1. “Not Up-to-Date”: The I-526 plan may be fine as a plan, but we (USCIS) are not interested in a plan anymore. Over the 2-4 years of processing delay, the business has had time to develop. Now we don’t care whether the petitioner established eligibility at the time of filing based on having a reasonable plan for the future. Rather, we want the petitioner to demonstrate eligibility as of today based on what’s already happened. Therefore we shall issue an RFE that calls the I-526 plan deficient just because it is a plan. In place of a plan and projections, we want a laundry list of evidence for past activity. For example, to quote recent RFEs: NCE tax filings to date, payroll records to date, bank records to date, and evidence for schedule milestones accomplished. This is justified by the idea that the only way to show that a business plan projection is reasonable is to prove that it already came true.
  2. “Not Complete”: The I-526 plan was deficient at the time of filing. Had we reviewed this plan promptly, while it was still up-to-date, we would still have found that it was not comprehensive and credible. The plan lacks the detail and supporting evidence that would normally be required to assess the credibility of a plan for the future.
  3. “Clarification Needed” The I-526 plan includes a few points that cause confusion — usually internal discrepancies, or discrepancies between the plan and external evidence. The RFE requests clarification on these points.
  4. Underlying Fact Problem” The I-526 plan might be beautiful as a document, but it describes a business that does not fit EB-5 requirements. Problematic elements might include prohibited debt arrangements, the wrong kind of structure, the wrong kind of job creation, unsuitable timing, failure to fit TEA requirements, or unacceptable immaturity or unpredictability.

Depending on the underlying concern, the RFE response may or may not need to include an updated business plan.

  1. Responding to the “Not Up-to-Date” RFE: In this type of RFE, USCIS does not identify problems with the original business plan as such, but requests evidence for implementation of the original plan. The petitioner could respond fully to this RFE by simply providing the specific evidence documents requested, such as tax, payroll, and permit records. This RFE does not ask for a revised business plan, because business plans treat the future and this RFE wants to know about the past. If actual performance closely followed the original business plan, and if the evidence documents speak for themselves, then an updated business plan would be needless and distracting. An updated plan can be helpful if actual performance has departed or will depart from the original plan.  In that case, a business plan is a good venue for putting new evidence in context, telling a coherent story that bridges the gap between the original plan and current conditions, and making a case for fundamental continuity despite non-material changes. Such an updated business plan must be written with great care and sensitivity to EB-5 requirements, to give the petition its best chance to demonstrate ongoing eligibility while avoiding material change problems. My RFE response service covers this type of business plan. (If actual performance has departed significantly from the original plan, then even the most expert business plan update may fail. But a slim chance of success can be maximized with a plan written by someone who is thoughtful, strategic, and intimately familiar with how USCIS has handled material change policy.) Note that one fair response to the “not-up-to-date” RFE would be “this RFE should not exist at all.” Most petitioners will want to comply instead of argue, to minimize risk and because this RFE response helps prepare the way for I-829, at least.  But arguments exist. USCIS is unreasonable to use an RFE to demand evidence that does not implicate eligibility at the time of filing (because such evidence did not exist at the time of filing), that would not have been requested had the petition been adjudicated promptly rather than delayed for many years, that belongs to the I-829 rather than I-526 stage, that appears to be fishing for material changes to provide denial pretext, and that slows adjudications to a crawl for everyone by doubling/tripling I-526 evidence. And it is impossible to write a business plan that will avoid this RFE. The mere passage of time due to USCIS delays creates  the “deficiency” of being not up-to-date, and of being a reasonable plan for the future rather than evidence of past performance.
  2. Responding to the “Not Complete” RFE: This type of RFE points out that the original business plan is deficient as a plan, suffering from content omissions. The RFE response has options: (a) provide the specifically-identified missing content as an amendment to the original plan, or (b) provide an updated business plan that includes the missing content plus takes opportunity to bring the entire original plan up-to-date. For an example, if the RFE just notes the lack of a hiring schedule, then a hiring schedule can be provided in the form of a business plan amendment. If the RFE just complains about lack of credibility due to unsupported market analysis, then a well-documented market analysis can be provided as additional evidence. A completely updated business plan may be called for if the RFE asked more wide-ranging questions, or if the positive factors in a business plan update look likely to outweigh the risk that unsolicited new information could open new questions and be labeled as material change.  Again, drafting such responses requires great care and significant EB-5 expertise. The very fact that USCIS decided to issue an RFE, instead of exercising its right to deny the petition outright for incompleteness, is a good sign for the petitioner. Value the second chance offered by the RFE, and make every effort to take advantage of it.  My RFE response service also covers these types of business plan amendments and updates.  (And note that unlike the “not up-to-date” RFE, the “not complete” RFE can be avoided. My business plan writing service and review service aim for business plans that are sufficiently comprehensive and credible to comply with Matter of Ho from the beginning.)
  3. Responding to the “Clarification Needed” RFE: This type of RFE asks for detail clarifications that often do not need a full business plan to answer. “The square footage is 32,000 on page 5 and 33,000 on page 10 of the original plan – which is correct?” A question like that can be answered in a few sentences and with the approved drawings as evidence. No need to revise the entire plan for the purpose of reconciling a few minor discrepancies and clearing up minor ambiguities. (But note to fellow business plan writers – even a tiny discrepancy can lead to months-long processing delay. Implement methods to avoid such errors in the first place.) “The original plan is for a McDonald’s but Google Maps currently shows a KFC at the project address – explain the discrepancy.” That kind of clarification may occupy a full business plan update.
  4. Responding to theUnderlying Fact ProblemRFE: This type of RFE points out underlying fact problems that would make the petitioner ineligible at the time of filing. For example, suppose the original business plan indicated that the petitioner made a loan to the NCE, while EB-5 eligibility requires equity. Pursuant to material change policy, such an eligibility problem at the time of filing I-526 cannot be fixed post-filing. Unless it’s possible to argue that the apparent problem did not really exist. Maybe the original business plan document was not written with care by Lucid Professional Writing, but by someone in a rush who made template errors and typos. Maybe the NCE’s operating agreement and tax filings clearly demonstrate that the petitioner’s funds were always in fact equity in the NCE from the beginning, and thus any reference to debt in the original business plan reflects a slip-up by the plan writer, not a problem in the reality upon which the petitioner’s eligibility depends. A business plan update or amendment in the RFE response can make such a case. But if a debt arrangement really existed at the time of filing, the most beautiful business plan revision cannot help. Again, it’s important to think strategically and realistically about what kind of RFE response is worthwhile, considering the facts.  (And for those just starting the process, be sure to get your EB-5 business plan written or at least reviewed by a careful expert.  Because once that business plan has been filed with USCIS, it’s difficult to fix document problems and almost impossible to fix reality problems.)

When thinking about RFE response strategy, I keep in mind the words that USCIS uses to conclude every RFE.

USCIS has determined that the record does not establish eligibility for the benefit sought. Accordingly, USCIS has requested evidence to address the issues outlined above. Petition is not precluded, however, from submitting evidence in addition to the evidence requested by USCIS that the petitioner deems relevant to address such issues. Petitioner must prove by a preponderance of the evidence – in other words, that it is more likely than not – that Petitioner is fully qualified for the benefit sought.

If Petitioner submits updated or revised documents, please note that “[a] petitioner must establish eligibility at the time of filing; a petition cannot be approved at a future date after the petitioner becomes eligibility under a new set of facts. See Matter of Katigbak, 14 I&N Dec. 45, 49 (Comm. 1971). Therefore, a petitioner may not make material changes to a petition that has already been filed in an effort to make an apparently deficient petition conform to [USCIS] requirements.” Matter of Izummi, 22 I&N Dec. 169, 175 (Assoc. Comm’r 1998); see also 8 C.F.R 103.2(b)(1).

This conclusion makes several key points:

  • The issue in every RFE is this: to establish by the preponderance of the evidence that the petitioner is eligible for EB-5 benefits. Thus:
    • Any evidence requested by USCIS, or provided by the petitioner in response, should be relevant to that single purpose.
    • The fundamental strategy question is not so much which specific evidence items does the RFE request, but which eligibility factor does USCIS think has not been established. The petitioner should identify that factor, and think about which evidence would best support eligibility in that area. The most compelling evidence may include items not mentioned in the RFE.
    • RFEs usually request sufficient evidence to prove every claim beyond a reasonable doubt, but such a standard is not required for approval. I-526 decisions are to be made based on a preponderance of the evidence standard.
  • The RFE exists to give an opportunity to supplement the record with new information and updated and revised documents. But the opportunity comes with a warning: new facts and corrections will actually make the petition un-approvable, if they appear to make any “material” changes to the original petition. This is the rocket science of RFE response: to prepare additional evidence that supports current eligibility without undermining eligibility at the time of I-526 filing.

For additional reading:

Priority date retention and redeployment, with flow chart

Among other changes, the new final rule for EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization “provides priority date retention to certain EB-5 investors.” This post (1) discusses context for this change, (2) summarizes the content of the change, and (3) provides a flow chart to illustrate the various options for changing course with an EB-5 investment.

Context Summary

Priority date retention is one small fix toward a major problem in EB-5: the mismatch between policy and reality when it comes to EB-5 timing.

The EB-5 at-risk policy and material change policy depend on a relatively short EB-5 process.  An enterprise can be expected to sustain itself and keep EB-5 capital deployed for five years or so, and to closely mirror the original business plan predictions for a year or two.

But reality, for many investors, is a protracted EB-5 process with years upon years in which changes will inevitably occur. Projects will finish, loans will get repaid, plans may evolve, and problems may occur. The at-risk and material change policies are not flexible to accommodate such business developments over time. The longer the immigration process, the more vulnerable investors become to prohibited project-level changes or to difficulty in sustaining the investment at risk – and that despite having created jobs as required. A decade-long wait for a visa becomes particularly problematic when the visa depends on no material changes occurring with the investment over that period.  Thus the need for options for good-faith investors who may find themselves, at some point over the years, needing their funds to be moved from one project to another.

The “redeployment” policies are one attempt to accommodate change over time. The first redeployment policy, now described in Chapter 2(A) and Chapter 4(C) of the EB-5 section in the USCIS Policy Manual, creates some flexibility within the at-risk and material change requirements that apply to investors prior to conditional permanent residence. Moving EB-5 investment from one project to another would often be considered a fatal change at this stage, but Type 1 Redeployment defines a limited option for acceptable redeployment in a new project/use following completed job creation, within the scope of the enterprise’s business.  The second redeployment policy, described in Chapter 5(C), recognizes even more flexibility in the at-risk and change policies that apply to investors once they have received conditional permanent residence. Type 2 Redeployment recognizes options for acceptable redeployment even before completed job creation, and even outside the scope of the enterprise’s ongoing business. While succeeding and getting repaid too early could be a fatal failure to sustain investment, Type 2 Redeployment policy offers a path to keep investment sustained.

The redeployment policies have not been well-loved (1) because everyone is confused by them (with many people not even noticing that there exist two distinct redeployment policies, and with not even USCIS able to explain the parameters), and (2) because the policies are a limited work-around, not a solution to the fundamental problems: excessively long wait times, and flawed underlying material change and at-risk requirements. “Redeployment” was at least intended to help by creating paths to accommodate some change. The flow chart at the base of this post illustrates the project change options introduced by redeployment policies, and the conditions under which they apply as described in the policy manual. Without redeployment policy, more arrows in the flow chart would lead to the “you lose” result box.

Priority date retention now introduces another limited work-around for investors who face losing the chance for a visa due to changes over the course of long waits. It’s especially helpful for one category of people excluded from the redeployment recourse: those whose regional center sponsor is terminated or changed while they are still waiting for a visa.  These people still face I-526 revocation thanks to DHS’s faulty interpretation/application of material change policy. But at least, the new final rule provides them opportunity to salvage the priority date, saving the place in the visa queue in case they’d like to try again with a new I-526.

Content Summary: Priority Date Retention in the Final Rule

(All the answers in this section, except for my aside on data, come from the text of the Final Rule for EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization.)

What is priority date retention?

This provision of the Final Rule allows a petitioner to retain the priority date of an approved I-526 petition to use in connection with any subsequent I-526 petition filed by that petitioner.

Who are the “certain EB-5 investors” eligible to take advantage of priority date retention?

Eligibility for priority date retention applies to the population of people at any given time who meet all these conditions:

  • The person is the petitioner on an I-526 petition that USCIS approved
  • The person has not yet received an EB-5 green card (conditional permanent residence)
  • If USCIS subsequently revoked the I-526 approval, it was for reasons other than (1) fraud or a willful misrepresentation of a material fact by the petitioner; or (2) a determination by USCIS that the petition approval was based on a material error

[Aside: DOS and USCIS statistics do not directly count this population. But to give a ballpark, I estimate that at least over 24,000 investors are currently in this window between I-526 approval and visa, and eligible to take advantage of the provision. Consider that no Chinese who filed I-526 after FY2014 has a visa yet per the visa bulletin, that there were about 35,500 China I-526 filed from FY2015-FY2018, that about 8,000 of those China I-526 were still pending at USCIS as of the end of FY2018, and that the approval rate for China I-526 has been about 90%. (Stats from my collection.) That’s already almost 24,000, and not counting the number of Vietnamese and Indian investors who are or will soon be stuck in that window thanks to retrogression. It’s another question what percent of this eligible population may be incentivized to take advantage of priority date retention. The most likely user: someone whose I-526 approval with an old priority date has been or is likely to be revoked, who comes from an oversubscribed country, and who has sufficient funds and immigrant intent to invest again in a new project at the new investment level.]

Clarifications in the final rule:

  • The final rule becomes effective on November 21, 2019. Beginning on that date, eligible people may file a new I-526 while retaining the priority date from a previously-approved I-526. The rule specifies no restriction on when the previously-approved I-526 need have been filed. “The changes in this rule will apply to any Form I-526 filed on or after the effective date of the rule, including any Form I-526 filed on or after the effective date where the petitioner is seeking to retain the priority date from a Form I-526 petition filed and approved prior to the effective date of this rule.”
  • A priority date can only be transferred between one approved EB-5 petition and a subsequent EB-5 petition filed by that same petitioner. The priority date cannot be transferred between people (including, not to the investor’s spouse/dependents), and cannot be transferred to petitions for other visa categories.
  • Priority date retention does not provide grandfathering under old rules. If someone chooses to file a new I-526 petition after November 21, 2019, he or she may keep the priority date of a previous I-526, but not the rules that applied that that previous I-526. The new I-526 filing will be subject to the increased investment amount and revised TEA provisions. “The regulatory requirements, including the minimum investment amounts and TEA designation process, in place at the time of filing the petition will govern the eligibility requirements for that petition, regardless of the priority date.”
  • The priority date retention option depends on having an I-526 approval, and on not having an EB-5 visa. The commentary on the final rule explains why DHS thinks that filing I-526 is insufficient in itself to establish a priority date, and that people with an EB-5 visa do not need the priority date protection.
  • The priority date retention option is available to victims of fraud by projects or regional centers. In fact, it was designed to help them. A petitioner is only excluded if an I-526 was revoked due to fraud by the petitioner.
  • The final rule does not require NCEs to facilitate investors who wish to make a change. Nor does it change the EB-5 “at risk” requirement. That is to say, the rule does not change the difficulty of salvaging capital from one investment and moving it to another. The rule simply reduces the pain of starting over by allowing petitioners to at least salvage the old priority date if they choose to make a new investment and new I-526 filing
  • DHS does not care how many I-526 you file. No matter how many priority dates you have for EB-5 petitions, you can use the oldest one associated with an approved petition when claiming a visa.
  • The final rule specifies that it does not make any change to application of the Child Status Protection Act. The rule does not explain, if a petitioner had multiple I-526 petitions, which petition’s pendency gets subtracted from the child’s age at the time of visa availability.
  • The final rule does not consider the question of how USCIS would treat a situation where the investor files a new I-526 after 11/21 in the same NCE/same project for which he had an approved I-526 from before 11/21. This situation could arise for someone whose I-526 approval was revoked only for loss of regional center sponsor, though the project was/is viable. So long as the original $500,000 was sustained in the NCE, presumably it would counted toward the investment amount required for the new I-526. But what if some of the initial capital had been lost/misappropriated — does it all still count in the new I-526 filing? Or what if the project had no particular use for the additional investment the investor would be required to make under the new minimum investment amounts — at least no use related to job creation? Maybe people drafting the rule just assumed that new I-526 would be based on fresh investments in new projects. At any rate there’s no guidance for situations in which the investor may be trying to salvage his or her original investment, original project, and original job creation as well as the original priority date.

Flow Chart

Considering that redeployment  (as described in the USCIS Policy Manual) and priority date retention (as described in the final rule) are a maze of if-then statements, I’ve attempted a picture worth a thousand words. The flow chart image highlights several points that are often forgotten in discussions about redeployment: the existence of different redeployment options/requirements at different stages, and the pivotal questions of material change and whether or not the initial deployment already met the job creation requirement. (This chart matches my careful reading of the Policy Manual. But lawyers please email me with references if you see anything that does not match your reading, and I may update the image.)

References:
USCIS Policy Manual https://www.uscis.gov/policy-manual/volume-6-part-g
New Regulation: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2019-07-24/pdf/2019-15000.pdf
Material change references and examples: https://blog.lucidtext.com/2015/11/05/what-is-material-change/

EB-5 Regulation Published

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization Regulation (RIN 1615-AC07) has been published today in the Federal Register as a Final Rule. The final rule is effective in 120 days, on November 21, 2019. For every investor who files I-526 on or after November 21, 2019, the required minimum investment amount will be at least $1.8 million, or $900,000 in a Targeted Employment Area, with TEAs being subject to redefined rules. Those are the headlines. The final rule also retains the limited priority date retention provision, I-829 process tweaks, and minor clarifications as proposed in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in 2017.

For a solid summary of the rule’s content and implications, I recommend Robert Divine’s 5-page article for IIUSA The Rush is On: New EB-5 Rule Nearly Doubles Minimum Investment in 120 Days (July 23, 2019).

For those concerned to understand the rule and its background in detail, I recommend reading all 61 pages of the final rule itself. The actual regulatory amendments can be found on the final three pages. The rest of the document explains the final rule, how it differs from the NPRM and current regulations, DHS thinking behind the rule, and why the agency did or did not agree with industry comments.

My post will not duplicate Divine’s excellent analysis, or obviate the need to read the rule itself to know what it contains. But I’ll consider a few basic questions.

1. Will this rule actually take effect?

The rule will take effect in November, unless there is litigation against USCIS to stop the regulation, or Congress passes a new EB-5 law that would overrule the regulation. Both litigation and legislation have been bruited in the past. 120 days gives the industry a bit of time to pursue such alternatives, given inclination and opportunity. I guess that inclination depends on a calculation by the regional centers with budgets for lawyers and lobbyists. Their new markets will be damaged by the regulations. But does this matter to them, in light of the damage already resulting from oversubscription and wait times? Do they see sufficient long-term potential for new EB-5 demand to keep fighting for marketable investment amounts supported by TEA flexibility? The opportunity for a successful lawsuit does not look wide, considering the care DHS put into this regulation. I doubt imminent legislation, considering the political climate, and I would not want legislation based on the scandalous so-called industry consensus with TEA set-asides. But I do not discount these possibilities in the next few months, so long as the motivation exists to fight for an alternative to the regulations.

2. Should I hurry to file an I-526 petition before November 21, 2019?

I would ask a couple questions first. (A) Is it important to you that the investment amount is $500,000 rather than $900,000 or $1.8 million? and (B) Is it important to you that the investment result in a visa? If the answer to (A) is yes, then file. If the answer to (B) is also yes, then don’t hurry too much. Skipping due diligence, skimping on source of funds analysis, risking incomplete investment, pushing premature projects, neglecting to consider backlogs and timing issues … these timesavers are likely to leave you with a faulty petition that never results in a visa due to I-526 denial, and/or to visa wait problems not to mention investment problems. So waste no time, but don’t be hustled. Heed experienced lawyers like Robert Divine and Dan Lundy, who warn against skeletal filings. As a business plan writer, I aim to work twice as hard over the coming months to accommodate accelerated deadlines without sacrificing quality.

3. Will it be practically possible to raise EB-5 funds after November 21, 2019?

You know best whether your market has any taste for a $900,000 or $1.8 million investment, under current conditions. The IIUSA TEA mapping tool can help give a general idea of whether your project location could qualify at the $900,000 level going forward. (The tool was designed for the NPRM proposal, but the TEA provisions in the final rule are essentially the same as in the NPRM. A precise determination would require examining the underlying data and guessing how USCIS will implement the rule.) The final rule makes very clear that investment amount and TEA changes apply to all I-526 filed from the rule effective date onward, with no exceptions. (e.g. regardless of whether the project is in the middle of a raise, or has I-924 approval under the old rules). I do not think that EB-5 will die entirely, unless changes to visa allocations make the visa wait unacceptably long for all countries. But certainly, demand has not been and will not be remotely close to the numbers in Figure 1 and Table 3 of the final rule. And new EB-5 investors will want to consider the likelihood that the project they’re investing in will be able to successfully complete the capital raise before November 21, or risk a very tough market after November.

4. What did DHS spend two years doing with the EB-5 rule? Did they listen to industry input? Whose input and interests swayed their thinking?

The discussion in the final rule shows that DHS did indeed read the hundreds of public comments submitted on the NPRM in 2017, and engaged seriously with them. I can judge this because I also read all the comments. Most of the final rule consists of methodical response to the specific points made by the public. Sadly DHS dismissed many good ideas just for lack of supporting data and analysis, but at least they recognized the ideas. The content of the final rule shows that DHS was not manipulated by the much-maligned “powerful moneyed interests”. For example, Related NYC Metro Regional Center submitted over a hundred pages of comments personally and through proxies and had two in-person meetings with OMB about the regulations. The final rule acknowledges the arguments but does not soften any of the TEA restrictions or incentives opposed by Related. On the other hand, the final rule makes a major change from the NPRM – changing the TEA investment amount from $1.35 million to $900,000 – based on good input from someone of no importance. I can judge this, because I wrote the four-page comment that’s extensively cited in the final rule’s discussion of investment differential. (If only I’d written as compellingly about TEA designation! I didn’t occur to me DHS might decide to eliminate both itself and states from the designation business, and just leave petitioners and adjudicators with individual unguided judgment regarding which unemployment data and methodology make most sense.)

5. What does the rule mean for people who filed I-526 prior to November 21, 2019, and still making their way through the immigration process?

Changes to the investment amount and TEA rules do not apply to anyone who filed I-526 prior Nov. 21, 2019. Starting on Nov. 21, people between I-526 approval and conditional permanent residence may be able to take advantage of the rule’s new priority date retention provision. (Update: see my post on this topic.) Starting on Nov. 21, the relatively minor I-829 clarifications/changes will affect anyone reaching the I-829 stage. The rule includes no change to redeployment policy, material change policy, or visa availability.

6. Where do I go with my questions?

Your immigration lawyer and regional center should be there for you. Many webinars will be hosted. For example, Wolfsdorf Rosenthal have a webinar on Thursday, Klasko Law has a webinar on Monday, and ILW has a webinar on Tuesday. I will write additional blog posts as time permits.

And finally FYI, a copy of the email sent out by USCIS.

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Sent: July 23, 2019 10:16 AM
Subject: New Rulemaking Brings Significant Changes to EB-5 Program

Minimum Investments, Targeted Employment Area Designations Among Reforms

WASHINGTON—U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will publish a final rule on July 24 that makes a number of significant changes to its EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, marking the first significant revision of the program’s regulations since 1993. The final rule will become effective on Nov. 21, 2019.

New developments under the final rule include:

  • Raising the minimum investment amounts;
  • Revising the standards for certain targeted employment area (TEA) designations;
  • Giving the agency responsibility for directly managing TEA designations;
  • Clarifying USCIS procedures for the removal of conditions on permanent residence; and
  • Allowing EB-5 petitioners to retain their priority date under certain circumstances.

Under the EB-5 program, individuals are eligible to apply for conditional lawful permanent residence in the United States if they make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States and create or, in certain circumstances, preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers.

“Nearly 30 years ago, Congress created the EB-5 program to benefit U.S. workers, boost the economy, and aid distressed communities by providing an incentive for foreign capital investment in the United States,” said USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli. “Since its inception, the EB-5 program has drifted away from Congress’s intent. Our reforms increase the investment level to account for inflation over the past three decades and substantially restrict the possibility of gerrymandering to ensure that the reduced investment amount is reserved for rural and  high-unemployment areas most in need. This final rule strengthens the EB-5 program by returning it to its Congressional intent.”

Major changes to EB-5 in the final rule include:

  • Raising minimum investment amounts: As of the effective date of the final rule, the standard minimum investment level will increase from $1 million to $1.8 million, the first increase since 1990, to account for inflation. The rule also keeps the 50% minimum investment differential between a TEA and a non-TEA, thereby increasing the minimum investment amount in a TEA from $500,000 to $900,000. The final rule also provides that the minimum investment amounts will automatically adjust for inflation every five years.
  • TEA designation reforms: The final rule outlines changes to the EB-5 program to address gerrymandering of high-unemployment areas (which means deliberately manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency). Gerrymandering of such areas was typically accomplished by combining a series of census tracts to link a prosperous project location to a distressed community to obtain the qualifying average unemployment rate. As of the effective date of the final rule, DHS will eliminate a state’s ability to designate certain geographic and political subdivisions as high-unemployment areas; instead, DHS would make such designations directly based on revised requirements in the regulation limiting the composition of census tract-based TEAs. These revisions will help ensure TEA designations are done fairly and consistently, and more closely adhere to congressional intent to direct investment to areas most in need.
  • Clarifying USCIS procedures for removing conditions on permanent residence: The rule revises regulations to make clear that certain derivative family members who are lawful permanent residents must independently file to remove conditions on their permanent residence. The requirement would not apply to those family members who were included in a principal investor’s petition to remove conditions. The rule improves the adjudication process for removing conditions by providing flexibility in interview locations and to adopt the current USCIS process for issuing Green Cards.
  • Allowing EB-5 petitioners to keep their priority date: The final rule also offers greater flexibility to immigrant investors who have a previously approved EB-5 immigrant petition. When they need to file a new EB-5 petition, they generally now will be able to retain the priority date of the previously approved petition, subject to certain exceptions.

Country cap discussion (H.R.1044, S.386, S.2091)

— UPDATES —
7/22: Nothing seems to be happening with the country caps proposals anymore. There’s been no reported action in the Senate on S.386, and Rand Paul has not bothered to announce S.2091 or collect any cosponsors.
7/11: Rand Paul, one of the Senators responsible for blocking S.386 in the Senate, will reportedly introduce a country caps proposal of his own in S.2091 Backlog Elimination, Legal Immigration, and Employment Visa Enhancement Act (BELIEVE Act). As time permits I’ll make a spreadsheet for S.2091, which would be much better for EB-5 since it proposes to significantly increase visa availability in addition to changing the per-country limitation. Probably it is too good to be popular, however. (Update: I made this document to highlight/interpret EB-5-relevant language in S.2091.)
7/10: H.R. 1044 passed the House today. S.386 has also made progress thanks to the addition on 7/10 of an amendment with H-1B provisions designed to broaden its appeal. The Senate’s version of the The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act differs from the House version in omitting EB-5 from the transition period. I added a tab for S.386 to my Backlog Calc Excel file to attempt to model this effect. The calculations suggest that H.R. 1044 and S.386 would have about the same effect on people with 2018 and 2019 priority dates (in either bill, it looks as if 2018 priority dates would start receiving EB-5 visas around 2025, and 2019 priority dates around 2027). S. 386 would be 2-3 years better than HR 1044 for China-born applicants with priority dates up to 2017, and 2-3 years worse than H.R. 1044 for applicants from other countries. In both the House and Senate versions, The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act is good for everyone in EB-5 with an old priority date (China) and bad for everyone who doesn’t want to move back in line behind the China backlog. I regret to say that the most informative article I’ve read so far on the politics around The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act is Brietbart’s Kevin McCarthy, 140 GOP Reps Vote for Democrat Plan to Outsource Jobs (July 10, 2019). The article includes this interesting quote:

The Department of Homeland Security finally announced its opposition to the Senate’s version — S.386 — of the legislation…:

The Department of Homeland Security does not support S. 386. The bill would do nothing to move the current employer-sponsored system toward a more merit-based system. The adverse effect on immigrant visa wait times for nationals of countries currently with lesser demand would be an obstacle to any potential plan to promote or increase immigration from countries who immigrants present reduced risk, such as Visa Waiver Program countries, or any other class of countries which the Administration may desire to provide preferential treatment (e.g., countries with which the U.S. has negotiated favorable trade deals).

The statement was signed by Joseph Joh, Assistant Director and Senior Adviser for the Office of Legislative Affairs at DHS.

And additional analysis from the same source: Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg Try to Sneak ‘Country Cap’ Prize from President Donald Trump (July 18, 2019)

— Original Post from 7/3–

How many EB-5 visas are available today to offer prospective investors?

If visas were simply allocated in order by priority date, then the answer would be 0, until about the year 2027. That’s assuming 74,000+ EB-5 investors plus family already in line divided by 10,000 EB-5 visas available annually equals 7.4 years to clear the backlog and have visas available for new investors. If visas were simply allocated in FIFO order, then all past investors in the queue would be looking at a wait of less than 8 years, with timing graded by priority dates.

As it is, visas are allocated in order by priority date subject to per-country limits. Under current rules, 3,000 to 6,000 visas are practically available to new investors annually in the coming years. (=10,000 annual quota – 1,400 annually promised to past investors from India and Vietnam under the per-country limits – 3,000 to 5,000 to be claimed annually by past investors from miscellaneous countries that are under the limit and gradually emerging from the I-526 process.) Thanks to the Chinese Student Protection Act, past Chinese investors get no by-right allocation, but priority dates give Chinese first priority for whatever is leftover. The current rules of FIFO plus per-country caps mean that visa waits for past investors vary widely from no time at all to over 16 years.

The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act proposes to change the rules, and do away with country limits for employment-based visas and the China visa reduction. Normally I just disregard rumblings from Congress, assuming they’ll come to nothing, but there’s been significant movement on H.R.1044 – Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019. This bill now has 311 co-sponsors — 75% of the House. Zoe Lofgren moved on June 18 to have HR 1044 placed on the Consensus Calendar, which means it could be brought to a vote (Update: now scheduled for consideration the week of July 8) although it hasn’t been reported out of committee. It’s likely that momentum will die in the Senate, whose a mirror bill S.386 has less traction so far. (Update: The Senate bill now has action as well, with an amendment to address H-1B concerns.) Since the proposal seems so popular, I discuss the EB-5 implications.

I suspect that the bill is mainly popular for its nice title – fairness for high-skilled immigrants – and that few people have undertaken the extraordinarily difficult task of reading it and thinking through the practical effects.

Here’s my attempt to interpret the H.R. 1044 text (which differs from the Yoder Amendment text we discussed last year, mainly by adding a three-year transition period). The new HR1044 tab in my Backlog Calc Excel shows my best attempt at a quantitative analysis of the EB-5 implications. Based on this work, I draw these conclusions about what H.R. 1044 would mean to a variety of EB-5 stakeholders:

  • Past EB-5 investors from China: Under HR 1044, would receive visas at least 3-5 years earlier than under current rules
  • Past EB-5 investors from India: Under HR 1044, priority dates in 2017 and earlier would not be much affected, but investors with 2018/2019 priority dates would receive visas 3-4 years later than under current rules.
  • Past EB-5 investors from Vietnam: Under HR 1044, priority dates in 2016 would not be much affected, but investors with 2018/2019 priority dates would receive visas 2-3 years later than under current rules.
  • Past EB-5 investors other countries: Under HR 1044, priority dates after 2017 would receive visas 3-5 years later than under current rules.
  • Future EB-5 investors from any country: Under HR 1044, EB-5 investors from any country who file shortly after the date of enactment would wait 7-8 years for visa.
  • EB-5 industry: Would likely go into hibernation, except for services to past investors, for 7-8 years (or not, if prospective investors are willing to face the wait times)

The bill attempts a “no harm” provision, providing that those with a petition approved before the new rules take effect would be given a visa no later than they would’ve received it under the old rules. That’s cold comfort for EB-5, however, because about half of the backlog of past investors is still stuck at USCIS, waiting for petitions to be adjudicated. (Also, I don’t know how Department of State would implement the provision – “would have beens” being impossible to calculate with precision in the EB-5 visa context.) As a reminder, here’s the last EB-5 visa backlog snapshot provided by Department of State, estimating where people were in line as of April 1, 2019. At least the 73,157 people represented on this chart would be affected one way or other by HR 1044, if it became law.

Here are EB-5 groups attempting to influence Congress one way or another on The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act:

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EB-5 reg nears publication

7/23 Update: The final rule is available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/07/24/2019-15000/eb-5-immigrant-investor-program-modernization.

— Original Post —

On June 27, 2019, the regulation for EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization (RIN: 1615-AC07) completed OMB review (Step 8 in the rulemaking process). This advances the rule toward the final rule-making step: publication in the Federal Register.

USCIS will make an announcement when the Final Rule is published in the Federal Register. You can sign up on the USCIS Federal Register Announcements page to get notified by email. The announcement could come any time now. The announcement will link to final rule text in the Federal Register. (Filter for “Final” rules on the Announcements page to see examples of past rules.) Until publication, the content of the final rule is unknown. The provisions will bear on EB-5 investment amounts and targeted employment area matters, but we do not know the specifics. (We know the content of the proposed rule from January 2017, but not what changes USCIS and OMB have made to the rule since then.)

The final rule will stipulate an effective date. The effective date will likely be 30 days after publication, since the rule has not been classed as “major” or “significant.” It might be later. (According to “When do final rules go into effect?” on page 8 in The Rulemaking Process.)

Rules created by administrative agencies should only possess a prospective effect, according to the Federal Administrative Procedure Act. (See Prospective and Retroactive Effect of Rules.) The Proposed Rule version of the EB-5 regulation explicitly applied investment amount changes to future I-526 filings only: “Unless otherwise specified, for EB-5 immigrant petitions filed on or after [INSERT EFFECTIVE DATE OF FINAL RULE], the amount of capital necessary to make a qualifying investment in the United States is….”

During the period between Federal Register publication and effective date, the rule is sent to Congress and the Government Accountability Office for review. Congress has almost never disapproved a rule at this point, however. (See “How is the Congress in involved in reviewing final rules?” on p. 10 in The Rulemaking Process). The regulation can also be subject to court review, if someone sues in federal court to block the regulations, based on a claim of adverse effects from the regs. (See “When do the courts get involved in rulemaking?” in The Rulemaking Process and an example of this happening.)

For now, I am not placing bets on the content or timing of the EB-5 regulation. I will wait and see, and update my Washington Updates page with any news.

In the meantime, issuers will want to hustle to complete raises under the existing rules. Prospective investors will want to balance their interests, weighing the advantage of current investment opportunities and the risks in being part of a filing surge. ILW foresees a potential 2,000 EB-5 investments from Indians in the next month or so. If realized, that surge would add about six years to an India backlog already well over eight years long. Some investors have high tolerance for long waits, but must be informed about timing issues and the associated immigration risks and investment risks.  The future direction of the EB-5 program will depend on the changes included in the final rule – but we’ll have to wait and see what those may be.

FY2019 Q2 EB-5 Petition Processing Report

USCIS has updated the Immigration & Citizenship Data page with data for petitions processed in FY2019 Q2 (January to March 2019).

The results are shocking. Instead of recovering from the already-dramatic 37% decrease in processing volume last quarter, IPO processing volume fell another 60% in Q2. To look at raw numbers, IPO was processing over 4,000 I-526 per quarter this time last year, but processed less than a 1,000 I-526 in FY2019 Q2. Four times fewer! USCIS apparently does not deign to hold EB-5 stakeholder meetings anymore, so we do not know what is happening behind the scenes. But a huge reduction in output has a limited number of possible explanations: drastic reduction in staff at IPO, drastic increase in time spent per petition, and/or decision to limit output. Has IPO lost resources in recent months? Is there just a pause on adjudications, for some reason? Perhaps IPO is focused, as it should be, on the oldest case in the backlog, and taking an unconscionable time over those cases?

We care about output, because processing volume determines processing times. If IPO is processing four times fewer petitions per quarter than last year, then obviously the backlog will reduce more slowly than we’d thought in 2018, and processing times will increase accordingly. The following scary chart allows visualizing how many quarters would be required to process the backlog, if FY2019 Q2 volumes were to continue going forward.

Nevermind the 25-40-month range for I-829 in the current USCIS processing times report; the average I-829 filed on top of the backlog in January 2019 would take 93 months to process if FY19 Q2 volumes continue. But surely this exponential output reduction must be an unnatural aberration and cannot continue indefinitely! In all its history, IPO has never shown such meager performance across the board as in the last two quarters. Meanwhile, note that receipts remain low.


See my EB-5 Timing page for links to past reports, and the EB-5 Timing Estimates page for customized timing analysis. Considering recent fluctuations, I’ve updated my estimate templates to facilitate modeling alternate scenarios.

Understanding the Visa Bulletin

The forthcoming Visa Bulletin for July 2019 includes an EB-5 final action data for India for the first time, and no change from June to the EB-5 final action dates for China and Vietnam.

Chart A. Final Action Dates for Employment-Based Preference Cases [excerpt from July 2019 visa bulletin]

Employment-
based
All Chargeability
Areas Except
Those Listed
CHINA-
mainland
born
INDIA VIETNAM
5th Non-Regional Center
(C5 and T5)
C 01OCT14 01MAY17 01OCT16
5th Regional Center
(I5 and R5)
C 01OCT14 01MAY17 01OCT16

Chart B. Dates for Filing of Employment-Based Visa Applications [excerpt from July 2019 visa bulletin]

Employment-
based
All Chargeability
Areas Except
Those Listed
CHINA-
mainland
born
INDIA
5th Non-Regional Center
(C5 and T5)
C 01NOV14 C
5th Regional Center
(I5 and R5)
C 01NOV14 C

For people who want to understand these charts, I suggest: ignore us bloggers and read the visa bulletin itself from top to bottom. Department of State takes care to explain clearly what the dates and charts mean, and what to expect going forward. The internet, on the other hand, is currently awash in confusing and faulty information.

So read the bulletin, and try this quiz. Are the following statements true or false?

  1. The EB-5 category is current, and expected to remain current, for everyone except applicants born in China, Vietnam, and India. Current means that EB-5 visa numbers can be issued to all applicants as soon as they are qualified, with no wait for visa availability.
  2. During July 2019, India-born EB-5 applicants abroad can still continue to submit documents to NVC regardless of priority date, but only those with priority dates before May 1, 2017 can receive visas.
  3. During July 2019, I-485 can be neither filed nor approved for India-born EB-5 applicants with priority dates more recent than May 1, 2017.  Those with priority dates before May 1, 2017 are free to file I-485 and may receive visas.
  4. In general, I-485 filings must follow the Final Action Dates in Chart A, not the Dates for Filing in Chart B, unless USCIS specifies otherwise on its www.uscis.gov/visabulletininfo page.
  5. During August and September 2019, Department of State does not expect to issue any EB-5 visas to India or Vietnam. It expects to use up 2019 visas available to those countries in July. It’s possible that a few more EB-5 visas may be issued to China-born applicants in August and September.
  6. A final action date in the July 2019 visa bulletin means that DOS counted up known qualified applicants of June 6, 2019, and determined that qualified applicants exceeded the number of visas available for the year. Known qualified applicants include people documentarily qualified at the National Visa Center and adjustment of status applicants, as reported by consular officers and USCIS.
  7. The final action date for India means that May 1, 2017 marks the head of the line of Indian applicants who can’t yet move forward with the visa process. It means that  DOS thinks it has only enough 2019 EB-5 visas left to accommodate currently-qualified Indian applicants with priority dates of April 30, 2017 and earlier.
  8. When 2020 visas become available in October 2019, then the final action dates for Vietnam and India will move forward again. In October, Department of State expects to start issuing EB-5 visas to Indians with priority dates in summer or fall 2017, and to Vietnamese with priority dates in fall or early winter 2016.
  9. The July 2019 visa bulletin applies to July 2019. While it’s still June, we operate under the June 2019 visa bulletin, which has no final action date for India.

The above statements are all true, according to the visa bulletin.

  1. Answered in the Visa Bulletin Chart A (in the Employment Based section) and Section G (near the bottom of the page)
  2. Answered in the Visa Bulletin Chart A and B (in the Employment Based section)
  3. Answered in the Visa Bulletin Chart A and B (in the Employment Based section)
  4. Answered in the Visa Bulletin opening paragraph #2
  5. Answered in the Visa Bulletin Section F and G (near the bottom of the page)
  6. Answered in the Visa Bulletin opening paragraphs
  7. Answered in the Visa Bulletin opening paragraphs
  8. Answered in the Visa Bulletin Section F and G (near the bottom of the page)

And to again combat a persistent and pernicious misconception, a reminder: today’s visa bulletin does not provide a visa time estimate for today’s investors.

Here’s a story problem. Let’s say you enter an office and pick a number that determines when you’ll be served. The office had opened at 6 am, and started issuing numbers at that time starting with number 1. The office can serve about 700 people per hour, and has been operating at capacity since 6 am. When you arrive, you get number 5,852.  While you were arriving, the intercom was announcing, “now serving #1,750, Fred Smith.” How do you calculate when you will be served? Which information provided is relevant to solving the problem?

The simplest answer is 5,852/700=8.4.   6 am + 8.4 hours = 2:24 pm for expected service. The intercom announcement when you walked in the door is irrelevant to your time. Fred’s wait time does not bear on your wait time.

A guy at the door may point to the intercom and reassure you “Don’t worry, the wait won’t be long. Listen, Fred Smith is already getting service and it’s only 8:30 am – so the wait must be 2.5 hours at most.” Ignore that guy. Your time of service results from the time it takes to process the 5,851 people who got into the office before you did. Your wait time is unlikely to match the wait of someone with 1,749 people earlier than he was.

Now to align this analogy to EB-5. A couple months ago, Charles Oppenheim estimated that there were 5,851 Indians in line for EB-5 visas as of May 6, 2019, and therefore an India-born investor entering the end of that line on May 6, 2019 would wait 8.4 years for a visa. The wait time for someone with a May 6, 2019 priority date is determined by the time it takes to move the applicants with earlier priority dates through the system at a rate of approximately 700 per year. Today’s visa bulletin announcement is irrelevant to the 2019 investor’s wait time. Someone will say “Don’t worry, the wait won’t be long. Look, the July 2019 Visa Bulletin says the Indian applicant with April 2017 priority date can get a visa in July 2019 – so apparently we’re looking at a modest visa wait of 2.5 years.” Ignore that. The wait time for the person with a 2017 priority date does not translate to someone entering with a 2019 priority date at the end of a larger backlog.

Consider the May 2015 visa bulletin, which gave China its first final action date of May 2013. “Just two years to wait, not bad,” thought some new investors, and the market continued to flourish in ignorance. But Chinese who invested in May 2015 are still not even close to getting a visa now, four years later. The May 2015 visa bulletin gave a wait time for May 2013 petitions, not for May 2015 petitions. China-born investors in May 2015 needed to know, instead, the size of the China backlog in May 2015, and the number of visas available going forward.

Back to India, what can we do with this equation: 5,852/700=8.4

8.4 years is not a good number for marketing to India. Many would say that’s too long to wait for conditional permanent residence, and creates too much risk from material change and redeployment during the wait time. And the time has only been getting longer as more people have invested and added to the backlog.

We need a result less than eight years, which means that the numerator (5,851+applicant backlog) needs to be smaller, or the denominator (about 700 visas per year)  needs to be larger.  Some promoters with knowledge of the market make the numerator smaller by asserting that Department of State/USCIS have unreliable data that overestimated the number of people in the backlog. These promoters estimate that the true backlog is at least 50% smaller, and wait times thus at least 50% shorter, than estimated by Charles Oppenheim. The numerator will become smaller if many past investors give up or lose eligibility over the course of the wait time. Meanwhile, our people in Washington are, we hope, trying their best to make the denominator larger by advocating for more visa numbers. So long as the country wants a lot of investment, it must have enough visas to accommodate that investment. Otherwise, wait times are discouraging for potential investors from China, India, and Vietnam who believe the backlog data and do the math, and tragic for previous investors who were not informed about the backlogs.

Finally, a reprise of my handy image of the EB-5 process. And a few reminders. My data repository is on the EB-5 timing page. I set up an EB-5 Timing Estimate Service for anyone who wants a mathematical time estimate and explanation specific to his or her own priority date, or to the priority dates of their investors. And for those more worried about China than India, IIUSA promises to have a new post up soon that gives further analysis of Oppenheim’s China wait calculation from May 2019.

Petition Processing Times Report Change, RC List Updates

The USCIS page to Check Case Processing Times, which updates at irregular intervals, has just published dramatic new time estimates for EB-5 forms.

  • I-526 Processing: Estimated time range of 29 to 45.5 months (the previous update gave a range of 22 to 28.5 months)
  • I-829 Processing: Estimated time range of 25.5 to 40.5 months (the previous update gave a range of 30 to 38.5 months)
  • I-924 Processing: Estimated time range of 22.5 to 44 months (the previous update gave a range of 16.5 to 21.5 months)

These charts picture the latest update in context of past reports (which I’ve logged in this file since 2014).

 

What’s the story behind the changes to estimated processing times? I have a few thoughts.

  • All we know for sure is that the report changed. Actual processing times may or may not be changing.
  • The major report change is in the spread between the high and low end of the “estimated time range.” Previous processing time report updates since early 2018 had around a 6-month spread; today’s report shows a 15+ month spread. I guess that USCIS is motivated here to redefine what counts as normal processing times by including outliers in the average. The high end of the estimated time range always roughly corresponds to the “Receipt date for a case inquiry” in the processing report. The report page states this purpose for the case inquiry date: “to show when you can inquire about your case.” By suddenly adding 1-2 years to their estimate of what can be considered “outside normal processing time,” USCIS effectively cuts the number of petitioners who can hassle them with inquiries about overdue petitions. An understandable possible reason, even if the processing speed and backlog have not in fact changed.
  • The new report gives these receipt dates for case inquiry: I-526: 9/15/2015; I-829: 2/2/2016, I-924: 10/25/2015. How many petitions filed before those very old dates could possibly still be in the system? We roughly know the answer for I-526, thanks to a report of forms pending as of 10/2018: up to 412 Form I-526 filed before September 2015 could still be pending. That was only 3% of total pending I-526 (though the number ought to be 0).
  • After several quarters of improvement, IPO reduced processing volume in the last reported quarter (Oct-Dec 2018), with 37% reduction from the previous quarter in number of EB-5 forms adjudicated. Lower adjudication volume drives longer processing times. On the other hand, lower receipt numbers (another recent trend) should eventually result in faster processing times.
  • IPO has not engaged with stakeholders since October 2018, when IPO Chief Sarah Kendall praised IPO’s progress thanks to additional resources, reported that IPO was fully staffed with over 200 personnel, and indicated that IPO would be working toward additional backlog reductions in FY19. (I keep a log of communications related to processing times here.)  There’s been no explanation for the overall processing slowdown evident since that positive report.
  • A May 2019 letter from L. Francis Cissna to Senator Tom Tillis discusses recent processing delays across USCIS, and gives EB-5 one mention. “Another cause for delays in processing can be increased litigation. For example … the USCIS Field Operations Directorate is complying with court orders related to the EB-5 program…” (on PDF p. 7) I assume that refers to the Zhang Class Action. Perhaps IPO is slowing new I-526 adjudications as it backtracks to deal with all the petitions that it denied in error over loan proceeds. And USCIS has been targeted by numerous other lawsuits over questionable denials involving the EB-5 “at-risk” requirement. (In other news, this letter is one of Cissna’s last actions as USCIS Director.)
  • We can see what IPO is not doing since October 2018 – not adjudicating many I-526, and not approving or terminating many regional centers. The question: what is IPO doing? IPO is processing more I-829, if the lower low end of the estimated time range in the new processing report gives any indication. That’s a good thing. I hear that IPO has been issuing lavish RFEs, which potentially doubles the work involved in each form processed. That’s less excusable, especially since many RFEs don’t even target problems, but basically just request that originally-filed documents be resubmitted to reflect developments during the adjudication delay.
  • Back in 2011/2012, a processing slowdown presaged a policy shift. At that time USCIS turned against tenant occupancy methodology, and delayed decisions on affected cases while it figured out how to define its objections. The current slowdown makes me wonder if USCIS is again shelving certain cases while it brews more new policy guidance. (Only the policy won’t be called “new,” when announced, since then it couldn’t apply retroactively to pending cases.)

NOTE: Having written so much about timing issues, I’ve now added a EB-5 Timing page to collect links to data and posts related to processing times, visa wait times, and visa availability and allocation. I’ve also created a new service for people who would rather not wade through all the detail themselves, but want to request my timing estimate for their specific situation. See the EB-5 Timing Estimates Page.

RC List Changes

Speaking of reduced activity at IPO, here’s another sparse regional center list update. Just four regional centers have been terminated so far this year, as compared with 79 terminations in the first five months of 2018, and 38 terminations in the first five months of 2017. Just three new regional centers have been designated since January 2019. Is this a new period of welcome stability after the frantic growth and culling of 2016-2018? Or an unnatural calm?

Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 04/20/19 to 5/28/2019

  • No new regional center designations
  • Interestingly, four regional centers that were terminated last year have now been restored to the approved list, demonstrating that it’s possible to overcome a termination: EB5 United West Regional Center, LLC, EB5 Affiliate Network Washington, D.C. Regional Center, LLC, Art District Los Angeles Regional Center, LLC, and Greystone EB5 Southeast Regional Center LLC. (No decision documents have yet been posted for these RCs. For Greystone, USCIS has posted the termination reason but not the sustained appeal.)

New Terminations

  • America Commonwealth Regional Center (terminated 5/10/2019)
  • American Opportunities Regional Center, Inc. (terminated 2/15/2019)

Regulations Update (Spring 2019)

The Spring 2019 OMB Unified Agenda has been published with updated timetables for three EB-5 regulations in progress.

  • RIN1615-AC07 EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization, with proposed changes to TEAs and the minimum investment amount:
    • Timetable for Final Rule is May 2019 (The Fall 2018 agenda had anticipated November 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 March 2020 (The Fall 2018 agenda had anticipated March 2019)
  • 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 is March 2020. (The Fall 2018 agenda had anticipated September 2019)

RIN1615-AC07 is still listed as Pending Review by the OMB before it can become a final rule. Meanwhile, a number of parties have requested to meet with OMB regarding the regs (View EO 12866 Meetings).

  • 5/30/2019 meeting requested by Carmen Group Inc representing United States Immigration Fund LLC
  • 5/7/2019 meeting requested by EB-5 Investment Coalition representing Related Companies and other regional centers
  • 3/25/2019 meeting requested by Real Estate Roundtable; Commonwealth Strategic Partners representing IIUSA; HLP+R representing EB5 Capital; US Chamber of Commerce; Klein/Johnson Group representing Civitas Capital Group
  • 3/20/2019 meeting requested by Navigators Global representing Related Companies
  • 3/6/2019 meeting requested by American Life

The regional centers named have historically undertaken large EB-5 raises for projects in major cities, most remarkably Related with $1.2 billion in EB-5 raised for the Manhattan Hudson Yards project. They naturally oppose a regulation that would dramatically cut EB-5 demand with higher investment amounts and that would make urban TEAs more scarce. (To know the messages likely conveyed at the OMB meetings, see comments on the regulations submitted by Related, EB-5 Investment Coalition, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Civitas, EB5 Capital, American Life, and IIUSA).  Apparently anyone can request a EO 12866 meeting, so any interests that have another perspective can take the chance to provide additional input. But the EB-5 Modernization Regulation, at least as written in 2017, managed to threaten such a variety of interests that I’m not sure anyone exists to advocate for it to be finalized. Except people like Senator Grassley who want reform but apparently unclear about what’s actually in the regulation.

 

TEA set-aside proposal

This post examines the visa set-aside proposal in the industry’s most recent Letter to Judiciary Committees in Joint Support of Reform and Reauthorization of EB-5 Program.

Here’s the recommendation in the letter:

Notably, we recommend a 30% set aside of the annual visa allotment each year for investors in TEA projects, which would be split equally between Rural and Urban Distressed communities.

TEA Set-Asides

  • 15% of visas for Rural
  • 15% of visas for Urban Distressed
  • Unused visas roll-over annually at the end of each year to general visa pool for access by all projects in the immediately following year
  • The set asides apply immediately to new I-526 petitions filed after enactment, but they cannot be applied retroactively towards petitions that were pending as of the date of enactment.

Possible arguments in favor of the recommendation:

  • A visa set-aside could be a genuine incentive for TEA investment because it offers something that’s of value to investors (visa fast track) and that doesn’t have the economically counter-productive effect of reducing capital available to the TEA project (as does the current monetary-discount TEA incentive)
  • A visa set-aside can only be a potent incentive if new investors have a chance to benefit from it. Therefore, such set-asides must be limited to new petitioners, not available to the tens of thousands of past investors. Consider that current law (INA 203(b)(5)) has already set aside a minimum of 3,000 visas annually for TEA investment. We forget that this set-aside even exists, because it means nothing when TEA investments far exceed 3,000 annually in any case. The new TEA set-aside proposal will be no more effective than the existing one unless demand for it is limited.
  • Limiting the visa set-aside to new investors would help, at least short-term, to address a major industry problem identified in the letter. “In the current marketplace, protracted EB-5 wait times have slowed inbound foreign capital to a trickle.” People who want to raise more EB-5 capital from China, Vietnam, and India need to be able to offer shorter wait times. Future prospective investors from those countries want shorter wait times too. So long as we can’t get more visas for those countries, the only option is to create a shortcut around people already waiting in line from those countries.
  • The industry must appease reformers who want to incentivize investment in distressed and rural areas, but industry (as represented in this letter) does not wish to upset the status quo or disadvantage prosperous urban areas. Set-asides can be presented as a TEA incentive to help bargain down the monetary TEA incentive, while likely to have limited effect in practice.

Possible arguments against the recommendation:

  • Considering the backlogs, EB-5 visa availability is a zero-sum game. Restricting 30% of visas to future investors means removing 30% from past investors still waiting on a future visa. Getting in front of the line means pushing someone else back in line. Improving visa wait times for some means worsening them for others. Supporting the set-aside recommendation for the sake of future capital raises requires betraying investors in past capital raises. This is a serious problem for regional centers and project companies. The zero-sum issue is a painful fact unless Congress/the White House agree to offer additional visa numbers to EB-5, which no one says is likely to occur. The only question is how many past investors would be harmed by set-asides, and how badly. The following is my attempt so far to reason out the impact, and I welcome thoughts from others.
    • Damage from the set-aside would vary by country.
      • The worst impact of set-asides would likely be for past investors from Vietnam and India (and South Korea, Taiwan, and Brazil if they also exceed the per-country cap). These countries can each access only 7% of total EB-5 visas annually until the China backlog dissipates – i.e. for the foreseeable future.  That means about 700 visas each. If, for example, 350 new investors from India are recruited in a year under the new set-aside categories, that could be sufficient to claim the total visas available to India. 700 available visas minus 700 visas allocated to new investors gaining priority under reserved set-asides would equal 0 visas left for past investors. 0 visas available year by year would stretch visa waits for past investors to infinity. The disaster for past investors would be less if (1) the new TEA categories are not popular and fail to attract many new investors from India or Vietnam, or (2) the new categories are so popular that excess demand creates backlogs even for new investors that would eventually depress new demand, or (3) the statute is interpreted such that past investors at least get 7% of the 7,000 generally-available visas, or such that set-aside status would only trump priority-date status after the 7,000 non-TEA limit is reached. In other words, the set-asides would not be disastrous for these past investors provided that they are ineffective for new investors.
      • Past investors from China calculate their wait times based on 10,000 total available visas minus visas claimed by the rest of the world. Their current wait time calculations already assume over 3,000 new investors a year getting priority due to nationality. If those same investors get the additional priority of TEA set-aside status, that might not change the China calculation very much. The set-aside proposal would harm past China investors if the set-asides are not popular, and new investors from other countries instead compete with China for the reduced pool of generally-available visas.
      • The visas set-aside provision would likely be neutral for investors from relatively low-volume countries (i.e. countries other than China, Vietnam, India, Brazil, and South Korea). New investors from these countries would not receive special benefit, since they already don’t face a visa wait by virtue of nationality, and past investors from these countries would not be specially harmed, since they already demand far fewer than 7,000 visas annually.
    • How many past investors would be affected? All those who are still waiting for a future visa when the set-aside proposal is passed. The industry’s letter to Congress numbers “all pending applicants in the queue” at “approximately 30,000.” This is phrased to imply that there are 30,000 total people waiting in line, though in context “all pending applicants” appears to refer specifically investors, not counting family also in line. Charles Oppenheim of Department of State estimates EB-5 applicants with petitions on file at NVC and Estimated USCIS Applicant Data (as of April 1, 2019) at 73,157 people. Looking at data from USCIS on I-526 filings by country, we can count over 40,000 people who filed I-526 but couldn’t possibly have visas yet, either due to cut-off dates or because the I-526 is still pending. That would translate into a queue with 70,000 to over 100,000 people in it depending on one’s assumptions about denials, withdrawals, and family size. The queue is 68% to 85% Chinese, by various estimates. (Here’s Oppenheim’s estimate — see especially slide 10 — and my analysis.)
  • Set-asides would not even be an effective TEA incentive
    • Set-asides offer a time incentive.  They incentivize TEA investment from new investors by offering a visa wait significantly shorter than the norm. Such incentive depends on a norm of long visa waits. Therefore:
      • If the industry’s recommendations for visa backlog relief/increased visa numbers were accepted and visa waits were reduced, the potency of the set-aside incentive would be diminished accordingly.
      • If there’s no visa relief, set-asides would still only incentivize new investment from China, Vietnam, and India. Other countries that already do not expect a visa wait would not value a ticket to avoid the wait.
    • Set-asides would only incentivize new investment so long as demand for the set-asides is low. If they’re popular and attract over 1,000 investors annually, their 3,000 visas will quickly be claimed, backlogs will form, and the time advantage on which the incentive depends will disappear.

Please send me links to alternative analysis and I will post them, or add your comments. The TEA set-aside proposal has been brought forward regularly since 2016, but I still haven’t quite grasped why, in light of the above issues. EB-5 Investment Coalition and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, how about publishing justification for the TEA proposal? Current IIUSA members, did you hear about this letter before it was released to the public last week? Did you take part in crafting it or have opportunity to vote on it? I’d love to hear your perspective.

EB-5 Reform, Immigration Reform

Today, IIUSA and others published a letter to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees laying out “consensus reform concepts” recommended for new EB-5 legislation. I’m heartened to see effort toward reform and reauthorization, and saddened by the letter’s content. Ideally, a consensus will appear to balance the interests of a variety of groups. I don’t see that here. Two recommendations particularly deserve input from a broader base of stakeholders:

  • Recommended investment amounts. The letter proposes $800,000 minimum for investment in a TEA, and $900,000 for investment outside a TEA – replacing the current 50% discount with a 12% discount. Competitive advantage requires that a feature be both rare and valuable. The letter offers a concession that TEAs can be more strictly defined so as to make them more rare than now, but then redefines the incentive to make TEA designation less valuable. The net result is clear for projects located in genuinely distressed areas that struggle to complete against prosperous urban areas. (I don’t see expedited processing being an effective additional incentive, considering USCIS’s likely inability to deliver such benefit, or visa set asides for reasons discussed below.) The recommended investment amounts don’t look like an attempt to compromise with interests outside big cities, and also don’t look like a compromise with reform advocates. How likely is Congress to accept a proposal that not only hardly increases but would actually lower the standard EB-5 investment amount set back in 1990? The recommended investment amounts have the advantage that they’re feasible and wouldn’t destroy the market, but are too-obviously the status quo.  Where’s the attempt to sell the recommendations to people who want to be seen voting for modernization and reform?
  • Recommended visa set-asides. This is framed as an additional TEA incentive, but I am doubtful. The letter recommends setting aside 30% of visas annually for TEA investments, with the set-asides applying immediately to new I-526 filed after enactment, and not allowed to apply to petitions pending on the date of enactment. I foresee that this will act as a TEA incentive only for a short time, until the set-aside categories build up backlogs of their own. However, set-asides would allow raising new capital by taking visas from backlogged investors and offering them to new investors. The tens of thousands of people already in line for a visa would see the pool of visas available to them reduced by 30%, for the sake of having 30% of visas set aside in a special category only open to future investors. Thanks to the additional action of per-country caps, the set-asides could theoretically reduce visas available to past investors from India and Vietnam to zero (if promoters exploit the opportunity to offer all 700 annual visas available to India/Vietnam to new investors under the set-asides).  I want the EB-5 program to remain viable as much as anyone, but I don’t see how this visa set-aside proposal can possibly be an honorable option, considering the size and nature of the EB-5 backlog. To be fair, the letter also recommends visa relief. It suggests eliminating derivatives from the visa allocation, and suggests giving pending applicants the opportunity to pay $50,000 each to “re-set the program,” whatever that may mean. But since Congress has entertained the visa set-aside idea in recent years, and hasn’t expressed remote willingness to increase visa numbers in any way, one struggles to see good faith to past investors in the recommendations. Impossible benefits do little to counterbalance possible harm. And there ought to be obvious good faith to past investors, considering that the associations signing the letter represent members that benefited from over $10 billion in past EB-5 investment. (My post TEA set-aside proposal gives additional analysis.)

It may be pointless to get upset, considering the low likelihood that Congress will heed these recommendations or act on EB-5 any time soon. But why can’t we, as an industry, do better than this letter? If you’re represented by an organization that signed this letter, and you do not agree with the so-called consensus, make your voice heard in the on-going discussion.

Speaking of immigration proposals likely to be ignored, President Trump gave a speech yesterday to outline an immigration plan. In 2016, I wrote about candidate Trump’s vision “to choose immigrants based on merit, skill and proficiency,” and cribbed a chart from the New York Times that pictures visa allocation under our current system.

Yesterday’s speech enlarged on a “big, bold, beautiful” plan to reorient our immigration system so that it issues fewer visas based on “random” characteristics such as family relationship and humanitarian concerns, and more based on personal qualities, particularly economic position and potential. The plan sounds similar to the points-based system promoted by Senator Tom Cotton in the RAISE Act, though details have yet to be released.

One sentence from the President’s speech struck me particularly: “America’s immigration system should bring in people who will expand opportunity for striving, low-income Americans, not to compete with those low-income Americans.”

This sentiment could get some bi-partisan support, if anything received bi-partisan support anymore. And certainly, the EB-5 program deserves credit for already realizing this value. EB-5 can use the immigration incentive to expand opportunity in two ways: by creating jobs that are within reach of striving low-income Americans, and by providing capital for striving Americans who might otherwise not have been able to implement their business ideas.  How many small towns across the US now have their first flagged hotels thanks to local entrepreneurs matching with EB-5 investors to make the dream happen? How many local restaurant chains were able to expand their portfolios thanks to partnership with EB-5 investors? Such ventures don’t make the news, but I see them as a business plan writer working with small EB-5 projects.  They highlight an important feature of the EB-5 program: that it doesn’t only reward immigrants establishing their own businesses, but immigrants who support US citizen-owned businesses. I hope that any immigration reform debate will keep that EB-5 value in mind. Tom Cotton’s proposal, for example, though intending to reward economic contribution, would only have granted points for an immigrant’s investment in his or her own business.

Apparently the the administration’s plan has few friends and unlikely to go anywhere. But I’m interested as a citizen. What kind of immigration system would really accomplish a “Build America” goal? Here in Ogden Utah we just celebrated the sesquicentennial of a major nation-building milestone: the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. In his speech at the centennial celebration, then-transportation secretary John Volpe proudly asked “Who else but Americans could drill 10 tunnels in mountains 30 feet deep in snow? Who else but Americans could drill through miles of solid granite? Who else but Americans could have laid 10 miles of track in 12 hours?” As it happens, Americans did none of those things. There’s a railroad through the Sierra Nevadas thanks to Chinese workers.  What would have happened to America’s economic development without the incredible stamina and skill of those migrants from China, few of whom would’ve scored points in Tom Cotton’s system? Would Leland Stanford just have become less rich, having had to pay a naturalized workforce at least 30% more? Or is there a broader lesson about what builds America?

 

 

 

Forecasting Visa Availability: 5/6 Oppenheim projections and big picture

[Post updated 6/19/2019] Today Charles Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Controls Office at the U.S Department of State, gamely appeared again at IIUSA’s EB-5 Advocacy Conference to discuss EB-5 visa availability.

So far Twitter just reports a few headlines from his talk. India is expected to reach its limit and get a cut-off date by July 2019, and to start FY2020 with a final action date in Summer or Fall of 2017. Rough estimates for visa wait times for I-526 filed today: 16.5 years for China, 8.4 years for India, 7.6 years for Vietnam, and 2.4 years for South Korea. I trust that IIUSA will again support program integrity by publishing a blog post with the detail and slides from Mr. Oppenheim’s talk. When that happens, I’ll update this post with a link. [UPDATE: Here is IIUSA’s post on the Oppenheim presentation, with a link to his slides.] But for the moment, some background and comments on what the estimates do and do not mean.

Future visa wait times rest on several uncertain variables, and thus impossible to calculate with certainty. Mr. Oppenheim has gotten flack for attempting long-range predictions that aren’t and can’t be perfect. But rough headline-making projections serve a purpose: to highlight the existence of real visa availability issues, even if with a significant margin of error.  Hearing “16.5-year wait” at least alerts EB-5 users to a problem with China visa availability, though an accurate year estimate could be longer or shorter depending on which assumptions one chooses to use for the calculation. [I have a request pending with IIUSA to clarify Oppenheim’s assumptions.]

There are two ways to go wrong in interpreting future EB-5 visa wait time estimates. One is to interpret them as some kind of official guarantee, and blindly follow or furiously attack them as such. The other is to dismiss them as mere hot air, conclude that wait time projections are prohibitively complex, and thus disregard wait time as a factor in EB-5 decision-making. Some past EB-5 investors make the first error. Unscrupulous promoters hope that all prospective EB-5 users will make the second error.

In the past I’ve delved into the detail and complications behind EB-5 visa availability, with my 10-tab spreadsheet of data, log of visa allocation statutes, and scenario analysis. But examining the trees can mean losing sight of the forest. So for this post, I want to focus on the solid big picture behind all our varied and flawed attempts to quantify EB-5 wait times in detail.

First, an image to clarify how the EB-5 queue works. It’s the kind of queue where you enter a waiting room, take a number, and sit down to wait, watching a notice board for your number to be announced to show that your turn has come. Meanwhile, other people are also moving through the process and getting their turns and leaving, while others enter, and the notice board updates regularly.

[Image updated 6/19/2019]
In EB-5, the place-holding number is “priority date” – the date of I-526 filing. The notice board is the monthly Visa Bulletin, which signals which priority dates can get service at any given time.

Figure 1 illustrates the stages in the EB-5 process up to conditional permanent residency.

  • Step 1: File I-526. This step initiates the EB-5 process, and assigns a priority date that marks each investor’s place going forward. There is no constraint at this stage; as many people as want to file I-526 can file I-526.
  • Step 2: Waiting for I-526 approval. In principle, I-526 adjudication is first-come-first-served without regard to nationality, but it’s not strictly by priority date. In recent years, most people have waited 1-2 years at this stage. This stage is only constrained by USCIS efficiency in processing petitions. The USCIS Processing Times Report gives a rough indicator of progress in I-526 processing. Step 2 must be completed before the investor can apply for a visa. We have data for I-526 receipts, approvals, and pending petitions at various points in time. (Such data only counts number of principal investors, so need to multiply by an estimated number of family members when making total visa demand estimates.)
  • Step 3: Wait for a fee bill from the National Visa Center (consular processing), and wait for the visa bulletin to indicate that one is qualified to move forward in the process.
  • Step 4 to 5: Investors plus family members can proceed to get green cards through consular processing or I-485 status adjustment once visa numbers are available to them. At this stage, priority date and nationality determine order of service, and the Visa Bulletin announces each month who can proceed. We have data for the number of people waiting at Stage 3-4 from different countries at various points in time. (Such data already counts investors plus spouse and children – don’t multiply by derivatives again or you’ll overcount.)
  • Step 5 has the major process constraint – the annual EB-5 visa quota. The annual limit: about 10,000 total EB-5 visas worldwide, of which at most only about 700 can go to each country other than China, and none to China except what’s leftover from the rest of the world (which has been 4,000 – 9,000 visas in recent years). Steps 3-5 can be less than a year wait for applicants born in countries that are “current” in the Visa Bulletin (not at risk of exceeding the 700/year visa limit). Steps 3-5 involves multi-year waits for applicants born in countries that do exceed the annual quota. The more in excess of the quota, the longer the wait.

Some points that I tried to highlight in Figure 1, to combat misconceptions:

  • The person just entering at Step 1 can look up at the notice boards and see who’s currently getting service. He can see from the current processing times report that most I-526 from before 2017 have already been processed, and from the current visa bulletin that China-born applicants who filed I-526 in October 2014 are now getting green cards. But that’s just info about the end of other peoples’ process — indicating who’s being served now, and how long they waited. It does not look forward to indicate when May 2019 priority dates will be served, or how long the person at Step 1 will wait.  To forecast into the future, and guess about future notice dates, the person in Step 1 needs to look around and forward — at how many other people are entering Step 1 and waiting in Step 2 to Step 4 in front of him. Charles Oppenheim attempts to help with such guesses.
  • Wait times result from backlogs building up against the major constraint in the EB-5 process – the annual visa quota. Unfortunately for efficiency, this constraint is in the last step. To estimate his personal wait time, the person in Step 1 needs to estimate how big the backlog will be once he gets to Step 3. Again, this requires looking around and forward — at how many other people are entering Step 1 and waiting in Step 2 to Step 4 in front of him. The variables are clouded by spotty information and judgment calls, but the equations themselves are simple. If I’m an India-born person in Step 1, then my visa wait = (A) qualified India-born visa applicants with priority dates earlier than mine divided by (B) about 700 visas per year limit. Variable (A) is equal to India-born investors waiting in Step 2 in front of me, minus attrition from I-526 denials and withdrawals, plus family members who will join the approved India-born I-526 in Step 3-4, plus India-born applicants already waiting in Step 3 and 4, minus India-born applicants who will drop out or receive visas during my time in Step 2-4.
  • It’s good to step back sometimes from the confusing variables to the simple equations, as a reminder of the big picture and basic logic of wait times. The basic logic is that visa waits are mainly a function of I-526 volume. Unknowns about future denials and withdrawals and family size and processing times will vary forecast calculations this way and that, but this is sure: a lot of I-526 filings will result in a lot of people eventually ready for a visa. A lot of visa applicants will mean long backlogs and wait times in front of the visa quota constraint. People at the beginning of a surge in I-526 filings will wait less time for a visa than people after a surge.
  • With that in mind, one last figure, the most telling of the numbers in my backlog calculation file. If I were a lawyer counseling EB-5 users about big picture timing issues, I would have them consider the numbers in Table 1. How many investors plus family are likely to end up at Step 5, and when, considering how many investors have started at Step 1? What future wait times are implied in that past demand, considering visa number limits? It’s impossible to look at I-526 numbers and predict exact backlogs and wait times, considering all future variables, but it’s easy to see the general issue. For example, over 700 Vietnamese investors filed I-526 in 2018, and only 700 Vietnamese investors plus their spouses and children can get visas in a year, so Vietnam is clearly looking at a backlog and wait time situation at the visa stage — a situation exacerbated by excess demand in 2016 and 2017 as well. A Vietnamese investor had better not rely too heavily on specific future estimates from Charlie Oppenheim or anyone else, but she can and should have a chance to see the fact and consider the consequences of excess demand.

NOTE: I’ve added a EB-5 Timing page to collect links to data and posts related to EB-5 visa availability, visa allocation, and wait times. If you would like to order a personalized timing estimate, see the EB-5 Timing Estimates Page.

FY2019 Q1 EB-5 Petition Processing Statistics

USCIS has updated the Immigration & Citizenship Data page with data for petitions processed in FY2019 Q1 (October to December 2018).

The data shows that the Investor Program Office had an unproductive first quarter, with the fewest EB-5 forms processed since 2016. No wonder processing times remain long. Sometimes the data reflects a workload trade-off (e.g. fewer I-526 but more I-829 processed), but FY19 Q1 just had very low output overall. What’s up, IPO? Are you losing staff? Burning time with extreme-vetting RFEs? I-526 and I-829 receipts were up from the previous quarter, but still relatively low.

The All Forms report is interesting as a reminder of just how small EB-5 is in the grand scheme of employment-based petitions, and because the report now has separate line items for I-924 and I-924A.

All regional centers that want to remain in good standing should file the I-924A annual report between October and December, yet the report shows only 322 I-924A receipts for Oct-Dec 2018. Did the rest of the 885 currently-approved regional centers decide that designation isn’t worthwhile anymore? Or does the report not capture actual I-924A submissions? Certainly I-924 filings remain very low. No surprise considering the high form fee, the difficulty of operating in the current environment, and the fact that exemplar approvals have no value if they come too late to be usable.

UPDATE: I’ve added a EB-5 Timing page to collect links to data and posts related to EB-5 visa availability, visa allocation, and wait times. If you would like to order a personalized timing estimate, see the EB-5 Timing Estimates Page.

RC List Updates

There has been little activity on the USCIS regional center list since the beginning of the year.

Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 12/31/18 to 04/19/19

  • BC East Coast Regional Center LLC (Pennsylvania)
  • EB5 Affiliate Network Washington, D.C. Regional Center, LLC (District of Columbia)
  • Pride Capital, LLC (New York)
  • Greystone EB5 Southeast Regional Center LLC (former name Greystone Florida Regional Center LLC) (Florida) (This RC had previously been terminated for inactivity — termination letter here.)

Removed from the approved list, but not added to the terminated list

  • Three Streams Mid-Atlantic Regional Center (Maryland)

New Terminations

  • San Francisco Regional Center (California) Terminated 2/13/2019
  • Midwest Investment Fund, LLC (Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio) Terminated 2/5/2019

Updates (Redeployment, Material Change, India Retrogression, I-526 processing and RFEs)

Redeployment

Last year IPO asked industry stakeholders to offer suggestions regarding redeployment. IIUSA has now followed up with a Memo to USCIS on Redeployment Policy. The memo points out again why the redeployment policy should not even exist, since neither statute nor regulation nor precedent supports a requirement to redeploy EB-5 investment into additional business activity after the job creation requirement has already been met and funds have been returned to the NCE.  The memo goes on to make the case that if USCIS still persists in requiring redeployment, the options for redeployment investment should not be arbitrarily limited. I hope that IPO will, as promised, give serious consideration to this reasonable feedback.

Material Change

The redeployment problem is bound up with the material change problem, which is why I’m looking forward to a free Material Change Seminar to be hosted by Carolyn Lee on April 17th, 2019 at 2:00 – 3:00PM Eastern. E-mail to reserve a spot and send advance questions.

India Retrogression

Based on a prediction by Charles Oppenheim in October 2018, we’ve been expecting India to reach its annual limit of available EB-5 visas this fiscal year, and get a cut-off date in the Visa Bulletin by July 2019 at latest. However, in a post on 4/2/2019, Matthew Galati shares quotes from AILA’s March 2019 “Check-in with DOS’s Charlie Oppenheim”: “Charlie previously expected EB-5 India to reach its per country limit by July 2019. However, he is no longer certain that will happen. He is watching the demand data and should have a better sense of the number usage within a few weeks. The decline in demand mentioned above, possibly resulting from reauthorization concerns, makes it difficult for Charlie to estimate how many additional numbers may be used by ‘high demand’ EB-5 countries.”

That “decline in demand” refers to “fewer applicants proceeding to final action on their cases at consular posts abroad and USCIS Offices.” The queue of applicants has not reduced in length (probably), but it has advanced to final action more slowly than expected – delayed by the government shutdown and lapse in regional center program authorization.  So what does this mean? For most Indians awaiting a visa number, possibly not much. The key question is not “in which month will retrogression occur” so much as “can I get my visa number before retrogression occurs?” That second question depends on the length of the queue in front of the petitioner (which probably hasn’t changed) more than the specific date for running out of visas (which may be later than expected due to slower-than-expected processing).  For Indians who will adjust status, a later Visa Bulletin could at least have the benefit of maximizing the window to at least file I-485 (thus opening the combo card option in advance of visa availability).

I-526 processing and RFEs

I created a model that divides inventory of pending I-526 petitions by completion rates, and concludes that processing times should be falling as inventory falls. However, the USCIS processing times report indicates that I-526 times are getting longer, even as IPO has fewer and fewer petitions to process. Why is this so? IPO’s secret, I gather, is to introduce an unofficial new step to the EB-5 process: the comprehensive I-526 RFE. Officially, Form I-526 foresees how funds will be spent and how jobs will be created, while Form I-829 demonstrates how funds were spent and how jobs were created. Officially, a Request for Evidence on the Form I-526 asks questions about the original submission and clarifies eligibility at the time of filing. In practice, IPO has been issuing I-526 RFEs that do not only or primarily question the original submission, but basically ask the petitioner to submit an updated collection of I-526 evidence plus prematurely provide I-829-stage evidence for actual past expenditures and job creation. IPO is adjudicating the I-526 one to two years after it was filed, and the adjudicator is naturally curious about the current status and progress of the project. I-526 business plans are dusty by the time adjudicators finally review them, while payroll records may be available by that time. But the adjudication delay is not the petitioner’s fault, and does not change I-526 eligibility or evidentiary requirements. It’s not right to make a habit of using RFEs as a surreptitious new “Form I-526-B” that calls on petitioners to redo and resubmit original I-526 documents with no fault but age, and prematurely satisfy I-829 requirements at the I-526 stage.

Washington Updates

Apparently there’s some discussion in Washington about visa numbers, and leadership upsets throughout DHS. We shall see what changes actually occur, and whether they affect EB-5.

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!

UPDATE: Frieldland & Calderon have published an article that explains the process behind the regulations and why they don’t believe that the EB-5 regs will ever be finalized. They also reiterate why EB-5 needs Congress to act, though Congressional action is also unlikely.  “EB-5 Reform on the Horizon – If the Palm House Hotel Debacle Does Not Precipitate Congressional Action, What Will?” (March 22, 2019)

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.

NOTE: I’ve added a EB-5 Timing page to collect links to data and posts related to EB-5 visa availability, visa allocation, and wait times.