4/29 USCIS Q&A and Listening Session Report

On Friday April 29, USCIS offered a first installment of guidance on implementation of the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022.

USCIS published EB-5 Questions and Answers (updated April 2022) on the USCIS EB-5 Resources page. I’m copying images as of April 29 here for historical reference, but consult the USCIS site to read the latest version.

USCIS held the USCIS EB–5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022 Listening Session on April 29. 5/10 UPDATE: Here is a transcript of prepared remarks from the USCIS speakers. Here is my recording of the event. Time index:

  • During the first five minutes of the listening session, USCIS Director Ur Jaddou provided opening remarks. My recording sadly does not include this intro, thanks to my apparent inability to read call-in instructions. From the portion I heard, it seems that Director Jaddou provided a “big picture” perspective of changes and improvements at USCIS, covering the points about agency-wide performance and goals that she made in her April 6 testimony to the House Committee on Appropriations (which is worth reading). She did not have significant EB-5-specific input (that I heard), but it was nice of her to be on the call. I applaud her goals and accomplishments so far at USCIS, and her seriousness about challenges.
  • My recording starts with the EB-5-specific portion of the call.
    • New Investor Program Office Chief Alissa Emmel introduced herself and talked about the new law (minute 0-5), and processing times (5-9).
    • A Policy Analyst with USCIS Office of Policy and Strategy discussed upcoming policy manual revisions and regulations. (minute 9-11)
    • An Adjudication Officer with USCIS Service Center Operations confirmed that I-485 processing for regional center petitions has resumed. He incidentally dropped the revelation that “over 4,000” regional center I-485 were already pending before July 1, 2021. (minute 11-13)
    • A Visa Policy Analyst with State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs Office of Visa Services Field Operations confirmed that RC-associated visa processing has resumed as of April 2022. (minute 13-16)
    • From minute 16 of my recording, the call consists of stakeholders making comments and asking questions, and USCIS responding with thanks for the input (but not any answers).

The headline news is that new regional center I-526 cannot be filed starting with the new regional center program authorization on May 14, 2022.  Instead, investor filings will need to wait until after USCIS designates individual regional centers under the new program; i.e. wait for new RC application forms to be not only filed but also approved. USCIS did not estimate a time for this process. (For reference, the previous RC application form, I-924, had a median processing time from 19 to 22 months between 2017 and 2021. The most I-924 approvals that USCIS ever managed in one month was about 40, back in 2018. Since 2019, the average was more like 15 per month. Based on new law requirements, the new RC application will have less offering-specific and project-specific content than I-924, but more compliance content and more security checks. The processing workload will depend on how many of the previously-designated 632 regional centers decide to apply for new designation. I guess that at least most of the 344 RC that were committed enough to file I-924A even during the RC program expiration will apply.)

A second headline, which I doubt that USCIS thought through: USCIS now claims no jurisdiction over the entities that were formerly designated as regional centers, and that are still handling billions of dollars of EB-5 investment. The written Q&A states that USCIS will no longer require these entities to file annual reports about what they are doing with those billions of dollars, or to file amendments when they change plans or ownership. Unless and until they choose to apply for new designation, the entities holding pre-enactment EB-5 investment are now apparently exempt from the new EB-5 integrity measures, and also from such oversight as USCIS used to provide for regional centers. This follows from USCIS’s interpretation that “regional centers previously designated under section 610 are no longer authorized,” and thus no longer have any status for USCIS to regulate. But I doubt this was intended. I understand the rationale to make regional centers demonstrate compliance with the new law before raising new investment (and to buy more time for USCIS to figure out how to implement the new law). I doubt USCIS thought about the negative integrity side effects of cancelling the only status that allowed USCIS to monitor or dictate to pre-existing regional centers. “USCIS abrogates oversight of entities currently deploying $27 billion dollars in immigrant investment.” This is a true and shocking headline, unless USCIS scrambles to make some clarifications on the status of formerly-designated regional centers.

The written Q&A and the listening session provide welcome clarity about grandfathering of regional center investor petitions. Regional Center I-526, I-485, and visa applications are already being processed as of April 2022. Pre-enactment I-526 are judged “according to the applicable eligibility requirements at the time such petitions were filed,” and with opportunity to demonstrate eligibility “despite the previously approved regional center associated with your petition no longer being designated.”

In the listening session, we heard for the first time from new IPO Chief Alissa Emmel, a career civil servant who was appointed to her position in September 2021 after having previously worked at IPO as an economist starting in 2013, and managing the IPO Compliance Division since 2017. On the call she sounded upbeat, relaxed, and unworried about the challenges of performance improvement or law implementation. She stated one firm plan for EB-5 law implementation: to publish a form and instructions for a new Form I-956, Application for Regional Center Designation, by May 14, 2022. If she has other implementation plans yet, she did not articulate them. No mention of a timeline for publishing the new project approval form or revising Form I-526 or I-829, no mention of processing time targets for regional center application adjudications, and no mention of plans for training adjudicators in the new law. If IPO has started tackling the major challenge of assessment metrics for new regional center compliance plans – a task that will presumably require coordination with the SEC and other outside experts – Chief Emmel didn’t mention it. I came to the call prepared with sympathy for the enormous burden that law implementation puts on USCIS, and for how harassed and panicky the USCIS staff would sound as they grappled with that burden, and with the intense time pressure. But I did not get a chance to deploy my sympathy. I couldn’t tell that much grappling has yet been undertaken or foreseen, or that much pressure has yet been felt.  

The call included a Policy Analyst with USCIS Office of Policy and Strategy, who spoke to the need for new policy and regulations. She divulged one plan: “to hold another engagement in late May to gather individual feedback from impacted stakeholders on those areas or topics from the legislation that require rule-making or other sub-regulatory policy considerations.” And she expressed one specific “hope”: to roll out substantive policy manual revisions “over the next few months.” She also noted that “USCIS fully intends to follow appropriate rule-making procedures for implementing regulatory changes, which is by no means a quick process.” As background, the current EB-5 policy originated with a three-year process (with a policy memo drafted in 2011 and finalized in 2013), redeployment policy took three years (promised in 2014, draft released in 2015, published as policy in 2017), and the EB-5 Modernization regulation emerged over three years (promised in 2016, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in 2017, Final Rule in 2019). With that background, to rewrite all EB-5 policy based on the RIA in a matter of months will be a herculean task. I would love USCIS to manage this; we badly need speed so that investor I-526 can be filed based on known guidance as soon as possible! But the Policy Analyst on Friday’s call did not sound stressed, as I’d expect she would be if herculean efforts were underway. She announced without audible shame what her office has done in 1.5 months so far: added a one-sentence “alert” to the Policy Manual (without deleting or revising the two other contradictory alerts), and archived one of the five Policy Manual chapters already made obsolete by the new law.

Regarding processing, Chief Emmel stated that “I want you to know that we are taking critical steps to reduce processing times for I-526s and I-829s, knowing that this goal will take some time to achieve for the reasons I’m about to discuss.” The steps cited were to resume regional center I-526 processing (“one of our predominant adjudication goals for our I-526 staff is to work through the large volume of I-526 petitions that were in process pre-sunset”), and to increase staffing levels (Emmel did not offer specifics, but I see that USAJobs.gov has listed two open positions at IPO).  Chief Emmel expects that improved processing will take “time to achieve” because “it is important to note that in addition to adjudicating cases, IPO requires the time and subject-matter expertise of our adjudication staff to address other necessary efforts including implementation of the new legislation, litigation responses, FOIA requests, public inquiries, and others.” IPO processed over a 1,000 I-525 per month under Julia Harrison’s leadership, around 300 per month under Sarah Kendall, and 20 per month under Alissa Emmel in her first quarter at the helm. In Chief Emmel’s words on Friday, I heard positive intent to achieve incremental improvement over recent performance. I did not hear a plan for the exponential improvement that would be required to regain past performance levels or achieve new processing time targets in the foreseeable future. I listened closely for a sense of whether Chief Emmel intends to change the culture of IPO, which since 2019 has taken a time-is-no-object extreme-vetting approach to EB-5 adjudications, with gratuitously lengthy and hostile RFEs, high denial rates, and low completion rates. Chief Emmel spoke about the EB-5 program and investors in very positive terms, and she repeated the new service-oriented USCIS mission statement promising “fairness, integrity, and respect for all we serve.” She then went on to say that “for our office, what that means is to accurately and efficiently adjudicate petitions and applications, as well as safeguard the integrity of our nation’s immigration system through our efforts to combat fraud, protect national security and pubic safety, and maximize our law enforcement, intelligence community, and other federal agency partnerships.” Other than the word “efficiently,” those are still Stephen Miller/Sarah Kendall-era enforcement-centric talking points. I am still waiting for a changing tide in EB-5 adjudications, and to see efficiency, fairness, and respect treated as integrity issues by the Investor Program Office. 

About Suzanne (www.lucidtext.com)
Suzanne Lazicki is a business plan writer, EB-5 expert, and founder of Lucid Professional Writing. Contact me at suzanne@lucidtext.com (626) 660-4030.

5 Responses to 4/29 USCIS Q&A and Listening Session Report

  1. Jaimin. says:

    By end of September 2022, we will come to know, whether the IPO has “walked the talk”. Till than fingers crossed.

  2. WJO says:

    I hope IPO can get their staff back that was transferred away when the RC program lapsed. The 2 job postings listed for IPO are only open to current federal employees. I took a look at all the open jobs for USCIS and only 11 jobs are currently open to anyone in the US to apply for, most of which appear to be entry level jobs in random USCIS offices.

  3. RPG says:

    Looks like things are moving at the NVC. We just got an email from NVC updating us on our application. As background, our documents were complete and clear before sunset.

    Has anybody else got anything from NVC?

    Posting the letter we got yesterday below :

    03-MAY-2022

    Dear XXXX XXXXX XXXXX,

    This notice is to inform you that your case for an immigrant visa is documentarily complete at the National Visa Center (NVC) and has been since 27-MAY-2021. NVC has received all of the fees, forms and documents required prior to attending an immigrant visa interview. Your petition is awaiting an interview appointment. At this time, no further action is required. We appreciate your patience.

    Your case will remain at NVC until an appointment is scheduled, at which time we will send it to the appropriate U.S. Embassy or Consulate General. We will notify the applicant, petitioner, and attorney (if applicable) when an appointment is scheduled.

    The U.S. Embassy or Consulate tells NVC which dates they are holding interviews. NVC fills these appointments on a first-in, first-out basis and is unable to predict when an interview will be scheduled.

    Visa interviews at many U.S. Embassies and Consulates have been delayed as result of the global COVID-19 outbreak. For the most up-to-date information about the U.S. Embassy or Consulate’s operating status, please visit their website at https://usembassy.gov.

    The next communication you receive from NVC will be either a notice that your appointment is scheduled, or if an appointment is not scheduled within the next 60 days, we will send a notice confirming that your case is still in line for an interview.

    Important: The applicant should not make any permanent financial commitments until they have received their immigrant visa. This includes activities such as:
    – Selling a house, car or property,
    – Resigning from a job, or;
    – Making other travel arrangements.

    Thank you for your continued patience.

    Regards,

    National Visa Center
    U.S. Department of State
    https://nvc.state.gov

    NVC Case Number:

    **note: please do not reply to this email. this is not a monitored account. if you have questions or need to get in touch with nvc, please follow the instructions at http://nvc.state.gov/ask to call or email us.**

    • Fabiano Mattos says:

      I got the same email… it all dependes on your respective consular location “speed”… lets pray!

  4. RC says:

    How long does it take to get DQ at NVC?

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