Reauthorization

The EB-5 regional center program is currently authorized through June 30, 2021, and requires Congressional action to reauthorize the program.  This page organizes resources and information specific to reauthorization, and will be updated regularly. (For updates on other EB-5 law/policy issues, see my old Washington Updates page.)

Page Update Summary

  • 2/17/2021: page created

Proposed Legislation

Events and Advocacy Opportunities

  • Join a coalition or advocacy group:
    • Join the Coalition to Save and Create Jobs (free), a coalition focused on re-authorization legislation this year. Consists of trade associations, chambers of commerce, municipalities and mayors’ offices, community banks, economic development organizations, health care facilities and more.
    • Join IIUSA (paid), the EB-5 trade association whose mission focuses on regional center program authorization. Advocates for the interests of regional centers.
    • Groups that I know of that advocate for EB-5 investor interests:
      • Coming soon…
  • Participate in an event:
  • Advocacy templates:

Articles from the Industry and Media

Know other perspectives that should be featured here? Please email suzanne@lucidtext.com

Articles from Congress/Government

Investor Data Links

The population of past regional center EB-5 investors still waiting on green cards is estimated at over 40,000 people ($20+ billion dollars), or over 80,000 people including investors’ family. Continued regional center program authorization is necessary to protect this population.

  • Estimate of Pre-CPR EB-5 Investors: As of April 2020, USCIS reported 16,633 pending I-526 petitions for EB-5 investors, and 24,005 approved I-526 petitions for EB-5 investors who did not have visa availability yet according to the visa bulletin. A third category of investors is unreported, but likely in the thousands: approved I-526 with visas available but not yet issued. Over 95% of these pending and approved I-526 are likely for regional center investors, judging by past experience. The regional center category accounted for 95% of EB-5 visas issued from 2012 to 2019. References: “I-526 Performance Data FY2020 Q1” and “Count of Approved I-140, I-360 and I-526 Petitions as of April 20, 2018 with a Priority Date On or After May 2018” and “Annual Report of the Visa Office”
  • Estimate of Total Pre-CPR EB-5 Applicants: Charles Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Control & Reporting Division at the U.S. Department of State, estimated a grand total of 83,003 prospective EB-5 visa applicants in process as of October 2020. This estimate includes applications on file at the National Visa Center and estimated applicants associated with I-526 petitions pending at USCIS. It does not include EB-5 applicants with pending I-485 status adjustment petitions: a population in the thousands. Over 95% of the estimated total EB-5 applicants are likely associated with regional centers. (The regional center category accounted for 95% of EB-5 visas issued from 2012 to 2019.) See slide 9 of “Part 1: A discussion with Charles Oppenheim” (November 19, 2020) 2020 IIUSA Virtual Forum

Law and Policy Links

  • Current regional center program authorization is in Public Law 116-260 Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, Division O, Title I Immigration Extensions (PDF page 967) in this sentence: “Section 610(b) of the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1993 (8 U.S.C. 1153 note) shall be applied by substituting ‘June 30, 2021’ for ‘September 30, 2015.’” This refers back to Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1993 (Public Law 102-395) Section 610(b) (PDF page 47), which originally established the regional center program.
  • To review the regional center statute from P.L. 102-395 together with amendments up to 2012, see this link from USCIS EB-5 training materials. Note that the statute defines the conditions under which visas are set aside for investments associated with regional centers. The statute permits aliens admitted under the regional center program to rely on regional center job creation, including economic methodologies and jobs created indirectly.
  • To review the history of regional center program authorizations, see my chart of past authorizations
  • To review USCIS policy with respect to regional center sponsorship, see the USCIS Policy Manual Vol. 6 Part G. Chapter 1(B)2 defines the difference between regional center and direct EB-5. Chapter 2(D) discusses regional center job creation. Chapter 4(C) explains why change in regional center sponsorship is a “material change” that will cause I-526 to be denied or revoked for regional center investors who have not yet received conditional permanent residence status. Chapter 5(C) specifies that an investor who has received conditional permanent residence status has opportunity to continue the immigration process, even in case of regional center termination.
  • For an example of Department of State Policy for regional center visa applications in case of a temporary shutdown, see the note in Section E of the December 2020 Visa Bulletin.
  • For an example of USCIS guidance for EB-5 form adjudications in the case of a temporary lapse in regional center program authorization (which occurred December 21, 2018 to January 26, 2019 in connection with a government shutdown), see USCIS Guidance Impact Lapse EB-5 Program.

EB-5 Outlook 2021: questions about legislation and reauthorization

2/17/2021 Update: Please visit my new Reauthorization Page, which collects resources that answer many of my questions below.

— Original Post —

On Wednesday January 6 at 2 pm EST, Carolyn Lee is hosting an EB-5 Outlook 2021 Webinar (register here) with guests Bill Gresser, Adam Greene, and me. Carolyn is Legislative Counsel to IIUSA, a 4-term Chair of the American Immigration Lawyers national EB-5 Committee, and industry godmother. Bill is Vice-Chair of IIUSA’s Board of Directors, and both Bill and Adam are former chairs of IIUSA’s Public Policy Committee and industry leaders. [1/5 update: Bill Gresser and Adam Greene no longer plan to join the webinar.] I am famous for asking questions.

This webinar aims to start 2021 right, with dialogue. I look forward to hearing perspectives, and to raising questions. So far I’ve prepared a list of questions regarding prospects for EB-5 legislation and regional center program authorization before the new sunset date of June 30, 2021. Of course a small panel speaking informally can’t possibly answer all these big questions, but any discussion is a good start. I hope that the discussion will grow, and that IIUSA/the industry will eventually speak to questions like these. (I may also volunteer my labor to ask questions on a larger scale — currently contemplating a conducting a survey to assess the range of regional center interests and concerns with respect to legislation and specific Grassley/Leahy proposals. Regional centers, contact me if you’d like to see this and have suggestions.) Meanwhile, feel free to add your questions re 2021 outlook to the comments on this post.

Suzanne’s questions regarding 2021 outlook for EB-5 legislation and regional center program authorization

  1. Legislative activity coming soon…
    • Is there any chance of a “clean” regional center program extension beyond June 30, 2021, or will regional center program reauthorization certainly come with significant program changes?
    • Do you expect to see Grassley and Leahy reintroduce their EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act promptly in 2021?
    • Is it possible/probable that anyone else in the House or Senate might introduce EB-5 legislation shortly? If so, would such alternative legislation have a chance to proceed?
    • How much attention is EB-5 likely to get between now and June? Do you expect things like committee hearings and significant discussion around stand-alone EB-5 legislation, or is it more likely that RC program authorization would get tacked on to some other more important legislation? (And if so, what might that be?)
  2. Regarding the Grassley/Leahy EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act…
    • What are the major concerns/barriers in Congress for the Grassley/Leahy bill?
    • What are the major questions/concerns in the industry for the Grassley/Leahy bill?
    • What has been done/will be done to identify and address those questions, concerns, and barriers?
    • To what extent is the Grassley/Leahy bill still open to negotiation?
    • If you think the Grassley/Leahy bill as-is represents the best possible option for regional center program authorization, what’s the reason for thinking that?
  3. Interests and goals…
    • What are Grassley/Leahy trying to accomplish with the bill? Whom are they trying to benefit?
    • What have industry negotiators been trying to accomplish with legislation? For what priorities have they been advocating?
    • Is there any hope/plan/timeline to realize these items not in the Grassley/Leahy bill: More visas for EB-5; More marketable EB-5 investment amount/TEA definition
  4. Options for participation, collaboration, and engagement…
    • How can a concerned regional center get a hearing for their input to EB-5 legislation?
    • Any options for concerned investors to assist or influence the process?
    • What can IIUSA do to identify and address concerns, and broaden involvement in and support for EB-5 legislation?
    • What needs to happen in the next few months to ensure that the regional center program gets extended?
  5. Outlook for reauthorization…
    • Do you see any chance of the regional center program being allowed to sunset? If that happened, what would be the likely reason?
    • Do you see any chance of regional center program authorization being allowed to lapse for a time? If that happened, what would be the likely reason?
    • EB-5 legislation has been actively discussed since 2015, but not passed. What reason is there to hope for a result in the next six months?
    • As people involved in the process, what lessons have you learned from past legislative efforts that you intend to apply going forward?

Reauthorization, Country Caps, S.2540, Visa Bulletin

Since last writing, Congress gave the regional center program another short authorization, the Fairness for High-skilled Immigrants Act almost passed the Senate, Senators Grassley and Leahy introduced a new piece of EB-5 legislation, and the Visa Bulletin offered a surprise window for Indians and Vietnamese to file I-485 regardless of priority date. I’ve had to hop, trying to keep my Washington Updates page up-to-date.

On Friday President Trump signed H.R. 4378, a continuing resolution that keeps the government funded and the regional center program authorized through 11/21/2019 —  or until the next funding bill or (more likely) the next short-term continuing resolution. The history of regional center program authorization now looks like this.

The regional center program needs the stability of a long-term authorization — something it hasn’t gotten since 2012. So far as I know, IIUSA and EB5 Coalition are still marching in lockstep and arm-in-arm over a consensus wish list for legislation that combines long-term authorization with an investment threshold lower than what was set in 1990, a neutered TEA incentive, and a TEA set-aside provision to set aside visas for incoming investors at the inevitable cost of reducing visas available to past investors. Meanwhile, last week Senators Grassley and Leahy announced proposed EB-5 legislation that does not appear to have benefited from any EB-5 industry input. S.2540 – A bill to reauthorize the EB-5 Regional Center Program in order to prevent fraud and promote and reform foreign capital investment and job creation in American communities is an updated version of the EB-5 Reform Acts associated with Senator Grassley’s office since 2015. Unlike previous versions, the new bill does not treat investment amounts or TEA designations. It does attempt to define measures that would improve the integrity and security of the EB-5 program. I admire the intention, but wish that Senator Grassley’s office had consulted with anyone who knows EB-5 in practice. If S.2540 passed, it would sweep almost everyone out of EB-5 except a few big-city regional centers (the only ones who could afford the swathes of new red tape and fees proposed) and direct EB-5 (whose existence the bill apparently forgot). That’s not Senator Grassley’s objective. If I had more time, I would write an analysis for Grassley’s office to explain where and how the S.2540 proposals depart from their intent, and suggest fixes that would better support the laudable accountability and transparency goals. Even better if this task could be done cooperatively by the EB-5 industry. But it seems that industry has decided to put all its marbles in the hope of no-compromise backroom deals.

Speaking of a few billionaires trying to cut deals, the Fairness for High-skilled Immigrants Act keeps coming back in the Senate. As of today the bill is blocked by Senator Durban, Senators Grassley, Paul, and Purdue having been talked out of their opposition. The funding bill process offers another possible opportunity to get the legislation passed on the down-low, tucked into a thousand-page omnibus. Unfortunately I can’t find anyone but Breitbart to keep me informed about developments. (I record what I hear of the various versions and actions in this post.) If the Fairness for High-skilled Immigrants Act can pass the Senate and get signed by the President, then there would be no more country cap on EB visas. That means the people already in line for an EB-5 visa – somewhere around 70,000 – would simply receive visas in order by priority date, regardless of nationality. With 10,000 EB-5 visas available per year, that means about 7 years to issue visas to everyone already in line, and 7+ years for any new investors to get a visa. That would be more than fair to the Chinese in line, who invested under a country cap that promised 10+ year visa waits. It would be less than fair to people born elsewhere, who invested under a country cap that promised little to no visa wait.  The bill offers to protect people already in the visa queue by saying that no one with an approved immigrant petition shall receive a visa later than that person would otherwise have received a visa under previous rules. However, that doesn’t help EB-5 because most of the non-China backlog is still stuck in slow I-526 processing, and thus does not yet have petition approvals that would protect them. The EB-5 industry has been nearly silent on this legislation, thanks to interests divided between China and the rest of the world. The industry will collapse if the bill passes, with new EB-5 demand quelled by the threat of a worldwide 7+year wait to conditional permanent residence.

I made a couple charts to assist in visualizing the impact of the Fairness for High-skilled Immigrants Act. To estimate how many years a given priority date would need to wait for a visa under the act, just add up the number of applicants with earlier priority dates, and divide by 10,000. (The latest version of the legislation has no transition period for EB-5.) To estimate how many people would be retroactively affected if the Fairness for High-skilled Immigrants Act becomes law, look at the number of applicants represented on petitions still pending at USCIS. (These charts are rough estimates starting from data by country and priority date published by USCIS and DOS as of October 2018, and that I updated with estimates based on worldwide I-526 and visa data since then. I guess the charts may be undercounting by about 10,000. As a reminder, my EB-5 Timing Page collects all the data to which I have access.)

At least there’s one bit of happy news for past investors. USCIS announced that in October 2019, applicants from Vietnam and India who are living in the U.S. and have I-526 approval can file I-485, regardless of priority date. The Visa Bulletin has two charts for EB visas: Chart A Final Action Dates and Chart B Dates for Filing. USCIS has agreed to use the Dates for Filing cart in the October 2019 Visa Bulletin, and all countries except China are Current in that chart.  This doesn’t necessarily affect the total time to actually get a visa, but having the I-485 filed brings significant benefits.

The USCIS AOS page explains that it opens Chart B “If USCIS determines there are more immigrant visas available for a fiscal year than there are known applicants for such visas.” The fiscal year starts in October with 700 visas available each to Vietnam and India, and apparently there aren’t yet 700 people ready yet to take those visas. No wonder, when USCIS is only advancing about 200 worldwide I-526 petitions a month. As illustrated in the above chart, much of the effective line for EB-5 visas is still stuck in USCIS processing.

Reauthorization by CR

The Regional Center program is currently authorized through September 30, 2019 as part of 2019 appropriations. We depend on Congress to pass a 2020 appropriations bill that continues to carry regional center authorization. As usual, Congress has not yet figured out government funding for the new year, so there will be another one or more Continuing Resolutions to extended 2019 appropriations and defer the deadline. Today, the House passed H.R. 4378, which defers the expiration of government funding (and incidentally the regional center program sunset) to November 21, 2019 (or until there’s a new appropriations bill, whichever comes fist.) The measure now goes to the Senate, which will vote on it next week. Since the Senate has not come up with any alternative, I assume that the bill will pass, the government will not shut down, and the regional center program will remain authorized for now. When the reauthorization is passed, then final action dates for regional center EB-5 categories will no longer be “unavailable” in the October Visa Bulletin. (See Visa Bulletin Section D for an explanation.)

November 21, 2019 also happens to be the date for new EB-5 regulations to take effect, but I assume that Congressional appropriators were thinking about Thanksgiving vacation, not minor regulations, in choosing the date. And if history is any guide, there may be another CR with a new short-term deadline passed before November 21. And possibly a series of CRs.

Here, FYI, is the daisy chain of language related to regional center program authorization.

  • H.R. 4378 (p. 3-4, 7) “The following sums are hereby appropriated… namely: Such amounts as may be necessary…for continuing projects or activities… that are not otherwise specifically provided for in this Act, that were conducted in fiscal year 2019, and for which appropriations, funds, or other authority were made available in the following appropriations Acts: … (6) … title I of division H of Public Law 116–6…Unless otherwise provided for…  authority granted pursuant to this Act shall be available until whichever of the following first occurs:  (1) The enactment into law of an appropriation for any project or activity provided for in this Act. (2) The enactment into law of the applicable appropriations Act for fiscal year 2020 without any provision for such project or activity. (3) November 21, 2019
  • This language refers back to Public Law 116-6 Division H, Title 1 (PDF page 463) which has current regional center program authorization in this sentence: “Section 610(b) of the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1993 (8 U.S.C. 1153 note) shall be applied by substituting ‘September 30, 2019’ for ‘September 30, 2015.’”
  • This language refers back to Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1993 (Public Law 102-395) Section 610(b) (PDF page 47), which originally established the regional center program.

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

Reauthorization

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

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

Visa Availability

The per-country cap for EB visas continues to be an issue in the new Congress, with at least two new bills proposing to eliminate it: H.R. 1044 ‘Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019 and S.386 – A bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act. These bills have quite a few cosponsors. This time around, IIUSA has taken a stand on the issue. “While the elimination of per-country caps may make sense for some categories, the elimination of the per-country caps for EB-5 will be to the detriment of the program,” stated IIUSA Executive Director Aaron Grau. [2/18 Update: IIUSA has expanded on its statement. 7/1/2019 Update: See my post on Country Cap discussion.]

EB-5 Activity at USCIS

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

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

Material Change and Redeployment

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

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

USCIS decision-making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–12/22 UPDATE–

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Department of State website has this notice:

Operations During a Lapse in Appropriations

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

–ORIGINAL POST–

Reauthorization or Shutdown

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

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

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

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

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

Source of Funds Victory

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

Visa Numbers Case Setback

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

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

Litigation

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

SEC Action

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

Regional Center Compliance

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

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

RC Reauthorization to 2/8/2018

February 2
See my Washington Updates page for ongoing updates.

January 23
The President has signed H.R. 195: Extension of Continuing Appropriations Act, 2018, which puts the federal government generally, and the regional center program, back in business through February 8, 2018. The bill text was amended over the weekend, but no additions that would decouple RC program authorization from government funding. However, this extension just gives a couple weeks to breathe before the same issues need to be re-fought. Congressional leaders have vowed to use the time to come up with their long-promised immigration legislation. I hope that this will happen and include EB-5 (though EB-5 is still absent from all debate). Ideally legislation should precede and preempt the EB-5 regulations threatened in February.

IIUSA has posted a helpful EB-5 Advocacy Announcement that includes this information: “While Republican negotiators on EB-5 are closer than ever to finding agreement internally, there are still bipartisan negotiations that need to occur. With pending regulations that could raise investment levels by over 100% and a current potential posted final action date in February, Congressional leaders would likely be left with only 60 days after that final action date to produce a legislative solution in place of the regulations.”

January 22

Update: Congress has cleared legislation to extend government funding to February 8, 2018. The vehicle is “Senate amendment to the House amendment to the Senate amendment to H.R. 195,” and I’ll link the text here when available.

As we wait for Washington to reach an agreement that would fund the government and reauthorize programs including the regional center program, here’s a post from Carolyn Lee on what the shutdown does and does not mean for EB-5.

January 20
The USCIS website announces:

The current lapse in annual appropriated funding for the U.S. government does not affect USCIS’ fee-funded activities. Our offices will remain open, and all applicants should attend interviews and appointments as scheduled. However, several USCIS programs will either expire or suspend operations, or be otherwise affected, until they receive appropriated funds or are reauthorized by Congress.

The list of programs to be affected until reauthorized by Congress includes the regional center program.

January 19
Congress lost its bet and failed to pass a new funding bill by midnight. But “lawmakers are believed to be negotiating a days-long extension that could be approved quickly.” In the meantime, the regional center program is on hold, and regional center-associated petitions and applications won’t advance until Congress takes action.

January 18-19
The Hill has a new article every few minutes on the likelihood that Congress will or won’t agree on time to the CR extending current funding and associated authorities (including RC program authorization) into February. So much drama. I expect that the CR will pass by 11:59 pm on Friday, assuming that our lawmakers have much to gain from speaking out against the CR, and more lose from the shutdown that would result from not voting for it in the end. But we shall see. Just in case, Klasko Law comments on effects of a potential government shutdown on immigration processing and programs and IIUSA explains Possible Government Shutdown: What it Means for the EB-5 Regional Center Program.

January 16
House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen today introduced legislation (H.J.Res 125) to maintain current funding for federal operations and prevent a government shutdown. The Continuing Resolution (CR) is a stop-gap measure that will extend government funding through February 16, 2018.
There’s nothing in the text of H.J.Res 125 to prevent regional center program authorization from being extended with other authorities tied to current funding. But we’ll see whether Congress can manage to agree long enough to pass the CR and avoid a shutdown. The White House supports the CR, at least.

January 15
No indication yet that Washington is near compromise on new immigration legislation. A Continuing Resolution of current funding and authorities to February 16 continues to look likely. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day today, I quote President Trump making an important point:

Today, we celebrate Dr. King for standing up for the self-evident truth Americans hold so dear, that no matter what the color of our skin or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God.

This is not the belief evident in the current immigration reform discussion, which looks more like this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are not created equal, that they are endowed by their nationalities with certain inalienable characteristics, that among these are propensity to violence, noxious ideology, inability to assimilate, and failure in the pursuit of property. — That to secure against such characteristics inherent in certain nations and their nationals, immigration policy is instituted among Us, to effect Our Safety and Happiness by erecting barriers against threats embodied in Them, and screening Them by the color of their passports in lieu of the content of their character.

Dr. King’s genealogy of racial segregation from his How Long Not Long speech in 1965 could also be recast to explain how and why our current populist movement has been co-opted into an anti-immigrant movement with such violent sentiment against DACA. It may be said of the new economy that the donor class took the world and gave the poor white man legal status. And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate legal status, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a citizen, better than the Illegals.

We miss you, Dr. King!

January 11 post
Some dates to keep in mind as we wonder what will happen next with EB-5:

  • January 19, 2018: The next regional center program sunset date (and the deadline for a new funding bill that some hoped to make a vehicle for sweeping new immigration legislation). It’s looking likely that this deadline will be pushed back a few weeks, however, with another continuing resolution.
  • February 2018: The date indicated for final action on new EB-5 regulations (with provisions including drastic increase to the EB-5 investment amount)
  • February 16, 2018: Possible next regional center program sunset date, if Congress fails to pass a new funding bill in January, and instead defers the funding and immigration fight with a continuing resolution  (or some speculate the CR could go into March)
  • March 5, 2018: The date DACA protections are slated to end, and thus the date Congress is pushing to beat in passing a big immigration bill
  • April 2018: The possible effective date for new EB-5 regulations, assuming that the rule is finalized in February with an effective date after 60 days (as ILW rumors)

The race is on for EB-5 legislation, with pressure from sunset dates and the need to forestall unwelcome regulations. Washington is actually talking about comprehensive immigration reform, including reshuffling visa numbers. But I haven’t heard EB-5 mentioned once, for good or ill, anywhere, by anyone, in recent immigration discussion. The left is for DACA; the right is for border security and against diversity visas and chain migration. Immigrant investment doesn’t fit with any side’s talking points. I hope that Congress privately remembers EB-5, because we really need action from them: to give the regional center program a longer-term authorization, to enact program changes better than what would come with new regulations, and to realize program potential by freeing up more visas for EB-5.

If broad-based immigration legislation happens soon, what will it include and how will it affect EB-5? We have a few hints, but nothing definitive yet. This week President Trump hosted a bipartisan and bicameral meeting on immigration reform that concluded (reportedly) with “an agreement to negotiate legislation that accomplishes critically needed reforms in four high-priority areas: border security, chain migration, the visa lottery, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.”  (As an aside, I recommend the White House transcript of the meeting. It’s not especially informative, but an amazing artifact. If Aristophanes or Alexievich set out to write Washington today, I doubt they could beat this straight record of the January 9 Cabinet Room scene.)  Yesterday House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte introduced H.R. 4760 Securing America’s Future Act, which proposes sweeping changes in line with President Trump’s immigration priorities. The bill includes nothing that would directly affect EB-5, so far as I can tell. (The Immigrant Investor Pilot Program gets a name check, but only in context of a technical amendment that renumbers a subsection. No mention of program authorization or any EB-5 changes. H.R. 4760 proposes to increase employment-based visa numbers, but EB-5 wouldn’t benefit because the bill would change its allocation from 7.1% of the total to a flat 9,940 visas annually, regardless of the worldwide level. The bill fiddles with per-country limits for family-based visas, but not for employment-based visas.)  Meanwhile, the Senate is still trying to come up with a competitive immigration deal that’s more passable by Congress while still signable by the President. I’ll report on details when available, and also hope that advocacy people will eventually share what’s happening with EB-5 on the ground. (Update: IIUSA has published an Industry Special Report, and Senator Graham has posted summary provisions of the Senate’s Immigration Reform Act of 2018. The summary mentions nothing that would affect EB-5.)

 

RC Reauthorization to 1/19/2018, visa numbers, legal actions, RC list changes

Countdown to Regional Center Program Reauthorization

  • 12/22: President Trump has signed the continuing resolution H.R. 1370, which means that the regional center program is now extended together with other authorities to January 19, 2018. (See Congress.gov for the text of the enrolled bill H.R.1370, now Public Law No 115-96.) I also notice that the White House website has been reorganized to highlight immigration as a key issue. The new White House immigration page emphasizes these priorities for the administration: constructing a border wall, ensuring the swift removal of unlawful entrants, ending chain migration, eliminating the Visa Lottery, and moving the country to a merit-based entry system.
  • 12/21: The House and Senate have passed a Continuing Resolution that replaces the expiration date in previous legislation with “January 19, 2018,” and doesn’t include any language that would exclude regional center program authorization. See the House Appropriations Committee news release for the text of House Amendment to the Senate Amendment to H.R. 1370.
  • 12/20: The content of a Continuing Resolution through 1/19 is still under negotiation.
  • 12/18: Nothing settled yet on the next stopgap funding measure, which will have to fight with tax reform for attention this week. The Senate Appropriations Committee may come up with its own proposal to compete with the House proposal. Senator Cornyn indicates that the Senate bill would also be through January 19, but may include some different provisions.
  • 12/13: Yesterday the House Appropriations Committee introduced H.J.Res 124 – a Continuing Resolution that would temporarily extend federal funding and maintain current federal operations (currently authorized to December 22) until January 19, 2018. Basically, it’s a clean extension that just switches out expiration dates: “SEC. 101. The Continuing Appropriations Act, 2018 6 (division D of Public Law 115–56) is further amended—7 (1) by striking the date specified in section 8 106(3) and inserting ‘‘January 19, 2018.’’ The 250 pages of miscellaneous additional provisions (defense appropriations, CHIP extension, etc.) do not mention EB-5 or move to separate RC program authorization from continued government funding. This bill is just barely out of committee, not enacted yet, but I’ll add updates as I hear news ahead of the 12/22 deadline.
  • 12/8: IIUSA members will be happy to note that the association has decided to tell us its 2017 Policy Platform and comments on the draft legislative framework. Now to see if we’ll be asked for our opinion on the policy positions someone has formulated. Probably not, since the hard-won industry unity depends on a narrow base. UPDATE: IIUSA has sent an email to members with the invitation “Please contact advocacy@iiusa.org with any comments or questions” on the IIUSA policy framework.
  • 12/8: IIUSA did the right thing with a stern statement on Marketing Hypothetical EB-5 Reform Outcomes as Certainties. Prospective investors take note: do not rest your current EB-5 decision on the possibility of visa set-asides in hypothetical future legislation. We have no assurance that a set-aside proposal will ever be enacted, or to whom/what a set-aside proposal would apply, if enacted. Even if set-asides became available, the size of the visa backlog and volume of I-526 filings mean that they may disappear too quickly to have an appreciable incentive effect. Their main function appears to be now, in hypothetical form, as a phantom concession to help get what industry negotiators really want (low investment difference between TEA and non-TEA areas) and a phantom carrot to encourage new investors.

Visa Backlog Update

The backlog of EB-5 visa applications at the National Visa Center continues to grow, as one would expect with I-526 filing surges reaching the visa application stage. The Annual Report of Immigrant Visa Applicants in the Family-sponsored and Employment-based preferences Registered at the National Visa Center as of November 1, 2017 reveals that the EB-5 visa application backlog is 23% longer this year than last year, with 17% increase in pending applications from mainland China and a 106% increase in pending applications from other countries. I’ve added these numbers to my master backlog calculation spreadsheet, which has a projection tab to estimate how statistics translate into wait times.

Legal Actions

Additional reading for those interested in following litigation in the EB-5 space, and learning from the actions and statements that got other people in trouble.

Other Helpful Articles

McKee, Curylo, Parrington: Considerations for Independent Third Parties to Assist With EB-5 Investments (December 12, 2017)

Regional Center List Changes

Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 11/08/2017 to 12/05/2017:

  • American Dream Fund Seattle Regional Center, LLC (Washington): www.adreamfund.com
  • American EB5 Regional Center (Florida)
  • Cactus21 LLC (California)
  • Chicago Real Estate Development Regional Center, LLC (Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin)
  • Great North Regional Center, LLC (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont): www.peakresorts.com
  • Hawaii Regional Fortune Center LLC (Hawaii)
  • M5 Venture Southern California RC, LLC (California): www.m5venture.com
  • Manhattan Empire State Regional Center, LLC (Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania)
  • NCP Regional Center (California)
  • North Carolina EB5 Regional Center, LLC (North Carolina, South Carolina): eb5affiliatenetwork.com/regional-centers-access/eb5-regional-center-north-carolina
  • SRC NY, LLC (Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania)

One regional center was removed from the approved list, but not added to the terminated list:

  • Bart Investment Group, LLC (Florida)

 

RC Program Reauthorization (CR to 12/22/2017)

Updates:

  • 12/8: H.J. Res 123 has been signed by the President and is now P.L. 115-90. Now we wait for legislation that will authorize the regional center program past December 22, 2017.
  • 12/7: A continuing resolution through December 22 passed the House and Senate today, and the President is expected to sign it. H.J. Res 123 is a “clean” extension, meaning that it simply extends the deadline for previous funding and authorities (including the regional center program) without changes.
  • 12/7: Regional center program authorization is still waiting on Congress to manage a Continuing Resolution that would extend current government funding and associated authorities past December 8. Washington continues to fight and risk shutdown. If by chance current government funding and the regional center program sunset on 12/8, what will happen to EB-5 investors? The impact will not be too painful so long as the lapse is temporary. Judging from past history, the Department of State will change EB-5 regional center visa categories from “Current” to “Unavailable” in the Visa Bulletin, and pause issuing visas to RC investors until the RC program is authorized again, returning to business as usual.  USCIS has reportedly prepared “what if” guidance for two sunset scenarios: if the Regional Center program lapses but Congress apparently intends to reauthorize it, or if Congress indicates its desire to end the program. I’m guessing that if the lapse appears temporary/unintentional, then IPO will probably also just hold off on new RC petition approvals until the program regains authorization. And as another reminder: EB-5 itself is a permanent program and not facing a sunset; direct EB-5 petitions and applications can continue as usual regardless of RC program authorization.
  • 12/5: Senator Grassley and Senator Cornyn — two people who have worked on EB-5 legislation in the past — today announced a new bill that would address a number of immigration issues but apparently not EB-5.  S.2192 “The Security, Enforcement, and Compassion United in Reform Efforts (SECURE) Act of 2017” is about security and enforcement, not about compassion or unity, and not concerned with EB-5 (though it would give permanent status to E-Verify, a temporary program historically reauthorized with the regional center program).
  • 12/5: The Hill notes that immigration is in the spotlight as discussions continue over a series of continuing resolutions that would extend current government funding to 12/22/2017, and then again to January or February next year. But the contentious issues are Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals and border security; no one’s arguing about EB-5 so far.
  • 12/4: It looks as if there will be an extension to December 22 (or possibly into January), to give Congress more time to come up with a new funding bill.

Original 11/29 post: EB-5 is permanent, but the EB-5 regional center program faces another sunset date. The RC program’s current authorization is tied to a continuing appropriations act that expires next week Friday, December 8. Sabers are rattling in Washington over the next funding bill, and we may be in for another short-term resolution while our representatives get things figured out. EB-5 hardly rates in the scheme of significant and controversial issues facing Congress now, and I don’t hear anyone speaking out about it. I expect we’ll see (1) a new appropriations bill or continuing resolution next week that includes clean extension to the RC program for the bill’s duration (since that’s been the pattern for two years, and the default option for a Congress busy with other matters); or (2) limited EB-5 program changes crafted by/for the few people who spend most on EB-5 lobbying, slipped quietly and at the last minute into a larger bill to facilitate passage and forestall review and criticism from a broader base of interests. I do not think the regional center program will be terminated, or omitted on purpose from the next appropriations bill. Termination calls have never been very loud or widespread, and termination would also take time and attention from Congress. However, the reauthorization picture is not pretty. The RC program has received seven short-term extensions in the past two years. Congress hasn’t taken positive action on EB-5 since 2012. A program with billions of dollars on the line deserves more stability, attention, and enthusiasm.

Chart notes: The PL numbers identify the public laws that contain regional center program authorization. Each opaque blue bar begins with the date of PL enactment and ends with the end of RC authorization in that PL. The light blue shading reflects the fact that the first three reauthorizations just extended the original authorization (from five years to seven, then ten, then fifteen years). If anyone knows how to fill in the authorization gaps in my chart before 2008, please email me the missing PL numbers.

RC reauthorization to 12/8/2017, I-924A tips, SEC request denied (Kameli)

Regional Center Program Reauthorization

The EB-5 Regional Center Program authorization is now extended to December 8, 2017 thanks to H.R.601, which the President signed into law yesterday. Washington worked with admirable dispatch this time, cutting and finalizing the deal all within one week and nearly a month ahead of the September 30th deadline.

The law is hard to read, but for those who like to confirm things personally here’s the relevant language for regional center program extension. H.R. 601 “Continuing Appropriations Act, 2018 and Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements Act, 2017”  Division D Section 101 (PDF page 11) provides appropriations for “continuing projects or activities…for which appropriations, funds, or other authority were made available in the following appropriations Acts: … (6) The Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2017 (division F of Public Law 115–31), except section 310.” The previous regional center program authorization is in Public Law 115-31 Division F Section 542 (PDF page 298), so it’s one of the continuing activities that’s extended by H.R. 601 Division D Section 101. (And to go back another step, the language in PL 115-31(F)542 refers back to Section 610(b) of the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1993 (Public Law 102-395) page 47, which established the regional center program.) H.R. 601 Division D Section 106 (PDF page 13) further specifies that:

Unless otherwise provided for in this Act or in the applicable appropriations Act for fiscal year 2018, appropriations and funds made available and authority granted pursuant to this Act shall be available until whichever of the following first occurs:
(1) the enactment into law of an appropriation for any project or activity provided for in this Act;
(2) the enactment into law of the applicable appropriations Act for fiscal year 2018 without any provision for such project or activity; or
(3) December 8, 2017.

The language in Section 106 is a good reminder that “extended to December 8” doesn’t mean “guaranteed to remain unchanged until December 8.” Congress will reportedly turn its attention to immigration issues in the next couple months, and they could come up with legislation before December that affects multiple visa categories including EB-5.

I-924A Filing Tips
I’m not sure what changed, since I don’t work directly with I-924A, but yesterday USCIS published a new version of the Form I-924A Filing Tips page.

SEC Request Denied (Kameli)
When the SEC files a complaint, it’s easy for the public to just assume that the defendant is guilty as charged and there won’t be any more to the story but determining punishment. Even worse, USCIS tends to assume this and has been known to deny and revoke investor petitions and terminate regional centers before the SEC cases are concluded. We all need to remember that sometimes the defendant might have a compelling other side of the story, and might not be found guilty. The district court judge overseeing a recent EB-5 case filed by the SEC just found that the SEC “in numerous instances has not presented fully developed arguments to show why defendants’ actions violated securities laws.” The judge’s memorandum opinion, which considers the defendants’ side of the story, is linked at the end of the article Senior living developer avoids EB-5 ban, receivership (September 7, 2017). For the SEC’s version of events see SEC v. Seyed Taher Kameli, et al., Civil Action No. 17-cv-04686 (June 22, 2017). The article SEC Suffers One of its First Major Losses in EB-5 Realm (September 12, 2017) summarizes the issues.

2018 Update: The SEC v. Kameli case continues, however. The SEC came back with an amended complaint filed on January 29, 2018.

Redeployment, Reauthorization, I-485, AAO Decisions, RC List Changes

Redeployment
Julia Harrison’s published statement for the July 19 engagement in San Jose has been updated with cautious answers to two important questions about how redeployment policy applies to pending I-526 petitions. Specifically, whether adding redeployment language to filed documents would constitute material change, and what process and documents are required if redeployment occurs while I-526 is pending. The answers aren’t direct and substantial enough to provide comforting guidance, but on the other hand they’re so open-ended as to potentially offer a lot of flexibility for compliance. I’ll let you consult the link to read for yourself. You needn’t return to my recording to check whether these topics were discussed in more detail in person on July 19, because they were not. Maybe these redeployment questions came up in follow-up emails to the Public Engagement mailbox, and now kindly being shared with everyone. Though it’s lucky I’m so vigilant, or we might never have noticed that the USCIS website replaced one version of the July 19 talking points with another.

Speaking of redeployment, here’s another helpful article. Fiduciary Duties of General Partners and Managers in Connection with Redeployment of EB-5 Capital (August 28, 2017) By Catherine DeBono Holmes

EB-5 Engagements
USCIS posted an official recording of the 8/24 I-924A webinar very promptly, and also sent a “Save the Date” announcement. “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will hold the next EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program national stakeholder engagement on Tuesday, November 7, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Eastern. This event will take place at the USCIS New York City Field Office with in-person and telephone participation and the option to submit questions in advance. We will send an invitation with more details in the coming weeks.”

Reauthorization
The next sunset date for the Regional Center Program comes in just a few days, on September 30. Since dropping or substantially extending the RC program would require attention and discussion, and no one seems to have time or interest for that, I’m guessing we’re in for another series of uncomfortable and inconclusive short extensions with spending bills, as in 2015 and 2016. (9/8 update: the Regional Center Program is now extended as part of a Continuing Resolution to December 8, 2017.)

EB-5 has an awkward position, politically. When the right likes investment but is queasy about immigrants, and the left is just the opposite, what’s the future of immigrant investment? EB-5 is a visa category that demonstrably creates rather than takes U.S. jobs, supports U.S. business development and American products, and brings in a small number of legal immigrants likely to generate a lot of tax dollars and not strain the welfare system. That should make it a favorite visa category, especially for economic nationalists. But a Congressman who’s actively working against the immigration prospects of US-raised kids and overseas grandmas is already getting some flack, and may hear criticism from all sides if he’s seen to simultaneously support wealth-related immigration. On the other hand, people concerned to protect visa opportunities get more political credit for focusing on kids and grandmothers and tech talent than on a small category of legal immigrants associated in the press with luxury real estate. So far as I know, no one in Congress has been interested enough in EB-5 recently to even criticize it, must less speak in support of it. The Senate Judiciary Committee is reportedly about to hold a hearing on immigrant visas, but EB-5 probably won’t be on the agenda. The hearing is designed to scrutinize visas that conflict with the administration’s “Buy American Hire American” policy, and EB-5 doesn’t conflict with that policy. Since EB-5 isn’t in the cross hairs, it may not even be on the radar. But I’ll keep looking for news, and please tell me if you have insights into what’s likely to happen between now and December. Maybe USCIS’s threat to possibly finalize EB-5 regulations by 4/00/2018 will incentivize lobbyists to push for substantial EB-5 legislation sooner rather than later, but we’ll see. A lot of good EB-5 projects and good faith investors depend on smooth seas ahead.

I-485 Interviews
Immigrants who apply for an EB-5 visa through the adjustment of status (I-485) rather than consular process should note the announcement that USCIS to Expand In-Person Interview Requirements for Certain Permanent Residency Applicants (August 28, 2017). These interviews are designed to provide USCIS officers with the opportunity to verify the information provided in an individual’s application, to discover new information that may be relevant to the adjudication process, and to determine the credibility of the individual seeking permanent residence in the United States. Miller Mayer comments on practical implications.

AAO Decisions (geography, material change, RC termination)
The 2017 folder of AAO decisions on I-526 appeals has already posted 177 decisions – or 26 decisions, if we exclude near duplicates (different petitioners, same decision). I read all the decisions and keep a log of points that are significant to my work with EB-5 business plans. A few comments on decisions that interested me.

  • JAN132017_03B7203 (Matter of WX) and AUG152017_01B7203 (Matter of SL) deal with the same business model: a proposal to open and operate three franchise hair salons, of which the first two have identified TEA locations and the third is a plan for the future, with location to be determined. The AAO decisions confirm what I’ve always said: that only the identified locations can be considered for the total EB-5 investment and employment eligibility requirements. A petition can’t depend on applying TEA investment to a prospective location, since the TEA status of that unidentified location can’t be determined at the time of investment or filing.
  • AUG152017_01B7203 (Matter of SL) has the additional wrinkle that the salons funded by qualifying investment had already gone out of business (after having operated 1.5 years) by the time USCIS got around to adjudicating SL’s I-526 petition. SL expressed her intention to make additional investment and resume operations in the same locations. Interestingly, AAO did not say that such a situation would automatically lead to denial or the need to file a new I-526 petition. AAO challenged the practical feasibility of restarting the business (based on minute analysis of the business plan), but does not challenge the very idea of funding a new business after the previously-funded business failed. The decision implies that business failure and need for new investment would not be, in themselves, a material change. The decision specifically states that opening new salons in the same TEA with different management and different staffing plan is not a material change.
  • JUN302017_01B7203 (Matter of WL) gives another rare example of a change NOT found to be material. WL filed Form I-526 with a business plan that anticipated that the NCE would provide shuttle and tour services, with auto accessories sale as a sideline (about 10% of business). A site visit subsequently found little evidence of shuttle/tour service, and auto accessories sale accounting for far more than 10% of the business. But AAO judged that “Merely shifting the percentages of the types of services the Petitioner said the NCE would offer is not, by itself, a sufficient basis to deny the petition.”
  • APR262017_02B7203 (Matter of YL) and JUL062017_01B7203 (Matter of YY) identify material changes and explain what makes the changes material. In Matter of YL, a change in business focus and location are judged to be “predictably capable of affecting” and “have a tendency to influence” determinations of whether the Petitioner invested at the required capital investment threshold and will prospectively create the requisite qualifying jobs. In Matter of YL, the petitioner filed a series of plans for different types of food service business. AAO judged that in this case “The NCE’s business plans two and three constitute a material change to the original one because they represent far more than a change in food styles. …In addition to the type of food, business plans two and three include changes to the NCE’s nature of business, services offered, location, start-up costs, and staffing needs. These changes are material and are made to correct a deficiency in the original submission.”  (By the way I add these examples as they come to my master post on material change.)
  • JUN222017_01B7203 (Matter of LPT) shows how real-life business development after I-526 can help the petitioner, so long as it’s successful. USCIS questioned the reasonableness and credibility of LPT’s business plan, and LPT responded not by revisiting the projections but by documenting actual successful business performance since I-526 filing. On the other hand, JUN132017_01B7203 (Matter of MYA) explains why disastrous developments after I-526 filing (in this case, the Palm House Hotel woes) justify judging the original business plan not credible in hindsight.
  • APR182017_01B7203 is good reading for anyone intending to set up a direct EB-5 investment with elements of a debt model, such as preferred return.
  • The cases from JUL192017_01B7203 to JUL282017_11B7203 are denials of appeals or motions to reopen/reconsider filed by Path America investors whose petitions were denied or revoked following the termination of Path America Regional Center. All are nearly identical to one or the other of the linked decisions, and dismiss the petitioners’ attempts to claim some due process protection.

Regional Center List Changes

Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 8/23/2017 to 8/28/2017

  • Guardian Regional Center, LLC (Texas)
  • NationSure, LLC (New York)
  • State of Maine EB-5 Regional Center, LLC (Maine)

New Terminations

  • Live in America – Georgia Regional Center LLC (Georgia) Terminated 8/18/2017
  • Live in America – Boston Regional Center LLC (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island) Terminated 8/18/2017
  • Live in America – Florida, LLC (Florida) Terminated 8/18/2017
  • Live in America – Nevada Regional Center, LLC (Nevada) Terminated 8/18/2017
  • Live in America – Louisiana Regional Center, LLC (Louisiana) Terminated 8/18/2017
  • Live in America – U.S. Virgin Islands Regional Center LLC (U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI)) Terminated 8/18/2017
  • Live in America – Arizona Regional Center, LLC (Arizona) Terminated 8/18/2017
  • Live in America – Indiana, Michigan, Ohio Regional Center (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio) Terminated 8/18/2017
  • Live in America Chicago Regional Center, LLC (Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin) Terminated 8/18/2017
  • Live in America – Midwest Regional Center, LLC (Minnesota, Wisconsin) Terminated 8/18/2017
  • SoCal Regional Center, LLC (California) Terminated 8/18/2017

RC reauthorization to 9/30/2017, Trump statements on reform

The regional center program is now authorized, as part of fiscal year 2017 Appropriations legislation, through September 30, 2017. Updates as they happened:

  • 5/8/2017: In the wake of RC program reauthorization and the flap over an EB-5 project being promoted by the Kushner Companies, the White House has started issuing more EB-5 statements, which I’m collecting in this document.
  • 5/5/2017: President Trump has signed the omnibus appropriations bill H.R. 244 – Senate Amendments to HIRE Vets Act [Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017]. The text still includes clean extension of the regional center program to September 30, 2017 (Title III, Section 542).
  • 5/1/2017: House Appropriations Committee press release: Comprehensive Government Funding Bill Released. The bill text includes this magic sentence on page 734: “SEC. 542. Section 610(b) of the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1993 (8 U.S.C. 1153 note) shall be applied by substituting ‘‘September 30, 2017’’ for ‘‘September 30, 2015’’. If passed, this will give simple extension of the Regional Center program authorization for the reminder of the fiscal year, with no other EB-5 program changes. (Section 610(b) of the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1993 (Public Law 102-395) established the regional center program, page 47.)  Even assuming the bill will pass as-is, this is not time to relax. Congress could still come out with new independent EB-5 legislation at any time — nothing says they have to wait til the last reauthorization minute to act. Senator Cornyn’s office circulated a new discussion draft of EB-5 legislation just this morning. I’ve entered summary details in my bill comparison chart,   and will add link to the full text as soon as someone posts the draft publicly.
  • 4/28/2017: H.J.Res. 99 – Joint Resolution making further continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2017, and for other purposes has been passed and signed into law, extending government funding and other provisions of Public Law 114–223 (including the regional center program) to May 5, 2017.
  • 4/27/2017: For the first time, I’ve noticed a statement from the Trump administration on EB-5. Washington Post says,
      • The White House issued a statement to The Washington Post this week saying that the Trump administration is weighing changes to the foreign investor visa program. “There are serious concerns held by the administration regarding the EB-5 visa program, in part because it is not being used as it was primarily intended,” said Michael Short, a White House spokesman. “The administration is continuing to evaluate reforms to the program, which we believe is in need of substantial repair.”

    (Update: additional statements linked above at the 5/8/2017 bullet point.)

  • 4/26/2017: House Appropriations Committee Press Release: “House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen today introduced a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) (H.J.Res. 99) to continue funding for federal programs and services until May 5, 2017. …The legislation continues policy and funding provisions included in currently enacted fiscal year 2016 Appropriations legislation.” Here is the text of the CR. It’s set for vote on 4/28.

As a reminder, the history of recent regional center program reauthorizations:

  • 12/10/2016 – RC program is extended unchanged to 04/28/2017 as part of a continuing appropriations act (PL 114-254)
  • 9/29/2016 – RC program is extended unchanged to 12/09/2016 as part of a continuing appropriations act (PL 114-223)
  • 12/8/2015 – RC program is extended unchanged to 9/30/2016 as part of an appropriations act (PL 114-113)
  • 9/30/2015 – RC program is extended unchanged to 12/11/2015 as part of a continuing appropriations act (PL 114-53)
  • 9/28/2012 – RC program is extended (with one small change) to 9/30/2015 as part of immigration-related legislation (PL 112-176)

Countdown to reauthorization (CR to 4/28/2017)

The next sunset date for the regional center program is coming up on Friday 12/9, and I’ll update this post with relevant news as I receive it. (See my 9/29/2016 post if you’d like to review the history of RC program authorizations, and my 4/27/2017 post for updates on the more recent reauthorization countdown.)

UPDATES:

  • 12/10/2016: President Obama signed into law H.R. 2028, the “Further and Continuing and Security Assistance Appropriations Act, 2017.” It is now Public Law 114-254. This extends Regional Center program authorization together with government funding and other authorities through April 28, 2017.
  • 12/9/2016: The Senate is up late voting on the CR (HR 2028), and tomorrow should bring the good news of no government shutdown or RC program lapse.
  • 12/8/2016: The Hill reports that the CR passed the House today, and the Senate is expected to vote tomorrow. GOP leaders are confident that it will reach the President by the deadline, though it’s facing some opposition.
  • 12/7/2016: IIUSA has issued an advocacy alert welcoming the CR and the short-term reauthorization of the EB-5 Regional Center Program through April 28. “EB-5 stakeholders and congressional offices have engaged in meaningful discussions all year, particularly over the past few months, to reach consensus and compromise for the healthy future of the Program. With a tight deadline to fund the federal government and address other pressing legislative issues, there was simply not enough time for a reform package to be passed during this Congress. The short-term extension through April 28 will ensure that the industry and legislators will have the opportunity to agree upon a comprehensive reauthorization bill that provides necessary reforms to the Program while allowing the Program to continue to grow, thrive and endure in the long term.”
  • 12/6/2016: Quoted from a House Appropriations Committee Press Release: “House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers today introduced a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) (H.R. 2028) to prevent a government shutdown and continue funding for federal programs and services until April 28, 2017. The legislation also contains funding for emergency disaster relief.  …The CR extends funding for operations for most federal agencies, programs and services until April 28, 2017. It maintains the current budget cap level of $1.07 trillion put into place under the Budget Control Act of 2011. The legislation continues policy and funding provisions included in currently enacted fiscal year 2016 Appropriations legislation. It does not include controversial riders, or major changes in existing federal policy.   ….For the full text of the legislation, please visit: http://docs.house.gov/floor/”  The Appropriations Committee has also posted a nice section-by-section summary.
  • 12/6/2016: Lawmakers haggle over funding bill as shutdown nears, says The Hill
  • 12/5/2016: I hear that Goodlatte and Conyers’ H.R. 5992 EB-5 Reform Act is still under active negotiation behind the scenes. A staff draft of the bill dated 12/2/2016, just forwarded to me by a kind reader, shows significant revisions from the original bill and suggests concessions to industry pressure on TEA definitions, visa set-asides, minimum investment amounts, foreign government involvement, and account transparency requirements. The matter of retroactive effective dates is marked as controversial and “unresolved” in this draft. Provisions on direct jobs, public bonds, and loan restrictions are highlighted as points for discussion. I will be astonished if a substantive EB-5 reform bill gets passed soon, but Congress might exceed expectations. This draft in progress does show a lot of recent work

RC program extension to 12/9, reauthorization history, new RCs

Regional Center Program Authorization
The regional center program has been reauthorized through December 9, 2016 as part of the Continuing Appropriations and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017, and Zika Response and Preparedness Act signed today by the President. I held off on reporting this because I couldn’t find RC program reauthorization in the bill. But IIUSA assures me that they’ve gotten confirmation from multiple Congressional offices that RC program extension is in Division C (p. 125-127), so we’ll go with it. (UPDATE: If you’d like the detail, here are emails I received from a couple kind attorneys who explain how the language works. See also the article Congressional Research Service Analyzes Validity of EB-5 Program Extension.) The extension gives only a very short reprieve. Lawmakers are now leaving Washington and won’t be back until November 14, leaving just a few weeks to figure out what comes next — or (probably more likely) to redeploy short-term measures to defer substantial lawmaking to the next Congress.

For reference, I’ve compiled a timeline of regional center program legislation to date. Notice the varying authorization periods, the fact that new legislation has usually been finalized nearly on and sometimes after the sunset date, that RC program extension has usually been part of appropriations legislation, and that previous program extensions have been associated with few to no program changes.
rctimeline

  • 11/29/1990 – EB-5 is established as part of an immigration act (PL 101-649)
  • 10/6/1992 – RC program is established as a pilot within EB-5 and authorized for five years as part of an appropriations act (PL 102-395)
  • 11/26/1997 – RC program is authorized for an additional two years (with one small change) as part of an appropriations act (PL 105-119)
  • 10/30/2000 — RC program is authorized for an additional three years (with a couple small changes) as part of immigration-related legislation (PL 106-396)
  • 11/2/2002 – Significant changes are made to EB-5 as part of an appropriations act, but no change to the RC program sunset date (PL 107-273)
  • 12/3/2003 – RC program is authorized for an additional five years (with a few small changes) as part of standalone EB-5 legislation (PL 108-156)
  • 9/30/2008 – RC program is extended unchanged to 3/6/2009 as part of a continuing resolution (PL 110-329)
  • 3/11/2009 – RC program is extended unchanged to 9/30/2009 as part of an appropriations act (PL 111-8)
  • 10/28/2009 – RC program is extended unchanged to 9/30/2012 as part of an appropriations act (PL 111-83)
  • 9/28/2012 – RC program is extended (with one small change) to 9/30/2015 as part of immigration-related legislation (PL 112-176)
  • 9/30/2015 – RC program is extended unchanged to 12/11/2015 as part of a continuing resolution (PL 114-53)
  • 12/8/2015 – RC program is extended unchanged to 9/30/2016 as part of an appropriations act (PL 114-113)
  • 9/29/2016 – RC program is extended unchanged to 12/09/2016 as part of a continuing resolution (PL 114-223)

To be continued….(Note that Googling the PL number will readily bring up the legislation, and in most cases you can locate the RC program reference in the document by searching for 610(b).) We hope that the regional center EB-5 will eventually have the stability of a permanent program.

Regional Center List Changes

Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 09/12/2016 to 9/16/2016

  • American Southern Regional Center, LLC (Georgia)
  • California Bohong Premier Regional Center, LLC (California)
  • KCI Capital Limited (Colorado)
  • TLQ Partnership, LLC (California)
  • TriHaven Investment Group LLC (California)

Mysteriously re-added to the approved regional center list, though they’re also still listed on the page for terminated regional centers

  • Path America KingCo, LLC (Washington)
  • The Lawrence Economic Development Corporation (Ohio)

Removed from the regional center list (but not listed as terminated)

  • DC Partners Regional Center (Texas)
  • FP Advisors LLC (Colorado)

Regional center terminations:

  • American EB-5 Centers (Florida) Terminated 9/28/2016
  • Virginia Center for Foreign Investment and Job Creation (Virginia) Terminated 9/29/2016

Looking toward RC program reauthorization (with updates)

UPDATES:

— Original 9/5 Post —

Congress goes back to work tomorrow, and the EB-5 regional center program needs to be reauthorized by its next sunset date of September 30, 2016. What will happen over the next few days? Will the regional center program be temporarily extended as is, significantly changed, or left to expire? Here’s what I hear*:

  • The most likely scenario is for short-term RC program authorization to be included (just like last year) in a Continuing Resolution (CR) – the omnibus spending package that will need to be passed by 9/30 to keep the government funded. At least, industry groups are pushing for this to happen, realizing that substantial EB-5 legislation is very unlikely to be hammered out before 9/30. As a rider on the spending bill, the RC program would be extended (likely, as is) for the duration of the CR (which might be to the end of 2016 or through the lame-duck session of Congress into 2017). You can follow what’s happening with the CR generally at TheHill.com and other news sources. A short-term extension would give Congress and the industry more time to negotiate long-term reform and reauthorization (and more time to continue deferring hard decisions).
  • The House and Senate Judiciary Committees have been working on EB-5 legislation, and IIUSA expects to see a new bill soon, even as early as this week. The draft legislation has been kept confidential so far, but is expected to follow the framework of the S.1501 family of bills, with modifications. A longed-for provision that the bill will likely NOT include: an increase to the number of EB-5 visas. Increasing EB-5 visa numbers would require either increasing the total quota of immigrants to the U.S. or taking numbers from other immigrant categories – both very difficult politically, and unlikely to happen except in the context of comprehensive immigration reform (which is unlikely in the current economy and political climate). A much-feared provision that the bill might include: retroactive application. Retroactivity would be a practical disaster for the industry and for USCIS, but tempts Congressional leaders who want their changes to take affect soon (and not have to wait until the 6+ year backlog has worked its way through the system). I’m sure that advocacy groups are ready with their arguments for why retroactivity cannot be part of a bill designed to ensure the long-term health of the RC program. A contentious provision likely to feature in the new legislation: targeted employment area reform. This year’s House and Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on EB-5 focused on TEA issues. Non-controversial content that the bill is likely to include: integrity measures designed to discourage bad actors. Most stakeholders are ready to agree about that. But in any case, I don’t hear anyone predicting that a substantial EB-5 bill introduced this month might also be passed this month. The bill would give us something to discuss (in the breathing space we hope will be provided by another short-term extension), and its ultimate fate could vary depending on who controls Congress and the White House next year.
  • I have not heard anyone working in EB-5 advocacy predict that Congress will let the RC program expire at the end of this month. The industry expects reauthorization — at least a short-term one. However, I don’t hear people making very confident predictions about what will happen. Last year’s process surprised many insiders, and we can’t rule out surprises this year.
  • And just as a reminder: EB-5 itself is a permanent program and not hanging in the balance – only the regional center program is up for reauthorization.

*My sources are private conversations, a 9/2 IIUSA Advocacy Alert emailed by Peter Joseph to IIUSA members, a 9/1 post by Mintz Levin, and an 8/30 ILW webinar with Laura Reiff (EB-5 Coalition), Robert Divine, and Angelo Paparelli.

RC Reauthorization Status, New RCs

Reauthorization Status
The current authorization of the Regional Center program is set to expire after September 30, 2015, and timely reauthorization is looking doubtful what with our representatives being on vacation much of the time between now and then, and with none of the proposed/pending legislation looking advisable to pass without discussion and revision. What will happen on October 1 if Congress hasn’t acted in time? We also asked this question in 2012, last time the program was up for reauthorization, and got vague answers from USCIS (“This as a question that will just have to be addressed when and if it occurs, and the Service does not have a response at this time” was the message at the 1/23/2012 EB-5 stakeholder meeting. The 5/1/2012 EB-5 stakeholder meeting executive summary stated that all existing regional center designations would expire automatically and that USCIS would not approve new Regional Center designations, but did not comment on what would happen with Regional Center-associated investor petitions.). We’ll see what USCIS has to say in next week’s engagement (8/13/2015). In the meantime, advocacy groups (IIUSA, EB5 Coalition) are still pressing for timely action, and we may after all get a bill passed at around 11:58 pm on the 30th, as has happened before. Here are the proposals on the horizon, so far as I know.

    • S.1501 – American Job Creation and Investment Promotion Reform Act of 2015. Sponsored by Senator Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Grassley (R-IA). Introduced in the Senate on June 3, 2015, referred to committee, and much analyzed and largely panned since then by the EB-5 community. The bill’s good aspects – that it extends (by five years) and seeks to improve the Regional Center program and is sponsored by important people – seem outweighed by its problems – that its provisions would drastically redirect and severely curtail the scope of the RC program (discouraging large raises, large projects and urban development in favor of small EB-5-dominated projects in rural areas), and that it brands the RC program as a hotbed of corruption and proposes ham-fisted measures that wouldn’t necessarily forestall bad actors, who can be glibber than most in attesting virtue, but would place an unwieldly regulatory burden and risk on people actually trying to do things right. IIUSA reports that they continue to have close discussions with the bill’s drafters – and other relevant Senate offices – as alternative language is considered by the sponsoring offices.
    • H.R.3370 – To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to promote innovation, investment, and research in the United States, and for other purposes. Sponsored by Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL). Introduced in the House on July 29, 2015, and referred to committee. I think this is a pretty good bill (aside from being nearly unreadable in bill form – read Rep. Lofgren’s section summary first before you try the legislation itself or you’ll get confused). The bill proposes a couple new EB visa categories in Title I (I don’t see the proposed EB-6 category being used much, as VC risk/unpredictability and immigration aren’t a great mix, but in any case it wouldn’t take visas away from or otherwise affect the EB-5 program) and discusses the EB-5 Regional Center program in Title II (starting on p. 17). The bill would permanently authorize the RC program, double the qualifying EB-5 investment amount (which is a leap, but not unreasonable considering investor visa thresholds in other countries), open the possibility of doubling the annual EB-5 visa allocation, and make other changes that I think would generally improve the footing of the EB-5 program. The proposals regarding TEAs and job creation (p. 38-41) strike me as particularly well-considered and reasonable. The concurrent filing and premium processing provisions would be very popular (though with a fee of only $5000, I believe that 100% of EB-5 petitioners would go for premium processing, making the service impossible to deliver in practice). The proposals for improved program integrity in this bill look serious but largely reasonable and justifiable rather than punitive and alarmist, as in S.1501. I’m just concerned that this bill, like S.1501, charges USCIS to regulate – and holds RCs responsible for keeping in line – a constellation of people who we’d all like to see controlled but who are not necessarily amenable to control by either RCs or USCIS. USCIS is supposed to work with the FBI to conduct background checks of and Regional Centers may be heavily sanctioned based on the behavior of anyone who can be considered “involved” with a regional center or an associated commercial enterprise (i.e. “if he or she is the principal, representative, administrator, owner, officer, board member, manager, executive, general partner, fiduciary, marketer, promoter, director, or other similar position of substantial authority for the operations, management, or promotion of the regional center or associated commercial enterprise, respectively”). In practice, does this mean that FBI agents have to show up at the offices of licensed migration agents in China who happen to be sourcing investors for Regional Centers and say okay hands out everybody, we’re taking fingerprints? How will the Chinese government feel about the US coming in to lay down the law in a domain that it is concerned to regulate itself and to protect from foreign influence? Considering that most EB-5 offers are made entirely abroad, and often by independent third parties who owe first allegiance to their own local regulations, how would Regional Centers handle the requirement “to monitor and supervise all offers and sales of securities which are made by associated commercial enterprises to ensure compliance with the securities laws of the United States, and to maintain records, data, and information relating to all such offers and sales of securities”? Certainly the selling and investor recruitment process is a major challenge, complication and source of confusion and vulnerability for the EB-5 program and for Regional Centers and deserves to be addressed, but easier said than done.
    • H.R. 616 American Entrepreneurship and Investment Act of 2015. Sponsored by Representative Polis (D-CO) and Amodi (R-NV), and now with 22 co-sponsors. Introduced in the House January 28, 2015, referred to committee March 17, 2015. This bill proposes permanently authorizing the Regional Center program without overhauling it, and briefly suggests a few modest and generally-welcome clarifications and improvements. I don’t know why this bill hasn’t gained more traction – possibly because the general mood seems to be that the program needs some significant changes if it’s to be made permanent.
    • Rumor has it that Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Representative Darrel Issa (R-CA) plan to introduce legislation in early September that will be similar to their SKILLS Act (HR2131) proposal from last year, with some additions. As originally written, this bill proposed new EB-6 and EB-7 categories (defined differently from Lofgren’s), tweaked a bunch of visa categories, and had one line about the Regional Center program, proposing to make it permanent. The new version will reportedly include some additional EB-5 program changes, but less drastic than those in S.1501.

Carolyn Lee has assembled a handy bill comparison chart. See also Pat Hogan’s letter on the mood in Washington as of Sept. 2015.

New Regional Centers
Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 6/23/2015 to 8/3/2015

  • American Coast Regional Center (California)
  • EB-5 Impact Capital Regional Center, LLC (California and Nevada)
  • EB5 International, LLC (California): www.eb5international.com
  • EB5 Affiliate Network Washington, D.C. Regional Center, LLC (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia): eb5affiliatenetwork.com
  • Maryland Global Regional Center, LLC (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia): www.cgrc.info
  • Civitas Northern Florida Regional Center (Florida): www.civitascapital.com
  • EB5 Financing Management Company, LLC (Florida)
  • Civitas Illinois Regional Center (Illinois): www.civitascapital.com
  • EB5 Affiliate Network State of Hawaii Regional Center, LLC (Hawaii): eb5affiliatenetwork.com
  • Massachusetts Wealth and Happiness Regional Center, Inc. (Massachusetts)
  • EB5 Affiliate Network State of North Carolina Regional Center, LLC (North Carolina): eb5affiliatenetwork.com
  • Ocean Pacific Regional Center, LLC (Oregon)
  • Harmonia Regional Center, LLC (Texas): harmoniaeb5.com
  • Name Change: Gotham City Regional Center, LLC changed to Silverstein Properties Regional Center LLC (Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania): silversteinrc.com

USCIS Website
I also note that USCIS has done a little revamp of the EB-5 section of its website, separating what used to be the main page into two pages, one about the EB-5 program and one about the EB-5 visa but still mysteriously (pointedly?) omitting the informational page that used to be there about the Regional Center program. They do slap a nice big forbidden icon on the link to the list of terminated Regional Centers, a list already with plenty of indignity for the subset of centers that landed there not by fault but by choosing not to continue with the program.

Preparing for the Regional Center deadline June 30, 2021

2/17/2021 Update: Please visit my new Reauthorization Page, which collects resources and information for the advocacy effort.

The EB-5 regional center program is currently authorized through June 30, 2021. Reauthorization happened almost by default in recent years but cannot happen by default this year, since unexpectedly separated from the appropriations process. Reauthorization will require extraordinary action by industry (in education and advocacy) and Congress (in managing to act on EB-5 legislation).  

If the regional center program permanently loses authorization, then the U.S. economy will lose a major engine for economic development and job creation, and all past regional center investors plus family who do not yet have conditional permanent residence (over 80,000 people) risk losing the chance for EB-5 visas, even as their funds were already taken and spent in the U.S. economy. Congress and the public are not well educated in either of these consequences. There is urgent work to do.

IIUSA has hosted a helpful webinar and published articles that addressed many of my EB-5 advocacy questions from last month.  If you have a stake in the regional center program and questions about what’s going on with reauthorization and what you can do before June 2021, review this information:

According to IIUSA, the likely only path to reauthorization is a forthcoming “EB5 Reform and Integrity Act” to be introduced by Senator Grassley and Senator Leahy. Apparently we have a tiny window before this introduction to suggest “technical changes” to the language that a few people negotiated in secret last year. (With the secrecy being at Grassley/Leahy staff request, IIUSA leadership says.) Here is the language of the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act disclosed last December, and a section by section summary of the bill. If you have a constructive suggestion for change to that language, be quick to make it known. (I assume it’s too late to address the overall weakness: that the bill targets the regional center program of 2015/2016, not the entirely different landscape that exists today. But the bill could be worse, and some detail fixes might make it more workable.)

I believe the message that supporting Grassley/Leahy’s ill-informed but at least motivated effort for “EB-5 reform” is simply the only option to get to regional center program authorization within the next few months. Back when billions of dollars were at stake in on-going/future raises, more people got involved with competing advocacy. Those motivating new dollars aren’t there anymore, in the post-regulations and post-retrogression landscape. Now lingering advocacy has to be mainly motivated by good faith — including good faith with past investors whose funds were already spent but who don’t have visas yet. It’s hard for me to imagine the old New York EB-5 advocacy faction hustling now just for the sake of good faith. And even if they did, it would be solitarily behind closed doors, judging by history, and not a factor in community efforts to make reauthorization happen. Once Grassley and Leahy introduce their EB-5 reform bill, I will support it as the only choice for the near-term reauthorization objective. If I become aware of any other choices, I will report on them. In the meantime, I have added my name to a new advocacy group that IIUSA has created: Coalition to Save and Create Jobs. Take a look at the site, and consider signing up. It’s a good concept, and anyone can join for free. (Paying to join IIUSA is also an option of course.) I will be delighted if this coalition succeeds in informing and organizing stakeholders for positive action. Time to compensate for the sad failures in association-building, education, and advocacy that lead us to today’s challenges.

I foresee a lot of volunteer labor in the coming weeks. (For the dire state of current Congressional education about EB-5, see this 2021 Congressional Research Service report. ) I am currently working on a white paper designed to highlight an overlooked talking point: the past responsibility implicated in regional center program authorization. Most people in Congress, including Senator Grassley, have not understood that EB-5 investments do not in fact “buy” green cards, and thus have not in fact resulted in visas yet for tens of thousands of people whose money was already invested and spent long ago, but who are still in-process immigration-wise and dependent on regional center program authorization to prove job creation. Surely Congress wants to avoid finding itself guilty of a fraud scheme that dangled possible visas as bait to invest in U.S. businesses and create U.S. jobs, only to — after successfully attracting billions of dollars and helping U.S. project finance and job creation through a recession – change the law to prevent the visa incentive from ever being granted. I will do my best to shine a light on that pitfall, to help Congress avoid it.

It’s also important to highlight the positive: what EB-5 has done and can do for future economic development and job creation. A dozen flashy old scandals still dominate EB-5 news and the program’s image – the boring reality about the majority of EB-5 projects is not told, and must be told. EB5 Investors Magazine started work last year on an EB5 Projects page, and I look forward to additional efforts in this vein.

2/3 Government Affairs Webinar Invitation

IIUSA invites the public to join a free Government Affairs and Association Update on February 3, 2021. Promised topics include legislative updates, Grassley/Leahy integrity reform discussion, IIUSA USCIS Ombudsman Meeting recap, ongoing FOIA litigation, and how you can be an advocate. You can register here, and are invited to email questions in advance to info@iiusa.org. Thank you IIUSA! Take advantage of this opportunity, and convey your questions. My sacrifice before the camera this week was not in vain, I like to think, if it helped encourage this very welcome engagement. Those wondering about potential post-election changes may also appreciate Episode 18 of the KlaskoLaw podcast “2020 Post-Election Immigration Breakdown.”

As a reminder of where we’ve been, here’s the most recent update to my history of regional center program authorizations. The regional center program was established in 1992 and typically extended for several years at a time, until 2015. Since then, it’s been a bumpy ride thanks to the chaotic appropriations process, with funding bills and continuing resolutions extending government funding (and incidentally, associated immigration program authorizations) for a few months at a time. Now a new regional center program sunset date of June 30, 2021 separates the regional center program from the appropriations drama, and creates the challenge and opportunity of dealing individually with EB-5.

What would happen if Congress did not reauthorize the regional center program in time? The last time we seriously asked this question was back in 2012, when we were coming off a three-year authorization and depending on Congress for another long-term reauthorization. At a January 2012 stakeholder meeting, I noted this exchange: “A stakeholder asked what procedures might be employed in the event that Congress does not extend the EB-5 Regional Center program past its current sunset date of 09/30/2012. Rachel Ellis responded that this as a question that will just have to be addressed when and if it occurs, and that the Service does not have a response at this time.” After the May 1, 2012 stakeholder engagement, USCIS published a Q&A with a similarly vague answer to a question about how a regional center sunset might affect current and future applications and projects. “If Congress does not reauthorize the Immigrant Investor Pilot Program, all existing regional center designations will expire automatically. Following the sunset of the Immigrant Investor Pilot Program, USCIS will no longer possess authority to approve a regional center designation. USCIS will continue to monitor Congressional actions pertaining to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor program, and will keep stakeholders informed as new information becomes available.” I think the bottom line is that there’s no developed policy for a sunset because it’s just not possible to contemplate that a multi-billion dollar program would get abruptly terminated mid-stride with those billions of dollars and over 80,000 pre-CPR investors in the balance. Certainly regional centers and their lobbyists are motivated to do what it takes to avoid that eventuality, and politicians who like jobs and investment should be too. I could imagine a temporary lapse in authorization thanks to Congressional inefficiency, which would presumably play out like the temporary authorization lapses we’ve seen in connection with government shutdowns. Scroll to the bottom of my Washington Updates page to see further discussion. The regional center program strongly needs the stability of long-term if not permanent authorization, and has proven its value for economic development and job creation. I look forward to seeing long-term authorization accomplished this year.

I’m reminded of this EB-5 Legislation? post I wrote just over a year ago, reviewing what happened with EB-5 legislation between 2015 and 2019. The dynamics described in that post are still presumably at play as we look at a renewed legislative effort in 2021. But now a near-term deadline gives extra pressure and encouragement to actually cross the finish line.


Stabilizing the EB-5 Program

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 passed the House and Senate yesterday (House amendment to the Senate amendment to H.R. 133). [Update: Finally signed by the President 12/27.] The EB-5 industry will note three significant points in this 5,593-page “Omnibus”:

  • No country cap change: The Omnibus does not include any version of the Fairness for High-skilled Immigrants Act, or any language that would change EB visa allocation or country caps. This was a close call. The next Congress will provide renewed opportunities to tackle the issue of excessive backlogs – hopefully with improved solutions that truly involve fairness for immigrants and wouldn’t simply retroactively reorder the visa wait lines.  For now, we have more time to educate Congress and the industry on unintended EB-5 consequences, and how they might be mitigated. I’m preparing a quantitative analysis that looks at issue from the perspective of different countries at various points in the EB-5 wait line (not only considering timing for the end of the line, as others have done).  
  • No EB-5 legislation: The Omnibus does not include the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2020, a belated and sadly little-noted attempt at EB-5 legislation. Neither of the co-sponsors, Senator Grassley and Senator Leahy, wrote about the legislative amendment on their websites. (So far I just found a nice mention from Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick.) I guess that few people in the EB-5 industry heeded the call to ask their Congressional reps to support the measure, considering that most of us didn’t even know it existed until a couple weeks ago and had no input into the content or process. The IIUSA Board of Directors had opportunity to deliberate on and decide to support the legislation, and made a brave but belated attempt to explain and sell the hard compromises to IIUSA members and other stakeholders. This bill was indeed an improvement on previous versions, but would have benefited from more broad-based involvement translating into wider buy-in and stronger support when opportunity arose for passage.
  • Change to regional center program authorization: The Omnibus extends regional center program authorization to June 30, 2021 – significantly, not to September 30, 2021, when the funding expires. (The extension is in Division O Title I Section 104, page 2,468: “Section 610(b) of the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1993 (8 U.S.C. 1153 note) shall be applied by substituting ‘‘June 30, 2021’’ for ‘‘September 30, 2015.’’ ) This move finally decouples regional center program authorization from government funding. That can be good, considering how fraught the appropriations process has been, and also bad, since RC program authorization loses the benefit of inertia. Now the continued authorization of the regional center program will apparently depend on managing standalone EB-5 legislation. If you’re a regional center, pause to eat some cookies and watch the kids open presents, and then talk to your trade association/lobbyists.  Find out how you can support accomplishing legislation that will work for you, because the time is short and the stakes high. We now have a few months to do what we’ve been trying to do since 2015: get EB-5 legislation with long-term regional center program authorization and reforms that help protect and don’t kill the program. And assuming you are one of the majority of EB-5 users who’s not a fat cat and not a fraud, please also seek publicity.  Good legislation depends on changes to the popular perception of EB-5, and a better understanding by Congress of who’s using the program and how.

In order to maintain credibility, the EB-5 program needs stability. U.S. business people using immigrant investment make business decisions and execute contracts that rely on dependable estimates for cost of capital and the time horizon and rules for deploying capital. Potential immigrants invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in reliance on dependable estimates for the potential return on that investment.  EB-5 program costs, timeline, visa availability, eligibility rules, and very existence cannot be shrouded in uncertainty or subject to major volatility.  2020 has been tough, between no-notice retroactive Policy Manual updates and threatened retroactive legislative changes. The program requires better.  I look forward to changes in USCIS, Congressional, and industry leadership in 2021 and a path to more stable footing for the EB-5 program.

The decade in review

January 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of this blog, and 12 years since I started writing business plans for immigrant investment. I’ve been looking back on years of work and EB-5 reporting, picking out significant milestones on the path that led us to today.

This post is long, because each of the past ten years brought major developments to the EB-5 drama – a drama involving the real-life fate of billions of dollars, thousands of businesses, and tens of thousands of immigrant families.

(Note: I wrote this post without links, but have references for all points. The blog archives are open, named articles can be Googled, and my consulting service is available to people seeking specific detail and evidence related EB-5 developments over the years.)

2010

  • EB-5 was still small, in 2010. The year began with 75 regional centers nationwide, and ended with 104 approved RCs plus about 200 applications pending. The new Form I-924 with filing fee took effect for the first time on November 23, 2010, and the deadline encouraged a surge in regional center proposals.
  • About 2,000 I-526 petitions were filed in FY2010, with the top countries being China (66%), South Korea (8%) and Iran and Taiwan (3% each). Fewer than 2,000 EB-5 visas were issued for FY2010, a fraction of the available quota. 41% went to China.
  • USCIS had an “established processing target” of five months for Form I-526 and Form I-829. The California Service Center stayed within one month of meeting those targets. The magic words “visa fast track” appeared frequently in EB-5 promotions, and held true through about 2013.
  • The regional center program was riding on a three-year authorization through 2012, with proposals to make the program permanent.
  • USCIS began holding quarterly EB-5 stakeholder engagements that provided substantive information and answered questions. (The Meeting Log page off the Resources tab on this blog links to notes from all EB-5 engagements since 2009.)
  • Reuters picked up “Special Report: Overselling the American dream overseas,” an investigative report about the emerging EB-5 market. This report helped to raise awareness about integrity issues, and likely contributed to some subsequent denials and litigation. The term “Wild West” frequently appeared in industry conversations in those days, as we discussed the rapidly-growing and not-yet-quite-civilized EB-5 frontiers.
  • A majority of the EB-5 business plans I wrote were for shopping center developers. Tenant jobs could be counted.

2011

  • USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas prioritized the EB-5 program, and pushed for more professional staff, accelerated processing, and better communication between USCIS and stakeholders. In 2011, USCIS began hiring economists, business analysts, and economic development specialists to improve EB-5 adjudications.
  • There were 211 approved regional centers by the end of 2011, and 3,805 I-526 petitions were filed in FY2011 (both about double the previous year). Demand from China increased 130% in one year. A factor in this growing usage was the partial shutdown and then major price increase for Canada’s immigrant investor programs, which had been popular in China. (Previous experience with the Canadian programs contributed to misconceptions in the China market about the level of US government control over EB-5 regional centers and projects.)
  • The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled “The Investor Visa Program: Key to Creating American Jobs” in which all speakers praised EB-5. The Senate also held a generally positive hearing on extending the regional center program.
  • Stakeholder meetings and RFEs questioned whether or not a census tract group qualifies as a “geographic area” for TEA designation. RFEs challenged regional center applicants to justify the size of the geographic areas for which they were applying.
  • USCIS released a first draft of the EB-5 Policy Guidance memo that would eventually be finalized two years later. Existing EB-5 policy guidance was sparse.
  • The industry site now called EB5news.com published the article “Huge Chicago EB-5 Multi-Hotel Project Under Scrutiny by Investors.” This scrutiny proved wise, as the Chicago Convention Center project went on to become, in 2013, the target of the first major SEC enforcement action in EB-5.
  • Regional centers filed I-924A Annual Reports for the first time.
  • The regional center directory at uscis.gov was reformatted to remove regional center contact information and business detail, leaving names only. I had to work harder to update the blog RC List page.
  • A majority of the EB-5 business plans I wrote in 2011 were for new regional center applicants, many of them Chinese Americans.

2012

  • Senators Grassley and Leahy co-sponsored a bill to grant permanent authorization to the “successful, job-creating” regional center program. Leahy’s press release proudly noted that EB-5 had “brought economic development and job growth to Vermont since 1997.” President Obama eventually signed S.3245 (sponsored by Senator Leahy), giving the Regional Center program another three-year authorization. This was the last time the regional center program got an authorization that was more than a few months long, and not part of an appropriations bill.
  • USCIS Director Mayorkas announced the creation of a “new dedicated program office” for EB-5 designed to ensure that “this important and complex program is appropriately resourced and managed under a single leadership structure.” Hiring began for the new Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO) in Washington D.C.
  • The “tenant occupancy” issue emerged. We had heard about petitions and applications “on hold at USCIS headquarters pending resolution of an issue,” and gradually discovered the nature of the issue as RFEs began to question counting jobs associated with tenants in buildings constructed with EB-5 capital. By the end of the year, USCIS released Operational Guidance for Tenant Occupancy that made it effectively impossible to get credit for tenant jobs.
  • I-526 filings jumped to 6,041 in FY2012, with 87% filed by people born in China.
  • The December 2012 Visa Bulletin announced that due to volume of demand, there would likely be a cut-off final action date for China-born EB-5 investors as early as June 2013. The EB5 Insights blog noted that “Ultimately, this could stymie the demand for EB-5 visas by Chinese nationals and have an adverse impact on regional center operators.” This fact was not well-publicized in China, however. EB-5 demand at the visa stage was still well under quota in FY2012, with 6,628 visas issued worldwide.
  • With the tenant occupancy problem discouraging EB-5 investment in retail developments, I found myself writing many business plans for new hotels.

2013

  • By April 2013, the Investor Program Office in Washington DC was open and adjudicating I-924 applications. USCIS Director Mayorkas continued to hold many EB-5 stakeholder meetings and to fight for more resources, professionalism, and transparency for EB-5 adjudications. The political backlash hit when he was nominated as DHS Deputy Secretary, and subject to investigation over his EB-5 efforts.
  • I-526 processing was reported at about one year through 2013, and Director Mayorkas stated a goal to reach 90-120 day processing times for all EB-5 forms. (If we believe current USCIS processing times reports, IPO is still, to this day, processing I-924 filed back in 2013.)
  • President Obama announced immigration objectives that included making the regional center program permanent. EB-5 legislation got a chance as part of S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act that passed the Senate. This comprehensive immigration reform bill would have increased EB-5 visa numbers, among other improvements, but it died in the House.
  • The May 30, 2013 EB-5 Adjudications Policy Memo took effect, providing the first comprehensive collection of EB-5 policy guidance. This memo finally settled the census tract group issue, stating that USCIS should defer to state determinations as to TEA area. In a surprise twist, the memo freed regional centers to sponsor projects outside of pre-approved focus areas. (This freedom was later curbed just as abruptly in 2017 with a stakeholder meeting comment on an I-924 form revision.)
  • The Chicago Convention Center SEC complaint dropped, the first major SEC enforcement action in EB-5. The SEC held a joint stakeholder engagement with USCIS about EB-5 securities issues, and published an investor alert “Investment Scams Exploit Immigrant Investor Program.”
  • The Office of Inspector General conducted an audit which found that “USCIS cannot administer and manage the EB-5 regional center program effectively.” OIG particularly recommended additional authority for regional center termination and more SEC coordination. Prior to this report, there had been five regional center terminations and one EB-5 SEC action.
  • IIUSA first published a list of recommended best practices for regional centers, and industry produced many due diligence articles such as “Protecting the integrity of the EB-5 investment market” (Butler) and “Perspectives on EB-5 Due Diligence” (Klasko).
  • By the end of the year, there were 424 approved regional centers. I-526 filings totaled about the same in 2013 as in 2012, with 83% from China.
  • When visa demand was lower than expected (i.e. the many pending I-526 petitions got approved more slowly than expected), Department of State indicated that China might not, after all, reach the per-country limit in 2013. The EB5 Insights blog reported this in February 2013 with the comment “This means that Chinese EB-5 applicants may continue to file EB-5 petitions without being subjected to a backlog.” (In fact, a couple more months of Chinese I-526 filings avoided backlog. China remained current in the visa bulletin until May 2015. But the first final action date for China, when posted in 2015, went back two years to cut off at May 1, 2013.) Industry articles on the retrogression issue in 2013 include “The myths of retrogression of the visa numbers in the EB-5 program” (Greenberg Traurig) and “The impact of Chinese quota retrogression on EB-5 investors and EB-5 investments” (Klasko).
  • In addition to regional center work, I started writing many business plans for direct EB-5 investment in new franchises. Meanwhile, I was pleased to see investors in my first EB-5 business plans start to receive I-829 approvals in 2013. Once upon a time, the entire EB-5 process could fit within five years.

2014

  • I-526 and I-829 adjudications were gradually transferred from the California Service Center to IPO, which had a staff of 94 by the end of 2014.
  • USCIS began collecting stakeholder input for proposed new EB-5 regulations. This process eventually resulted in a proposed rule in 2017 and a final rule in 2019.
  • USCIS started regional center termination efforts in earnest, issuing over 50 notices of intent to terminate in 2014. These notices began to result in actual terminations in 2015, primarily for inactivity or missing an annual report. Increased SEC activity become evident with five complaints targeting EB-5 projects in 2014/2015. The new IPO office included a 15-member Fraud Detection National Security Team with plans to expand site visits and compliance reviews.
  • Recognizing a growing problem in processing times, I started to record monthly USCIS processing times reports in the Excel log that I continue to update to this day. Through 2014, processing times averaged 13 months for I-526 and 9 months for I-829. We thought that was too long.
  • I-526 filings nearly doubled again, with 10,950 filed by the end of FY14 (88% from China). Meanwhile, growing demand finally reached the visa stage, and EB-5 hit its annual quota for the first time with over 10,000 visas issued in FY2014.
  • The industry continued to discuss the problem of visa availability for China, with articles such as “IIUSA VP Robert C. Divine on Saturday’s Announcement of EB-5 Visa Unavailability for China for Remainder of FY-2014” (IIUSA blog), “FAQs on EB-5 Quota Backlog by H. Ronald Klasko” (IIUSA blog), and “Surviving and Thriving in Times of EB-5 Quota Backlogs” (Klasko). China remained current in the Visa Bulletin, as most future visa applicants were still waiting for I-526 approval.
  • USCIS first promised to work on a guidance memo for retrogression issues. (There was, at that time, no redeployment policy.)
  • Hotels and restaurants continued to provide a significant amount of my EB-5 business plan work, and for the first time I had more ethnic Indian than Chinese clients.

2015

  • The decade’s peak EB-5 demand came in FY2015, with 14,373 I-526 petitions filed, 85% of them from China.
  • The I-526 surge clustered around the sunset of the regional center program authorization that had been in effect since 2012. Over 6,000 I-526 petitions were filed in the quarter leading up to the original sunset date of September 30, 2015, and another 6,000 in the quarter ending in December 2015, when Congress finally granted EB-5 a one-year clean extension instead of enacting proposed changes. This volume has not been equaled since. (And IPO is still, to this day, adjudicating I-526 filed in 2015.)
  • The 2015 regional center program sunset date brought a rush of legislative activity, with five bills proposed that would’ve increased the minimum EB-5 investment amount (with $1.2M or $800K in a TEA being the most common proposal) and tightened TEA rules. Language from Grassley and Leahy’s S.1501 reportedly nearly became law in December 2015. But instead, “the legislation was defeated by a group of lawmakers led by New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, who argued that security improvements were a good idea, but the way the reform was written would unfairly hurt investments in his home state.” This story was to be repeated yearly for the rest of the decade.
  • Friedland & Calderon published “A Roadmap to the Use of EB-5 Capital” that included a Large-scale Projects Database profiling 25 EB-5 projects – of which 19 were in New York, mostly Manhattan. While regional center projects in 2013-2015 had an average 15 EB-5 investors each program-wide, according to DHS data, the top ten projects in Friedland & Calderon’s 2015 database averaged over 600 EB-5 investors each. These large-scale projects helped fuel the surge in I-526 filings in 2014 and 2015. They also fueled political controversy, as billions of EB-5 capital concentrated in a few high-profile urban projects that used the TEA incentive.
  • China began to have a cut-off date in the May 2015 Visa Bulletin, and advanced through most 2013 priority dates by the end of 2015. But the massive filing surge in late 2015 dramatically worsened the China visa backlog problem. Robert Divine’s article “The Realities and Implications of Chinese EB-5 Investors’ Wait for Visa Numbers” (IIUSA blog) noted that Chinese filing I-526 as of the end of 2015 likely faced at least a six-year wait for visa availability.
  • USCIS first raised the redeployment issue in August 2015, releasing a draft memo of “Guidance on the Job Creation Requirement and Sustainment of the Investment for EB-5 Adjudication of Form I-526 and Form I-829.” This memo was never finalized. (Two years later, in June 2017, some redeployment language finally became policy through addition to the EB-5 section of the USCIS Policy Manual.)
  • The Government Accountability Office published “Immigrant Investor Program: Additional Actions Needed to Better Assess Fraud Risks and Report Economic Benefits” and DHS Director Jeh Johnson wrote a letter to Senators Grassley and Leahy that recommended EB-5 changes. These two documents strongly influenced subsequent legislative efforts, particularly by Senator Grassley.
  • My mix of EB-5 business plan work started to include more apartments and assisted living facilities. And I wrote a record number of direct EB-5 plans for franchise businesses.

2016

  • EB-5 demand fell in FY2016 but not by much, thanks to another I-526 filing surge ahead of the September 30, 2016 regional center program sunset date. A total 14,147 I-526 were filed, with somewhat fewer from China (77%) and more from Vietnam and India (3% each). Charles Oppenheim estimated a seven-year wait for new Chinese applicants as of the end of the year.
  • 2016 saw more EB-5 bills introduced and a lot of open discussion in Congress, with two EB-5 hearings in the Senate and one in the House. Unlike the generally positive tone of 2011, the 2016 hearings included some negative voices, and particular concern over perceived abuse of the TEA incentive. However, the new EB-5 bills progressively negotiated down the TEA incentive, and in the end no changes were passed.
  • The SEC filed a complaint in 2016 alleging fraud in EB-5 offerings sponsored by Vermont Regional Center. Vermont Senator Leahy, formerly an EB-5 champion, declared that “Without reform, I believe the time has come for the program to end,” and legislative efforts became more difficult.
  • The OMB and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson averted us to possible new EB-5 regulations in 2017.
  • USCIS began to deny I-526 petitions based on finding loan proceeds to be nonqualifying capital, call options to be impermissible redemption agreements, and RC sponsor termination to be material change. These findings were not based on stated policy. Lawsuits eventually ensued, with some success so far.
  • The EB-5 chapter of the USCIS Policy Manual was released on November 30, 2016, and became effective the same day. Though nominally a handy compendium of existing policy and guidance documents, in fact the PM also introduced new policy related to material change, regional center applications, regional center amendments, and regional center termination.
  • The trend of sprawling multi-state regional centers began to emerge, as USCIS surrendered the founding logic and very definition of a “regional center” – that it have jurisdiction over a geographic area limited for the purpose of concentrating pooled investment. (By the end of the decade, a five-state “regional center” was unremarkable.)
  • Hotels and restaurants continued to account for a significant number of my EB-5 plans.

2017

  • DHS published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the EB-5 Modernization Regulation in January 2017, with comment period closing in April. The proposed reg introduced a new source of deadlines for potential EB-5 changes. The OMB anticipated Final Action in February 2018. I submitted a comment arguing that the TEA threshold should be reduced from the proposed $1.35M to $900,000.
  • 2017 saw continued struggles with EB-5 legislation, and five regional center program sunset dates followed by short-term authorizations.
  • A New York real estate titan took office as U.S. President, but defied expectations that he would give favorable (or indeed, any) attention to the investment-promoting and job-creating EB-5 program. Other immigration concerns took center stage, and a period of DHS leadership changes and staff attrition ensued.  DHS lost Secretary Jeh Johnson, replaced by soon-to-be-lost John Kelly, replaced to by soon-to-be-lost Kirstjen Nielsen. USCIS got soon-to-be-lost Director Lee Cissna. IPO lost Chief Nicolas Colucci.
  • USCIS finally made an official EB-5 redeployment policy in June 2017. The policy raised questions that have yet to be answered. Meanwhile, revised editions of Form I-526 and Form I-924 introduced new requirements, and I-526 RFEs implied unannounced new policy on currency swaps.
  • The 2017 CIS Ombudsman report noted that the EB-5 visa wait for China had likely reached over ten years. Apparently this report, unlike earlier cautions, did get some publicity in China. New China I-526 filings dropped by 2,000 from the previous year.
  • Overall, I-526 filings dropped 13% in 2017. There were still filing surges ahead of legislative deadlines in April and December, and increased demand from India and Vietnam (with over 500 I-526 filed from each country).
  • IPO improved processing volumes, but reported processing times continued to increase despite the concurrent fall in receipts. USCIS reported average pending time of 19 months for I-526 and 28 months for I-829 in FY2017.
  • In 2017, I wrote an increasing number of EB-5 business plans for projects sponsored by an unaffiliated “rented” regional center.

2018

  • We spent the year thinking that regulations were just about to double or triple the EB-5 investment amount, with successive OMB agendas predicting a Final Rule in February, then April, then August, then November. But nothing happened, yet.
  • The regional center program faced six sunset dates and briefly lapsed twice in 2018. No EB-5 legislation was officially introduced, but negotiations occurred and faltered behind the scenes. Meanwhile, the legislative effort to eliminate the per-country cap on EB visas picked up steam, and remained a factor through 2019.
  • Charles Oppenheim of Department of State continued to make presentations about EB-5 visa availability, and increased the level of detail provided. His 2018 visa wait time estimates looked serious for Vietnam and India as well as China (14-15 years China, 6-7 years Vietnam, 5-6 years India). The Vietnam and India estimates reflected I-526 volume in 2016/2017, while the China estimate reflected increasing rest-of-the-world demand. (These estimates were somewhat downgraded in 2019.)
  • Vietnam got a cut-off date starting from the May 2018 Visa Bulletin. India, whose filing surge occurred slightly later, stayed current until 2019.
  • Overall, EB-5 demand tumbled in 2018, in response to news about visa waits and associated redeployment challenges on top of political uncertainty. I-526 filings in 2018 were 50% fewer than in 2017, and 70% fewer than in 2015. Chinese apparently filed fewer than 1,500 I-526 in 2018 (about the same number as in 2010, in fact), while demand from Indians surged ahead and resulted in over 850 I-526 filings.
  • USCIS made four updates to the USCIS Policy Manual, to modify previous guidance regarding regional center geographic area, tenant occupancy, redemption agreements, and documentation for conditional permanent resident status.
  • Under Acting Chief Julia Harrison, IPO broke the tradition of holding quarterly stakeholder meetings, but processed a record number of EB-5 forms (over 18,000 total forms adjudicated in FY2018). With about 23,000 forms left pending at year-end, the IPO backlog looked possible to clear in just over a year. (If only that processing volume had continued or improved!)
  • Sarah Kendall took over as IPO Chief in June 2018, and held the year’s first stakeholder engagements in October.
  • The IPO customer service mailbox made its best-ever response in October 2018, when it provided a breakdown of I-526 petitions pending by nationality and priority date. This document gave us power, for the first time, to make our own visa timing predictions, and proved extremely valuable for program integrity. (Alas, this transparency has not been repeated since.)
  • My EB-5 business plan clients felt a sense of urgency that this was, truly, the last chance to raise funds under the investment amount and TEA rules set in 1990. I wrote difficult blog posts to report and interpret EB-5 developments, and added a PayPal button to the blog (to which 56 kind readers responded with a contribution).

2019

  • The final rule for the EB-5 Modernization Regulation was published in July 2019, and took effect in November 2019. The promised investment amount increase to $1.8M ($900,00 in a TEA) spurred a flurry of marketing activity and rush to file I-526 ahead of the November deadline.
  • We do not yet know how much of a demand surge occurred in 2019, as USCIS has still only published data through June 2019. What exactly happened with I-526 from July to December will have major implications for the future of EB-5, and for visa wait times.
  • Charles Oppenheim from Department of State provided visa backlog estimates in April and October, with the October estimate being unexpectedly lower than previous estimates. This assumes a combination of changed assumptions about I-526 receipt volume, I-526 denial rates, and family size.
  • India EB-5 visa demand hit the per-country limit for the first time in 2019. But the Visa Bulletin final action date for India progressed more quickly than expected and filing dates became current, due in part to slow I-526 adjudications.
  • IPO experienced some kind of meltdown in 2019, with exponential decreases to processing volume, and major increases to processing times, denial rates, and pages of RFEs issued. Processing times exceeded 2-4 years for each form. This has variously been credited to new training, new guidance, staff reshuffling, staff turnover, and overall political pressure to decimate legal immigration. We clung to the memory of much better performance in 2018, and prayed for a turnaround.
  • Having long hoarded EB-5 data points, I started a timing estimate service to help interpret and apply the data to individual circumstances. The service eventually had to go on hold as USCIS and DOS became more stingy and slow with data updates, disorder increased, and too many variables became unknown.
  • Despite USCIS, EB-5 investors won a number of victories for fair and efficient adjudication thanks to lawyers taking unreasonable denials and unreasonable delays to court, and winning.
  • Regional center terminations exceeded approvals for the first time in 2019. The decade, which began with 75 regional centers, ended with 794 regional centers on the approved list, and 394 on the terminated list.
  • The regional center program faced four sunset dates during the year. December 2019 brought a clean 9-month reauthorization – the longest authorization since December 2015. Two EB-5 bills remain active in the Senate.
  • Expectation that EB-5 regulatory changes might be blocked by litigation or superseded by legislation proved unfounded in 2019. The investment amount increases and TEA changes took effect on schedule. Industry vowed to continue efforts to keep EB-5 viable into the 2020s. Many urgent fronts present themselves, including renewed legislative efforts, more litigation, visa relief, policy clarifications, processing reform, and processing time improvements.
  • I continued to write EB-5 business plans (but fewer than in previous years), assisted with many project updates for I-526 RFEs, and added more E-2 business plan and non-immigration work. I worked hard to track and interpret EB-5 developments for this blog, received support from 47 blog readers, and considered future changes. The blog closed the decade with 127,000 annual visitors and 1,134 followers – a fair share of the total market for tough technical detail about a minor immigration program.

To the readers of this blog, I hope I have been of service through a decade full of challenges and opportunities. And I appreciate your company as we face the future. Stories that started in the 2010s will continue to unfold for years to come.