EB-5 Legislation? (S.2778, S.2540)

Since 2015, when the last three-year regional center program authorization expired, there’s been much effort to get EB-5 legislation passed. At minimum, we need Congress to put the regional center program on a stable footing by giving it a long-term authorization. (Since 2015, the program has been extended 17 times, each time for just a few weeks or months.)  Other features that one faction or another hope to get into legislation: update the EB-5 minimum investment amounts, revise the Targeted Employment Area incentive, implement additional integrity measures, improve procedures, and provide visa relief.

However, the status quo has been profitable, and those who profited most have resisted change. Several times since 2015, negotiators were reportedly close to getting EB-5 legislation attached to a funding bill, but ultimately did not succeed. Reviewing the history gives perspective on where we are today.

  • December 2015: Senators Grassley, Leahy, Goodlatte, Conyers, Issa, and Lofgren drafted legislation that would have given the RC program a 4-year authorization, changed the EB-5 investment amount to $1.2 million ($800,000 in a TEA), restricted TEA definitions, and added integrity measures. According to Senator Grassley, “On that first day of December negotiations, there was a lot of discussion about how New York wouldn’t be able to compete with rural America if our reforms were enacted.  They thought the bill was unfair to urban areas.” Grassley claimed that he tried to compromise, but could not go far enough. ABC News reported that “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.” ABC quoted a Schumer spokesman: “Sen. Schumer supports reforms that will bring transparency and accountability to the EB-5 program, but strongly believes that the EB-5 program should continue to act as a catalyst for thousands upon thousands of jobs throughout New York.”
  • December 2016: A version of the The American Job Creation and Investment Promotion Reform Act of 2016 originally introduced by Representatives Goodlatte and Conyers was seriously discussed for inclusion in the December 2016 funding bill. This legislation would have given the RC program a 6-year authorization, gradually increased the EB-5 investment amount to $1.0 million ($800,000 in a TEA), revised TEA definitions, and revised integrity measures. But this also proved unacceptable. Senator Grassley wrote a post listing the specific reasons for “why this package was not acceptable to some – notably the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that was the most rigid in not compromising” and complained again that “the industry love the status quo and the billions of dollars that pour in to affluent areas.” The Wall Street Journal reported that “Related Cos., a developer of massive mixed-use projects, has waged an aggressive campaign to head off proposed changes to the so-called EB-5 program in an apparent effort to keep low-cost money flowing to luxury urban projects such as its $20 billion Hudson Yards development in Manhattan.” A few million in lobbying dollars proved money well spent for Related, which eventually raised $1.2 billion in EB-5 investment for Hudson Yards. According to the WSJ article from January 2017, Related Companies “found support from a handful of key senators including Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), who have been resistant to the changes opposed by the developers.” A spokesman told WSJ that Schumer believes good projects in EB-5 “should rise to the top based on how many jobs they’ll create,” and that the government shouldn’t be trying to direct development to specific parts of cities.
  • March 2018: The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa and RC Program Comprehensive Reform Act negotiated by Grassley, Goodlatte, Cornyn, Flake reportedly came close to inclusion in the March 2018 funding bill. This bill would have given the RC program a 5-year authorization, increased the EB-5 investment amount to $1.025 million ($925,000 in a TEA), revised TEA definitions, and revised integrity measures. I saw this bill as a generous compromise to urban interests. But the bill also failed, and Senator Grassley had an opinion as usual about what happened. “For the last year, my staff, along with Chairman Goodlatte, Senator Cornyn, and Senator Flake’s teams, has worked around the clock to produce an EB-5 reform package. Everyone made numerous concessions in order to reach a deal, and after more than twenty meetings and countless hours of drafting, we produced a reform package that was fair. These reforms weren’t acceptable to the big moneyed New York industry stakeholders who currently dominate the program. And because big money interests aren’t happy with these reforms, we’ve been told they won’t become law.”

This story gets repetitive. But now, circumstances have changed, due to the EB-5 Modernization Regulation to take effect on November 21, 2019. The regulations will create a new status quo of exclusive TEA definitions and investment amount increases that would tend to reduce the flow of EB-5 investment overall, and channel EB-5 investment away from many urban areas. That’s not the status quo that EB-5 protectionists want to protect, and now legislation offers the only path to change.

That brings us to S.2778 – Immigrant Investor Program Reform Act, introduced by Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John Cornyn (R-TX). Charles Schumer (D-NY) has already signed on as an additional co-sponsor, pivoting from his traditional role as quasher of EB-5 bills. Robert Maples of Greenberg Traurig, who previously expressed Related’s objections to the EB-5 regulations, praises S.2778 for “proposing long overdue improvements to modernize the EB-5 program in alignment with industry and market principles.” IIUSA lauds “the EB-5 industry’s ability to work together and come to an agreement on many issues that until now left industry stakeholders divided.” Perhaps we finally have an EB-5 bill that can avoid being blocked.

S.2778 proposes Targeted Employment Area reforms that would allow EB-5 capital to continue to flow to high-quality urban projects that naturally attract investment according to market principles. The bill would shift TEA definitions to privilege the areas that major regional centers already favor (Opportunity Zones, closed military bases), and – more to the point – would minimize the incentive to choose a TEA investment over a standard investment.  In the regulations comment linked above, Related Companies argued that a $100,000 differential would be fair and reasonable (avoiding the problem of “financial incentive for foreign investors to invest in TEAs, regardless of the project”), and that’s what S.2778 proposes.  While past statute and the new EB-5 regulations offer a 50% TEA discount, S.2778 would offer a 9% TEA discount, with $1,100,000 standard investment and $1,000,000 TEA investment. As a concession for essentially eliminating the monetary TEA incentive, S.2778 offers two additional TEA incentives related to timing: expedited I-526 processing, and set-aside visas. These are safe concessions, because expedited processing is limited by USCIS’s ability to deliver such a benefit, and the visa set-aside incentive is limited to the number of visas offered (must stay under 3,000, or the incentive disappears) and to the few countries that need a visa incentive (China, Vietnam, India).  Current law already sets aside 3,000 visas annually for TEA investments (INA Sec. 203(b)(5)(B)), but people forget that because the existing TEA set-side has had zero incentive effect in practice. Set-asides only have any incentive value if limited to a few. The industry consensus proposal offered to give some potency to the new TEA set-asides by restricting them to TEA investors filing after the date of enactment. S.2778 does not specifically state such a restriction, however. I hope the restriction is not still implied, because reserving up 3,000 visas annually for incoming investors and their families would be at the direct cost of reducing visas available to the tens of thousands of past EB-5 applicants (mostly TEA investors) who are currently waiting for visas. To the extent that visa set-asides and expedited processing can work at all as incentives, they work by offering queue-cutting. That would hardly be fair to 70,000+ people in the queue before the rule was made.

Visa-limiting TEA incentives aside, S.2778 offers some significant backlog relief. The bill would make no additional EB-5 visas available, but would soften the pain of waiting for visa availability. S.2778 offers the possibility of parole (entry to the United States) and work authorization for EB-5 applicants with I-526 approval who have been waiting over three years for a visa. This would extend to EB-5 investors abroad the benefit already available to applicants in the U.S. who file I-485 to adjust status. Otherwise, parole has been restricted to urgent humanitarian or significant public benefit reasons. (Links FYI that describe how parole currently works in the I-485 context and for applicants abroad.) I wonder about the politics of offering parole to EB-5 investors, since the administration cancelled parole for immigrant entrepreneurs and threatened to take it away from U.S. military families.  But if this benefit can be enacted (and DHS consents to implement it), parole could really help EB-5 investors stuck abroad waiting for visas – particularly direct EB-5 investors who struggle to manage their US businesses from afar. This is not a visa giveaway, does not change the EB-5 visa limit, and only offers the weak promise that DHS may “temporarily parole… on a case-by-case basis,” but at least it’s something. Besides parole, the bill offers to soften the pain of long wait times by permanently protecting children from age-out. I understand that IIUSA pushed very hard for the additional relief of applying the EB-5 visa limit to investors, as intended by EB-5 program architects, not investors plus family, but that provision did not make the final bill.

Other positive features of S.2778 include 6-year authorization for the regional center program and recourse for investors and projects following termination of a regional center.

If I could choose three modest improvements on S.2778, I would suggest:

  • Authorize DHS to assess fees necessary to meet reasonable processing time goals for EB-5 investor petitions. This is one of the few good ideas in Grassley and Leahy’s S.2540 EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act, which defines targets (in days) for each form, and charges USCIS to set fees to allow meeting those targets. The latest proposed fee rule from DHS shows that DHS will not, on its own initiative, allocate resources to improve the current status quo of 2-4 year processing times for I-526 and I-829. Congress needs to step in to push DHS toward processing integrity, and to authorize the resources necessary. (S.2778 suggests premium processing with a fee, but only for regional center applications, amendments, and reports, not for investor petitions. S.2778 suggests collecting $51,000 in additional fees from investors, but specifies that these are to be used for enforcement activities, not processing improvements.)
  • Delete the $10,000 annual fee for regional centers that are not-for-profit or have fewer than 20 investors. If Congress wants to see at least a few face-saving EB-5 projects in distressed areas, it should keep the regional center option affordable to small entities, and open to areas that won’t have high-volume deal flow. A $20,000 annual fee – or $50,000 annual fee for that matter — is nothing to a regional center handling hundreds of millions of EB-5 capital. But a minimum a $10,000 fee (especially on top of all the other cumbersome red tape suggested by the bill) could eliminate small regional centers with modest and occasional EB-5 capital raises. The $10,000 minimum regional center fee is a handy as an anti-competitive measure, benefiting large, high-volume and established regional centers by helping to clear the deck of small players, but such a winnowing would not benefit EB-5’s potential or reputation.
  • Include at least one genuine integrity measure – i.e. at least one measure that involves something besides reporting to and making records available to DHS. At minimum, why not borrow another good idea in Grassley’s S.2540: require regional centers to make their annual statements available to their investors. Record-keeping, reporting, and certifications are fine activities in themselves, but not anti-fraud measures if just paper disappearing into the vaults at USCIS, along with all the other paper that doesn’t get read for years. But that’s as far as S.2778 goes. S.2778 excludes an integrity measure that’s been in other EB-5 reform bills, including S.2540: the requirement to have an independent fund administrator to monitor the deployment of funds into any affiliated job-creating entity, and keep alien investors informed about the deployment.  In the cover article to their 2018 database of SEC actions, Friedland & Calderon note that “virtually every SEC civil enforcement action involving EB-5 fraud the NCE did not have an independent fund administrator, escrow conditions were ignored, and periodic reports of the status of investor funds were not furnished to investors.” Effective integrity measures had better address such proven vulnerabilities. It’s hard to imagine that any of the specific SEC cases would’ve been forestalled just by enhanced reporting to and threat of sanctions from USCIS. If I were putting EB5 language into a funding bill, and serious about program integrity, I’d consider taking the fund administration language from S.2540.

I will not bother to say more about Grassley and Leahy’s S.2540 EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act — a bill that no one will support. S.2540 alienates prosperous urban interests by not replaceing the TEA rules in the EB-5 regulations, and excludes most everyone else with a blizzard of restrictions, requirements, and fees that would be too much for most stakeholders serving distressed urban and rural areas. S.2540 doesn’t propose to simply terminate the regional center program, but the effect would be pretty close. So S.2778 is what we have, a bill with enough benefits for enough people to win support. The industry is rallying round and making positive statements. There’s some hope that language from S.2778 will get included in a funding bill this year, trump unwanted regulations, and provide desperately needed long-term authorization for the regional center program. Perhaps I too should pretend that S.2778 is an excellent bill and represents fair compromise.

A few links to other perspectives on the legislation:

11/6 USCIS Policy Manual Update

The USCIS Policy Manual has been updated as of today with some edits to the EB-5 section in Volume 6 Part G,  and Adjustment of Status section in Volume 7 Part A. As usual, I saved the revised EB-5 section as a Word document in my folder of PM editions, and made a comparison document that redlines changes since the previous version.  I approached the policy manual update with some excitement, wondering (1) whether the PM update would add guidance or detail on TEA designation or priority date retention, and (2) whether USCIS would try to slip in any other policy changes under the cover of a regulations update. The answer to both questions is: no.  The PM says even less about new TEA rules and priority date retention than the reg says. The 11/6 PM update does not reflect all changes in the reg (i.e. does not include the new provision regarding evidence of property transferred from abroad, and does not mention most I-829 changes.)

Update: Robert Divine has written an article for IIUSA that reviews the changes.

Here is the update notice email from USCIS.

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services <uscis@public.govdelivery.com>
Sent: November 6, 2019 9:41 AM
Subject: Policy Update Notice on EB-5 Modernization Final Rule

USCIS is revising its policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to align with the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization Final Rule, published on July 24, 2019, and effective Nov. 21, 2019.

We are updating the USCIS Policy Manual to conform with the final rule’s provisions, which include:

  • Priority date retention for certain EB-5 immigrants;
  • An increase in minimum investment amounts;
  • Reforms to targeted employment area designations; and
  • Clarification of USCIS procedures for the removal of conditions on permanent residence.

Please see the Policy Alert for more detailed information on this update.

Conference Rumors (partial investment, visa wait times)

I heard IPO Chief Sarah Kendall and Department of State Visa Control Office Chief Charles Oppenheim speak last week at the IIUSA conference in Seattle.  I’ll blog in detail about these talks and other news and insights from the conference as time permits, but first to quickly address a couple misconceptions that may affect current decision-making.

Rumor credits Kendall’s talk with announcing that it’s now acceptable to file I-526 with less than $500,000 before November 21, and Oppenheim’s talk with announcing that EB-5 backlogs have fallen. These impressions are not quite accurate, in context.

Sarah Kendall confirmed a point related to TEA requirements as they intersect with the “investing or actively in the process of investing” requirement. Her comments did not create or change the “actively in the process of investing” alternative to investing the full amount prior to I-526 filing.  Partial investment remains an option that’s just as available, narrow, and risky as it has always been. For discussion, see Joey Barnett and Vivian Zhu’s article “EB-5 Minimum Investment Amount Increases to $900,000 November 21, 2019 – Can an EB-5 Applicant Invest Less Than the Full $500,000 Now and Still Qualify?” and Robert Divine’s article “Member Perspective: EB-5 Implications from IIUSA Conference Leading up to November 21 Effective Date of Regulations” (and his previous cautionary words about skeletal filings.) Personally, I would not file I-526 with less than $500,000 invested because USCIS makes it so tough on the business side to prove that funds not actually in the enterprise account still qualify as “at risk” in the enterprise, as required. For examples of petitioners who invested less than the minimum amount before I-526 filing, and specific problems that they faced, see: FEB012017_01B7203, Oct262009_01B7203, Apr162009_01B7203, Nov032008_01B7203, OCT072005_01B7203. The official policy is here in the policy manual.

In his presentation on October 29, 2019, Charles Oppenheim estimated EB-5 visa wait times for current investors from China, India, and Vietnam that are shorter than the wait times he had estimated back in April 2019. This reflects a reduced estimate of the total backlog of EB-5 applicants (visa applications+ estimated applicants associated with pending I-526). However, the number of investors in line for an EB-5 visa has likely not fallen since April 2019, considering the number of of I-526 filings and adjudications and visa issuances since then. Oppenheim’s total backlog estimate fell due to revised assumptions about the number of visas to eventually be claimed by those investors. Specifically, he’s now estimating fewer visa applicants associated with pending I-526, because he increased the I-526 denial rate assumption for all countries, and decreased the family size assumption for some countries. I’ll blog and spreadsheet the detail when IIUSA publishes the slides, which Oppenheim promised would include some data not in the conference presentation. But to the bottom line: Oppenheim’s revised estimates are mixed news.  Considering the surge of people starting the race, it’s worrisome to see Oppenheim looking at the finish line and estimating that a reduced number of people will make it to the end to claim a visa.  For EB-5 investors considering risks, they must assume (a) solid success rate with associated long wait times, or (b) shorter wait times predicated on high failure rate. It’s one or the other, considering demand. (B) is unfortunately plausible, considering IPO’s recent behavior, so I don’t necessarily question Oppenheim’s revised predictions with shorter wait times.

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.

August Updates (IPO Processing, Terminations, Marketing, Regs & Legislation, Visa Bulletin)

USCIS Investor Program Office Updates: There’s evidence of increased activity at IPO.

  • Processing Times: The report on the USCIS Processing Time page improved this week for all EB-5 forms, with the “Case Inquiry Date” formula moving forward 76 days for I-526, 62 days for I-829, and 1,097 days for I-924. The months in the “Estimated Time Range” also dropped somewhat, and reduced their spread. I make regular spot checks of the daily report and enter them in this log. Making charts from this log, I note a possible rationale behind the recent fluctuations and slowdowns. Could the USCIS objective be to get all adjudications focused on the same date? Message to USCIS: what we need most of all is predictability within each form type (with productivity maintaining a reliable baseline or trending up). No one would cheer at the odd goal of making I-526, I-829, and I-924 equally slow. We are happy to see processing times finally trending down rather than up, though still with far to go.
  • Regional Center Terminations: In the email to USCIS copied in my last post, I noted that just 11 regional centers had been terminated so far in 2019. But USCIS proceeded to terminate a whopping 62 more regional centers in one week of August. Apparently, the regional center compliance team is back to work with a vengeance, though I-924 volumes remain low.

Other Updates

Regional Center Program Authorization: Regional center program authorization is currently attached to 2018 appropriations that expire on September 30, 2019. It appears likely that Congress will, per usual, fail to finalize 2019 appropriations in advance of the September 30 deadline, and instead defer the deadline with one or more Continuing Resolutions (CR). In the IIUSA Midyear Association Update Webinar, the government affairs panelist said he’d been assured that regional center program authorization will be included in the CR, if there is a CR.

EB-5 Reform/Change Regulations or Legislation: The IIUSA Midyear Association Update Webinar indicated that draft EB-5 legislation continues to circulate among select industry leaders, and to be discussed with Congressional offices. The webinar did not offer any timeframe estimate for such legislation to be advanced toward a vote. IIUSA did state that EB-5 has “Champions in Congress,” though the champions are not yet ready to be named and go public with EB-5 support. EB5 Investors Magazine reports that Senator Rand Paul is trying for a joint resolution that would withdraw the EB-5 regulation – but Senator Paul has not promoted this (or his backlog elimination bill) on hiswebsite. It looks unlikely that there will be any EB-5 program changes before the end of the year, beyond the changes that will result from the EB-5 Modernization Regulation taking effect on November 21, 2019. If only politicians and industry would allow for healthy enhancements and effective reforms for EB-5!

EB-5 Future: How much future does EB-5 have after November 21, 2019, when investment amounts will have increased and when – perhaps more to the point — and there’s no more deadline threat to hustle investment decisions and obscure visa availability and other issues? The industry is divided between people who are making a last mad rush and expecting to abandon the field after November, and people seeking a sustainable path into the future.

EB-5 Marketing and Oversubscription: I hear from multiple sources of significantly increased investment activity from Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan in recent months, threatening backlogs for those countries. Unfortunately USCIS has not shared any per-country I-526 data since October 2018, so we can only guess at the likelihood that those countries are becoming oversubscribed in 2019. Prospective investors, you’ll want to monitor your markets while keeping in mind this rough metric: an additional year of visa wait for every additional 230 or so EB-5 investors from your country (assuming 700 annual visa cap and a 3:1 ratio of visas demanded to filed I-526). (If you want a more fine-tuned analysis that looks at country-specific historical trends and existing backlog, and explains how to model future waits from current assumptions, my timing estimate service is available.) The visa wait for any given investor is determined by the size of the backlog on the day she invests, so we try our best to estimate current volumes.

Visa Bulletin for India: Section D of the September 2019 Visa Bulletin includes this statement: “There has been a combination of a dramatic change in the USCIS demand pattern for adjustment of status applicants during July, and a larger than anticipated return of unused numbers which had been provided to consular offices for July use.  As a result, it has been possible to advance the Employment First and Second preference September final action dates for most countries, as well as the India Employment Fifth preference. ” The India Final Action Date for EB-5, which hadn’t been expected to move this month, advanced to September 1, 2017.

What does this mean for India EB-5 applicants in line? The Visa Bulletin just tells us that there were fewer-than-expected visas issued through consular processing in July, and different-than-expected demand in July for visas through I-485. I assume that must mean (1) a processing hold-up that resulted in fewer-than-expected people with old priority dates reaching the finish line in time to be able to claim a visa in July, or (2) more denials/withdrawals than expected. If (1), then the future visa claimants are still there, just held up by USCIS/consulate delays, and thus the total backlog picture/timing picture for India doesn’t change much. In that case, the September visa bulletin jump is an anomaly reflecting a temporary phenomenon, not a signal for the future.  If (2), then the total India backlog has actually become smaller, which means that people still in line advance more quickly than expected, with visa bulletin dates moving ahead accordingly.  On a down side, such attrition would signal problems with I-485, visa interviews, or sentiment among past investors.

I’m happy to see that Charles Oppenheim of Department of State Office of Visa Control has consented to speak at the IIUSA EB-5 Industry Forum in Seattle in October.  Let’s try to ask him the right questions.

Regional Center List Updates

Changes to the USCIS Regional Center List, 05/28/19 to 08/27/19.

New Regional Center Approvals


Name Changes

  • Smith Atlantic Regional Center LLC (former name Atlantic Coast Regional Center, LLC) (Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia)
  • Smith Central Regional Center LLC (former name Central Western Regional Center LLC) (former name USA Midwest Regional Center LLC) (Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin)
  • Smith South Atlantic Regional Center (Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina) former name: South Atlantic Coast Regional Center LLC

New Terminations in August 2019
(Too many to list here. Visit the USCIS Regional Center Terminations page and sort by date, or see my Excel file for terminations.)

Priority date retention and redeployment, with flow chart

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

Context Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Content Summary: Priority Date Retention in the Final Rule

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

What is priority date retention?

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

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

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

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

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

Clarifications in the final rule:

  • The final rule becomes effective on November 21, 2019. Beginning on that date, eligible people may file a new I-526 while retaining the priority date from a previously-approved I-526. The rule specifies no restriction on when the previously-approved I-526 need have been filed. [9/30 UPDATE: Robert Divine said at the IIUSA conference that he also interprets no restriction on when the new I-526 can be filed — could be before 11/21.] “The changes in this rule will apply to any Form I-526 filed on or after the effective date of the rule, including any Form I-526 filed on or after the effective date where the petitioner is seeking to retain the priority date from a Form I-526 petition filed and approved prior to the effective date of this rule.”
  • A priority date can only be transferred between one approved EB-5 petition and a subsequent EB-5 petition filed by that same petitioner. The priority date cannot be transferred between people (including, not to the investor’s spouse/dependents), and cannot be transferred to petitions for other visa categories.
  • Priority date retention does not provide grandfathering under old rules. If someone chooses to file a new I-526 petition after November 21, 2019, he or she may keep the priority date of a previous I-526, but not the rules that applied that that previous I-526. The new I-526 filing will be subject to the increased investment amount and revised TEA provisions. “The regulatory requirements, including the minimum investment amounts and TEA designation process, in place at the time of filing the petition will govern the eligibility requirements for that petition, regardless of the priority date.”
  • The priority date retention option depends on having an I-526 approval, and on not having an EB-5 visa. The commentary on the final rule explains why DHS thinks that filing I-526 is insufficient in itself to establish a priority date, and that people with an EB-5 visa do not need the priority date protection.
  • The priority date retention option is available to victims of fraud by projects or regional centers. In fact, it was designed to help them. A petitioner is only excluded if an I-526 was revoked due to fraud by the petitioner.
  • The final rule does not require NCEs to facilitate investors who wish to make a change. Nor does it change the EB-5 “at risk” requirement. That is to say, the rule does not change the difficulty of salvaging capital from one investment and moving it to another. The rule simply reduces the pain of starting over by allowing petitioners to at least salvage the old priority date if they choose to make a new investment and new I-526 filing
  • DHS does not care how many I-526 you file. No matter how many priority dates you have for EB-5 petitions, you can use the oldest one associated with an approved petition when claiming a visa.
  • The final rule specifies that it does not make any change to application of the Child Status Protection Act. The rule does not explain, if a petitioner had multiple I-526 petitions, which petition’s pendency gets subtracted from the child’s age at the time of visa availability.
  • The final rule does not consider the question of how USCIS would treat a situation where the investor files a new I-526 after 11/21 in the same NCE/same project for which he had an approved I-526 from before 11/21. This situation could arise for someone whose I-526 approval was revoked only for loss of regional center sponsor, though the project was/is viable. So long as the original $500,000 was sustained in the NCE, presumably it would counted toward the investment amount required for the new I-526. But what if some of the initial capital had been lost/misappropriated — does it all still count in the new I-526 filing? Or what if the project had no particular use for the additional investment the investor would be required to make under the new minimum investment amounts — at least no use related to job creation? Maybe people drafting the rule just assumed that new I-526 would be based on fresh investments in new projects. At any rate there’s no guidance for situations in which the investor may be trying to salvage his or her original investment, original project, and original job creation as well as the original priority date.

Flow Chart

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

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

EB-5 Regulation Published

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

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

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

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

1. Will this rule actually take effect?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Where do I go with my questions?

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

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

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

Minimum Investments, Targeted Employment Area Designations Among Reforms

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

New developments under the final rule include:

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

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

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

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

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

Country cap discussion (H.R.1044, S.386, S.2091, S.Amdt.939. D/26-3)

— UPDATES —

10/16: Senator Durban, the senator most recently responsible for holding up Mike Lee’s S.386 proposal to eliminate the country cap on EB visas, has now introduced alternative backlog relief legislation: Resolving Extended Limbo for Immigrant Employees and Families (RELIEF) Act. The bill text for S.2603 has not been published yet, but I’ll report further when I’ve read it. Cato Institute has a nice analysis of the bill’s content, implications, and (extremely slim) prospects.
9/30: Cato Institute has published a quantitative analysis of the Fairness for Highskilled Immigrants Act. An excellent article by Ira Kurzban has also been brought to my attention.
9/26: Now Senator Durban has stepped up to block unanimous consent to the Fairness for Highskilled Immigrants Act
9/25: Senator Purdue has agreed to drop his opposition to the Fairness for Highskilled Immigrants Act. I wait with bated breath to see what happens next.
9/19: There has been another attempt to get Fairness for Highskilled Immigrants Act through the Senate by unanimous consent, temporarily blocked by Senator David Perdue. Apparently the country cap proposal still has life after all, with the enormous power of Silicon Valley campaign donations possibly even competitive with the enormous power of Congressional inertia. Here is my summary of the most recent language: S.Amdt.939 to H.R.1044. Like S.386, this most recent version removes all EB visas (including EB-5) from the per-country cap, but omits EB-5 from the transition period, and limits the no-harm provision to people who have approved I-526 petitions on the date of enactment.
7/22: Nothing seems to be happening with the country caps proposals anymore. There’s been no reported action in the Senate on S.386, and Rand Paul has not bothered to announce S.2091 or collect any cosponsors.
7/11: Rand Paul, one of the Senators responsible for blocking S.386 in the Senate, will reportedly introduce a country caps proposal of his own in S.2091 Backlog Elimination, Legal Immigration, and Employment Visa Enhancement Act (BELIEVE Act). As time permits I’ll make a spreadsheet for S.2091, which would be much better for EB-5 since it proposes to significantly increase visa availability in addition to changing the per-country limitation. Probably it is too good to be popular, however. (Update: I made this document to highlight/interpret EB-5-relevant language in S.2091.)
7/10: H.R. 1044 passed the House today. S.386 has also made progress thanks to the addition on 7/10 of an amendment with H-1B provisions designed to broaden its appeal. The Senate’s version of the The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act differs from the House version in omitting EB-5 from the transition period. I added a tab for S.386 to my Backlog Calc Excel file to attempt to model this effect. The calculations suggest that H.R. 1044 and S.386 would have about the same effect on people with 2018 and 2019 priority dates (in either bill, it looks as if 2018 priority dates would start receiving EB-5 visas around 2025, and 2019 priority dates around 2027). S. 386 would be 2-3 years better than HR 1044 for China-born applicants with priority dates up to 2017, and 2-3 years worse than H.R. 1044 for applicants from other countries. In both the House and Senate versions, The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act is good for everyone in EB-5 with an old priority date (China) and bad for everyone who doesn’t want to move back in line behind the China backlog. I regret to say that the most informative article I’ve read so far on the politics around The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act is Brietbart’s Kevin McCarthy, 140 GOP Reps Vote for Democrat Plan to Outsource Jobs (July 10, 2019). The article includes this interesting quote:

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

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

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

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

— Original Post from 7/3–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EB-5 reg nears publication

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

— Original Post —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regulations Update (Spring 2019)

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

  • RIN1615-AC07 EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization, with proposed changes to TEAs and the minimum investment amount:
    • Timetable for Final Rule is May 2019 (The Fall 2018 agenda had anticipated November 2018)
  • RIN 1615-AC11  Regional Center Program Regulation, with proposed changes to regional center designation requirements and process:
    • Timetable for Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is March 2020 (The Fall 2018 agenda had anticipated March 2019)
  • RIN 1615-AC26 EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Realignment, which “will solicit public input on proposals that would increase monitoring and oversight, encourage investment in rural areas, redefine components of the job creation requirement, and define conditions for regional center designations and operations”
    • Timetable for Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is March 2020. (The Fall 2018 agenda had anticipated September 2019)

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

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

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

 

TEA set-aside proposal

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

Here’s the recommendation in the letter:

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

TEA Set-Asides

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

Possible arguments in favor of the recommendation:

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

Possible arguments against the recommendation:

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

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

EB-5 Reform, Immigration Reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Redeployment

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

Material Change

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

India Retrogression

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

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

I-526 processing and RFEs

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

Washington Updates

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

FAQ for potential regulatory changes and visa bulletin updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investment Amount and TEA Changes:

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

Priority Date Retention Change:

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

I-829 Changes:

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

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

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

EB-5 Modernization Regulation Advances

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Approaching Feb 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

–12/22 UPDATE–

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Department of State website has this notice:

Operations During a Lapse in Appropriations

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

–ORIGINAL POST–

Reauthorization or Shutdown

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

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

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

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

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

Source of Funds Victory

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

Visa Numbers Case Setback

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

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

Litigation

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

SEC Action

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

Regional Center Compliance

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

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

Approaching Dec 7->Dec 21

— 12/7 UPDATE –

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

— ORIGINAL POST 11/26–

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

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

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

To translate each statement into common English:

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

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

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

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

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