Understanding USCIS Processing Time Reports

EB-5 investors and consultants may want to participate in a teleconference hosted by USCIS this Wednesday to discuss how to interpret USCIS case processing time reports.

USCIS Invitation: Online Processing Times, 02/15/2017
Dear Stakeholder,
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) invites you to participate in a national teleconference on Wednesday, February 15, from 1 to 2 p.m. (Eastern) regarding case processing times posted to the USCIS website.
USCIS seeks to improve accuracy and transparency, and minimize the potential for confusion about processing times. During this engagement, subject matter experts will ask for feedback from participants and answer questions.
To register for this session: Visit our registration page to confirm your participation

UPDATE: USCIS emailed a list of feedback questions for the teleconference. The conference itself was not very interesting and so I’m not uploading my recording. But USCIS has emailed a follow-up engagement opportunity: “As mentioned during yesterday’s engagement, we will use the USCIS Idea Community as a method for you to submit additional feedback regarding online processing times. Participating in the USCIS Idea Community is easy. All you need is an active email address and you can create a profile and submit ideas. This campaign will be open until Friday, Feb. 24.”

This invitation follows a stakeholder email from USCIS in January that explained,

Starting on Jan. 4, 2017, we will post processing times using a specific date format rather than weeks or months. This is the first step in providing processing times that are timelier and easier to understand.
We post case processing times on our website as a guide for when to inquire (service request) about a pending case. For the last several years, we have posted case processing times using two different formats: For cases that were within our production goals, we listed processing times in weeks or months; For cases that were outside of our production goals, we listed processing times with a specific date.
Always refer to your I-797C, Notice of Action, and look for “receipt date” to determine when we accepted your case. If the receipt date on the USCIS Processing Times web page is after the date we have listed on your notice, you should expect to hear from us within 30 days. If after those 30 days, you have not heard from us, you may make an inquiry on your case.

Every month, the USCIS Processing Time Information page updates a chart titled “Average Processing Times for Immigrant Investor Program Office” that looks like this.

chart

The “Processing Cases as of Date” column is ambiguous, and we’ll have to ask about it on the call. Does it mean that as of November 30, 2016 IPO is just starting to process I-526 cases filed on August 7, 2015 (and if so, about how long can we expect the adjudication to take? 30 days?), or does it mean that IPO is taking final action on cases filed as of that date? How much of IPO’s active workload on November 30, 2016 should we assume is composed of cases filed on August 7, 2015, and how much of cases filed much earlier and much later? What’s the difference between reporting “cases as of August 7, 2015” and “cases as of 16 months ago?” How should we interpret the average processing dates given what we know of IPO’s exceptions to a First In First Out policy (e.g. that petitions for a single project get grouped, and that Exemplar approvals can speed processing?) How can we know USCIS’s “production goals” for a given petition type?

As context, I’m copying charts based on my log of dates/months reported in monthly updates to the IPO processing times table since 2014. (You can access my spreadsheet here if you like).


The orange trend lines could allow forecasting when a petition filed on a certain date (primary Y axis) will be adjudicated (X axis). But even assuming that I’ve understood the IPO dates correctly, a linear forecast from past trends is risky because the future will be affected by new factors including IPO’s staff improvements (we hope) and variation from filing surges. Also, even if the IPO-reported processing time is in fact “average” as of a given date, that doesn’t mean it’s typical. For I-924 processing, I can compare the IPO processing times report with reality, since I-924 designation letters give actual filing and approval dates. Doing this comparison for I-924s processed in 2015 indicates that the IPO-reported average times were close to the actual average but not at all typical, since a majority of applications (each represented by a dot on the scatter chart) were adjudicated either much more quickly or much more slowly than average.


I don’t have access to data on actual processing times for I-526 and I-829 petitions, but it would be interesting to know whether the deviations are similarly large.

In the past, EB-5 investor readers have used the comments section of this blog to trade experience with processing dates, and I got a request to open up a discussion forum instead to facilitate this exchange. So I have set up http://eb5.freeforums.net/ as a platform, and you’re welcome to sign up and use this tool to discuss your experience with EB-5 petition processing. I will do some light moderating (mainly accepting membership requests), but mainly offer it as a more convenient discussion venue for anyone who’s interested.

Recap of Major Winter Developments (policy, regulations, legislation, statistics, fees, Commerce study, new AAO, SEC actions, litigation)

The past few months have been packed with important EB-5 news, and it’s hard to keep up with all that’s happening.  As a reminder, here is a summary list of the major developments to keep in focus. (The first five I’ve discussed in previous posts; the last five I haven’t had time to write about yet.)

  1. New Policy: Effective November 30, 2016, USCIS replaced all existing EB-5 policy with a new Policy Manual: USCIS Policy Manual, 6 USCIS-PM G (November 30, 2016). This major event puts the whole program on a new footing (though 6 USCIS-PM G is essentially similar to the policy it replaced, with a few adjustments, additions, omissions, and clarifications as I started to discuss here).
  2. Proposed New Regulations: As I announced this week, USCIS has published notices of proposed EB-5 rule-making in the Federal Register.  Advance Notice #0008 invites stakeholders to give input on possible changes to regional center designations and terminations and the I-924 and project approval process. Notice #0006 gives proposed new rules covering priority dates, investment amounts, and TEA designation, among other things. If the new rules are finalized as proposed, the EB-5 minimum investment amount will increase to $1.8 million (or $1.35 million within a TEA) as calculated from inflation, fewer projects will qualify for TEA status, investors with approved I-526 will have the option to invest in a different project without losing their original priority date, and regional centers may need to get project approval before offering investments. We can expect action toward finalizing regulations at some point after the public comment period closes on April 11, 2017 – maybe shortly or maybe long after, if the comments inspire redrafting and/or if the new administration chooses not to greenlight the regulations.
  3. Proposed New Legislation: Congress was (reportedly) actively working on EB-5 reform legislation before the continuing resolution that passed on December 10 provided the regional center program with a clean extension through April 28, 2017. We have a staff draft of an EB-5 bill dated December 2, 2016, and understand that staffers and lobbyists are still working with this document behind the scenes. If the staff draft were passed as-is, the EB-5 minimum investment amount would decrease to $700,000 (or $650,000 for a TEA investment), with incremental increases up to $1M/$800K, additional TEA categories and incentives (including rolling visa set-asides) would be introduced, and regional centers would  be given hefty new annual fees ($10,000 or $20,000) and relatively gentle new fund administration and reporting requirements. (My bill comparison chart gives a link to the bill text and summarizes the provisions.) We may see action toward passing reform legislation in the coming months before the next regional center sunset date on April 28 – or may not, with so many other matters demanding attention during Trump’s first 100 days in office, and the anti-change lobby.
  4. New Data and Statistics: We got updated numbers from USCIS and the Department of State on EB-5 petition and visa processing and backlogs as of the end of 2016. The numbers show a queue of current and prospective visa applicants about 75,000 people long, which implies an 8-year visa wait for new China-born investors. And unless USCIS improves processing volumes, it will take 2+ years just to process the currently-pending I-526 petitions and 3+ years to just process the currently-pending I-829 petitions. Proposed EB-5 reform legislation and regulations both plan to improve processing times/volumes, but do not offer to increase available visa numbers.
  5. Fee Increases: EB-5 petitions and applications have higher filing fees since December 23, 2016. The new I-924 fee (dramatically increased to $17,785) is likely to curb the burgeoning number of regional centers (perhaps especially new applications from serial operators, which have accounted for an increasing percentage of new RCs) and discourage voluntary filing of amendments.
  6. Department of Commerce EB-5 Impact Analysis: We finally have the long-promised Department of Commerce study commissioned by USCIS: Estimating the Investment and Job Creation Impact of the EB-5 Program (January 2017). The product is a slender report and based on old data from 2012-2013, so the numerical conclusions are of limited interest at this point, but the analysis is still significant and could have political impact. I can see EB-5-critic Senator Grassley seizing on this report and the barriers to good analysis that the authors describe. EB-5 economists should review the formerly common EIR problems identified on p. 9, and ensure that they’re not still repeating them.
  7. New AAO Decisions: In November and December, USCIS published 27 new decisions on I-526 cases and one new decision on a regional center termination appeal.  The termination decision (NOV022016_01K2610) and 15 nearly-identical I-526 decisions (for example DEC142016_07B7203) are related to Path America KingCo, LLC, which lost designation after an SEC action mainly targeting its principal. The regional center appealed its termination based on pursuing active, viable projects under reputable new management. Investors appealed with the argument that their petition denials were premature, coming while the regional center appeal and the SEC case were still unresolved. AAO found that the investor appeals were hopeless due to the issue of material change, and that the regional center appeal was not sufficiently compelling. (But the RC decision interestingly grants the possibility that mitigating, corrective, and restorative actions could potentially compensate for past problems with the regional center or related entities.) Among decisions not related to Path America, I hope to write more about three decisions with good discussion of material change issues (NOV012016_02B7203, NOV072016_01B7203, NOV292016_02B7203) and two that address the level of business activity necessary before filing I-526 (NOV092016_01B7203, NOV292016_01B7203). I’ll particularly highlight NOV292016_01B7203, which explicitly states what I’ve always said – that an investor must not file a TEA-based I-526 before securing a location for the business.
  8. New SEC Actions: On December 27, 2016, the SEC published a complaint brought against California-based attorney Emilio Francisco and associated companies who are charged with diverting and stealing EB-5 investor funds. On December 28, 2016, the SEC announced settlement on a case against AJN Investments LLC/Jason Adam Ogden, who was charged with diverting EB-5 investor funds and wrongly making midstream business model changes.  I’m interested to note that these SEC complaints do not implicate or even identify the regional centers that sponsored the EB-5 investments involved. The SEC holds the project companies and principals exclusively responsible for problems in the offerings, projects, and use of funds. I wonder whether USCIS will pursue the regional center sponsors, holding them responsible for oversight, or whether it will follow the SEC’s lead in considering the sponsors out of the picture. It appears that the regional centers in these cases did not control any NCE bank accounts and were not involved in offering documents or investor promotion. In other news, the SEC has just settled with Path America (a case that did implicate the regional center).
  9. Other litigation: On November 14, 2016, a long list of EB-5 investor plaintiffs brought a civil suit against a long list of defendants associated with the Palm House Hotel EB-5 project. The suit enumerates the lies that the investors believe they were told, calls out every party and service provider allegedly involved in making false representations, and traces alleged misuse of investor funds. The case appears complicated and ambiguous (not the kind of low-hanging fruit that the SEC seems to favor) but full of drama and makes for gripping reading. Another case that’s older now (filed August 2016), but also a colorful Florida story: USA v. Karamchand Doobay, who was charged with perpetrating fraud through his regional center and projects. I’m sure the investors in these cases would unite in one message for the future: do not neglect due diligence before investing! And the defendants would likely encourage care in partnerships and representations.
  10. Good news: Meanwhile, just to keep  perspective, 99% of the 865 regional centers are apparently doing well and good, or avoiding lawsuits and bad press at any rate. At least $10.4 billion dollars of EB-5 investment entered the U.S. economy in 2016, judging by the number of I-526 petitions filed during the year. I was privileged to write business plans last year for 32 new EB-5 deals that look promising for both local communities and foreign investors, and I continue to be encouraged by what I see on the ground on the bright side of EB-5.

(Also note, adding to the festival of updates and feedback opportunities, an in-person EB-5 stakeholder meeting just announced for March 3 in DC.)

3/3/2017 USCIS EB-5 Engagement

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [mailto:uscis@public.govdelivery.com]
Sent: Friday, January 13, 2017 8:55 AM
Subject: USCIS Invitation: EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, 03/03/2017

Dear Stakeholder,

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) invites you to participate in a stakeholder engagement on Friday, March 3, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. to discuss the Immigrant Investor Program, also known as the EB-5 program.  This engagement is part of our ongoing efforts to enhance dialogue with our stakeholders in the EB-5 program.

During the first part of this engagement, USCIS officials will provide EB-5 program updates. The second part will be a question-and-answer session. We invite you to ask non-case specific questions or provide feedback on the EB-5 program.

Participation Details:

You may attend this engagement either in person at USCIS Headquarters in Washington, D.C., or by teleconference.

To register, please follow these steps:
·        Visit our registration page
·        Enter your email address and select “Submit”
·        Select “Subscriber Preferences”
·        Select the “Event Registration” tab
·        Provide your full name and organization, if any
·        Complete the questions and select “Submit”

If you wish to attend in person, please indicate so in your subscriber preferences when selecting your method of attendance. Please note that seating is limited, so we encourage you to register early.

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

To submit non-case specific questions before the engagement:

·        Email us at USCIS-IGAOutreach@uscis.dhs.gov by Friday, February 3, at 5 p.m. Eastern.

If you have any questions regarding the registration process, or if you have not received a confirmation email within two business days, please email us at the same address.

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

We look forward to engaging with you!

Proposed New EB-5 Regs (priority dates, investment amounts, TEAs)

On January 13, the Federal Register is publishing a Notice of Proposed Rule-making titled EB-5 Investor Program Modernization (DHS Docket No. USCIS 2016-0006). The notice proposes and explains the rationale behind new EB-5 regulations on priority dates, investment amounts, and targeted employment areas, among other changes. The Notice gives a comment period ending on April 11, 2017, and the regulation amendments could go live at any time after that point – though I assume not very soon thereafter, since the notice solicits and will presumably receive extensive public comment, may require another draft before the final, and will need to be greenlighted by the new administration.

Summary of Proposed Regulation Amendments in DHS Docket No. USCIS-2016-0006

  1. Priority Dates: Allow an EB-5 petitioner to use the priority date of an approved EB-5 petition for any subsequently-filed petition. (In other words, an investor with an approved I-526 in one project could choose to file a new I-526 in a different project while keeping the original priority date. This would benefit investors whose project or regional center has trouble after petition approval, but before the investor receives a visa number. The regulations do not restrict investor reasons for choosing to file a new petition.)
  2. Investment Amounts: Increase the standard minimum investment amount to account for inflation, reduce the differential between standard and TEA investment amounts, and implement automatic increases every five years based on inflation (rounded to the nearest 100,000).  Based on CPI increases since investment amounts were set in 1990, this means that the standard minimum investment would become $1,800,000 in 2017. The TEA amount, set at 75% of the standard, would be $1,350,000 in 2017. The investor would be required to contribute the minimum investment amount that is designated at the time the petition is filed.
  3. Targeted Employment Areas: Eliminate state designation of TEAs, and have DHS determine TEA qualification by applying its own uniform standards to evidence presented by investors and regional centers. For high-unemployment TEAs, DHS would only designate an MSA, county, city, or project tracts. (A project tract TEA is the census tract where the project is located, or a group comprising any or all census tracts that touch the tract where the project is located — but not a group including any indirectly connected census tracts). The regulations do not specify which unemployment data DHS would use or accept.
  4. Other technical changes: define a process by which derivatives may file Form I-829 if not included on the principal’s position; provide greater flexibility in selecting the I-829 interview location; remove the requirement that investors report to a district office in order to receive a permanent resident card; miscellaneous other changes (including clarifying that an investor can be sufficiently engaged in an NCE merely by virtue of being an equity holder, without requiring a management or other active role).

The notice goes into extensive detail about USCIS’s thinking and research behind the proposed changes (which is interesting in itself, even apart from context), and invites stakeholders to respond with equally substantial data and analysis. I look forward to IIUSA or others stepping up to help organize a serious stakeholder response. We need to do better than hundreds of individual stakeholders mailing to basically just say “this would hurt” and “we don’t like change.” (Update: IIUSA is inviting feedback from members; deadline January 31, 2017)

The regulators at USCIS and legislators in Congress share similar goals — to modernize the EB-5 program and change certain aspects of the program in need of reform — but so far the draft legislation and proposed regulations suggest quite different changes. I wonder whether Congressional staffers will be influenced by these Notices of Proposed Rule-Making as they continue to refine legislation. I note that the draft regulations frequently reference Congressional intent as expressed around 1990, but not current discussions in Congress. (As a reminder, here are the investment amount and TEA changes proposed in the most recent draft EB-5 bill I’ve seen.)

EB-5 Regs (Regional Centers), I-924 Process and 2015 Stats, Processing Times

Status of Amended Regulations

USCIS has published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in the Federal Register. This notice “EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program” (Docket No. USCIS-2016-0008) does not unveil any revised regulations, but instead generously solicits stakeholder input to help formulate new rules for regional center designation, the exemplar filing process, continued RC participation, and RC termination. (Docket #0008 references a separate notice “EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization” Docket No. USCIS-2016-0006 that may cover the other EB-5 topics that we expected to see addressed. 1/12 UPDATE: here is Docket No. USCIS-2016-0006, which proposes new regulations for EB-5 investment amount increases, TEA requirements, priority dates, and other EB-5 matters.)

The bad news about notice #0008 is that it suggests USCIS is in a preliminary stage of thinking about new regional center designation rules, hasn’t actually drafted any regulations on this topic, and doesn’t expect to start for at least another 90 days. (Though hustle might be useless anyway, if Trump makes good on his election commitment to issue a temporary moratorium on most new regulations.) The good news is that notice #0008 demonstrates genuine concern to understand and work with regional center reality, presents thoughtful analysis of the issues, and poses excellent questions. Answers prepared for USCIS in response to the ANPRM should be organized and shared with Congressional staffers as well, since draft EB-5 reform legislation covers the same issues that USCIS aims to resolve, and would benefit from the same input.

I-924 Approval Data

I try to improve the accuracy of my Regional Center List by requesting regional center designation letters from USCIS through the FOIA process. So far I have logged all initial designations and amendments through 2015. I’m sharing summaries of data points gleaned from the most recent letters in my collection (2015 approvals) to help shed light on processing issues.  As we prepare to respond to the ANPRM, let’s think about what’s wrong with the following pictures, and how to improve the situation.

Processing Times

Speaking of processing times, here is an email that I should have shared last week.

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [mailto:uscis@public.govdelivery.com]
Sent: Thursday, January 05, 2017 11:32 AM
Subject: USCIS Now Uses Specific Dates to Show Case Processing Times

Dear Stakeholder,

Starting on Jan. 4, 2017, we will post processing times using a specific date format rather than weeks or months. This is the first step in providing processing times that are timelier and easier to understand.

We post case processing times on our website as a guide for when to inquire (service request) about a pending case. For the last several years, we have posted case processing times using two different formats:

  • For cases that were within our production goals, we listed processing times in weeks or months.
  • For cases that were outside of our production goals, we listed processing times with a specific date.

Always refer to your I-797C, Notice of Action, and look for “receipt date” to determine when we accepted your case. If the receipt date on the USCIS Processing Times web page is after the date we have listed on your notice, you should expect to hear from us within 30 days. If after those 30 days, you have not heard from us, you may make an inquiry on your case.

We recommend using our e-request tool for all case inquiries. In addition, we have many other services and tools at my.uscis.gov

If you move, remember to update your address for each pending case and receipt number at uscis.gov/addresschange.

Kind Regards,
USCIS Public Engagement Division

Note that this change is cosmetic: processing “as of month” and “as of date” are the same information, just in a different form. But the change is helpful to clarify that the report does not give average processing times, but rather a metric for judging when it’s okay to inquire about case status. FYI here is my spreadsheet of historical IPO processing times with columns translating month to date and vice versa. (But whether considering month or date, keep in mind individual deviations as illustrated above in my scatter plot charts of actual I-924 processing in 2015.)

Policy Manual EB-5 Section: What’s New

The EB-5 program just shifted onto a new and slightly different foundation. USCIS Policy Manual Volume 6, Part G, published today, is now the controlling source for EB-5 policy guidance. Usually we get a review and comment period before new policy goes live, but the effective date for this policy (which I’ll call PM 6G for short) is November 30, 2016.

PM 6G consolidates and replaces (and expands on) the May 2013 EB-5 Policy Memo, EB-5 sections in the Adjudicator’s Field Manual, and other related prior USCIS guidance. It’s intended as a compendium of existing policy, but it’s not identical to the previous guidance. Here are significant points that I notice (based on reading PM 6G side-by-side with the May 2013 Policy Memo, and consulting my memory).

PM 6G introduces a few new petition filing instructions:

  • Chapter 3(B)(3) states that a regional center I-526 petition for a project not previously reviewed by USCIS must identify the project “as an actual project being presented for the first time,” and  “should contain an affirmative statement signed by a regional center principal confirming that the regional center is aware of the specific project being presented for the first time as part of the immigrant investor petition.”
  • Chapter 4(A) states that a regional center I-526 petition for a project previously reviewed by USCIS must submit the previously-approved documentation together with the investor’s documents. This is required even though the regional center previously submitted the documentation with the Form I-924. The petition must also include a copy of the regional center’s most recently-issued approval letter.
  • Chapter 5(B) states that a I-829 petition must include relevant documents previously submitted with the Form I-526, including the comprehensive business plan and economic impact analysis, if the petitioner is relying on such documents to meet his or her burden of proof. “This information is necessary to indicate whether there are material changes that would impact deference.”

PM 6G includes a few items that might be arguable as new policy:

  • Chapter 2(A)1 has a section on “using loan proceeds as capital”
  • Chapter 2(D)4 says that “USCIS may request additional evidence that the indirect jobs created, or to be created, are full time.” (The May 2013 Policy Memo had stated the opposite:Due to the nature of accepted job creation modeling practices, which do not distinguish whether jobs are full- or part-time, USCIS relies upon the reasonable economic models to determine that it is more likely than not that the indirect jobs are created and will not request additional evidence to validate the job creation estimates in the economic models to prove by a greater level of certainty that the indirect jobs created, or to be created, are full-time or permanent.” We need to get PM 6G revised to reflect that reasonable approach.) Chapter 2(D)(4) also confusingly defines direct jobs in the context of regional center job creation and economic analysis as “those jobs that establish an employer-employee relationship between the new commercial enterprise and the persons it employs.” This should be revised or expanded to reflect the alternate meaning of a “direct” job that is in fact used by economic models.
  • Chapter 2(D)6 incorporates the content of the 12/20/2012 Operational Guidance on tenant occupancy
  • Chapter 3(D) says that amendments are optional for changing a regional center’s “industries of focus, business plans, or economic methodologies,” but does not say that amendments are optional for a change in geographic boundaries.  The May 2013 Policy Memo had included geographic boundaries on the list of changes for which an amendment was not required.
  • Chapter 5(B) defines a first-in policy for allocating jobs to EB-5 investors, absent other agreement  (departing from the recent practice of saying no investors get jobs if there aren’t enough for all and there isn’t a job allocation agreement)

PM 6G provides some new examples, clarifications, and re-emphasis:

  • Chapter 2(A)2 lists types of documents that can be used to help demonstrate source of funds
  • Chapter 2(A)2 lists “administrative fees, management fees, attorneys’ fees, finders’ fees, syndication fees” as examples of expenses that will be considered to erode capital made available to the job-creating entity, if paid out of the EB-5 qualifying investment amount
  • Chapter 2(A)5 repeats the old point that TEA qualification is determined for each petitioner based on the  project location’s TEA status at the time of that petitioner’s investment or I-526 filing, while re-emphasizing the implication that the project location is not necessarily a TEA for all time, and just because some early investors qualified for the reduced investment amount isn’t determinative for later investors in the same project
  • Chapter 2(D)3 lists examples of evidence to be provided for a job-sharing arrangement in order to show that it truly involves job share of a full-time position, and not combination of part-time positions
  • Chapter 2(D)5 re-emphasizes that a reasonable economic methodology must be based on reasonable inputs, and gives examples of economic model inputs and relevant documentation to help establish their reasonableness. This discussion is repeated in Chapter 5(B), with odd lack of distinction between evidence required at the I-526 and I-829 stage.
  • Chapter 3(A) describes new detail required of the operational plan filed with the I-924 Application for Regional Center
  • Chapter 3(B)1 suggests specific content for the “general proposals and predictions” in a regional center application relying on hypothetical projects
  • Chapter 3(E) describes the process and issues in regional center termination
  • Chapter 4(C) and 5(C) discuss material change in terms of the same principles but with different language and different examples from the May 2013 Policy Memo. Unlike the memo, the manual discusses and gives examples of changes that would NOT count as material.
  • Chapter 5(B) tries to discuss evidence for regional center job creation at the I-829 stage, but needs more work to clearly address issues specific to regional center as distinct from direct investments, and to differentiate what’s required at I-829 from what’s required at I-526
  • Chapter 5(B)1 gives examples of kinds of construction jobs that do and don’t count as intermittent

What is the significance of PM 6G?  For investors, I guess it doesn’t make much difference because it doesn’t include major policy changes (yet) and basically says what their consultants knew already. It will just be a handy place to find all EB-5 policy, being more comprehensive and better written than the May 2013 memo. Attorneys will want to get busy finding problems and commenting on details that need to be changed.  I’ll have to spend Christmas going through years of blog posts and other documents updating the content and citations to reference PM 6G instead of the various superseded guidance and policy sources (and maybe spend Easter the same way when PM 6G gets revised based on new regulations). I dislike the fluidity of the online Policy Manual, and for myself am copying the content into stable old-fashioned page-numbered documents with navigation.(Here is a link to my folder, which I expect will eventually include many dated versions. You’re welcome to share, keeping in mind that the online manual is the most reliable source for the most current content.)

I look forward to linking to other reactions on the manual here, and may modify my own comments in this post.

Policy Manual EB-5 announcement

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [mailto:uscis@public.govdelivery.com]
Sent: Wednesday, November 30, 2016 9:29 AM
Subject: USCIS Message: Policy Manual Available for Comment Employment-Based Fifth Preference Immigrants: Investors

Dear Stakeholder,

USCIS seeks your input on the USCIS Policy Manual item listed below which contains either new or revised policy guidance. Please note that this item is effective as of the date shown below.

Type of Document for Comment: USCIS Policy Manual
Title of Document: Employment-Based Fifth Preference Immigrants: Investors
Related Documents: Policy Alert
Opening & Closing Dates for Comment: November 30, 2016 – December 14, 2016
Effective Date of Policy: November 30, 2016

Please send all comments to publicengagementfeedback@uscis.dhs.gov and be sure to include the following to make your comments clear:

State the title of the relevant volume and section in the subject line of your message;
Refer to a specific portion of the document;
Explain the reason for any recommended change; and
Include data, information, or authority that supports the recommendation.

If you are unable to access the document through the link provided above, please do the following:

  1. Go to www.uscis.gov/outreach
  2. Select “Feedback Opportunities” on the left side of the page
  3. Select “Policy Manual for Comment” on the left side of the page

Kind Regards,

USCIS Public Engagement Division

Final Fee Rule, Processing Updates, RC Withdrawal

Today the Federal Register published U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule, a final rule adjusting the fees required for most immigration applications and petitions. USCIS invites stakeholders to participate in a Fee Rule Engagement teleconference on November 2, 2016 from 3:30 to 4:30 PM EST. (To register, click on the USCIS registration page.)

The final rule is similar to the proposed rule that we reviewed this summer, with the addition of DHS response to public comments. Here are the portions of the rule particularly significant to EB-5 (summarized from PDF pages 17-20, 30-31, and 41 of the final rule).

Fee Increases

EB-5 petitions and applications become more expensive to file as of December 23, 2016.
newfees
The fee increase for Form I-924 is especially drastic, and I’m surprised to discover that USCIS apparently did not hear public feedback on its two most obvious problems: that it was assessed based on inaccurate assumptions about regional center revenue, and that it will discourage regional centers from voluntarily using I-924 to file the amendment requests and Exemplar I-526 that USCIS wants to encourage. IIUSA and AILA – did you drop the ball on commenting, or did USCIS just not pay attention? But the rule is final now, so we live with it. And Regional Centers, you might want to hustle to file any exemplars and amendments before December 23.

Processing Issues

  • The rule does not promise that fee increases will bring improved service for EB-5 petitions. The rule states that higher fees will be used to recover costs needed to sustain current operating levels, pay a share of services that DHS provides on a fee-exempt basis to others, bolster IPO’s fraud detection and national security capabilities, and make limited investments in technological improvements to bolster information security. These uses have merit, but none are directly linked to improved EB-5 processing times. But the rule does claim that the new I-924 fee “was, in part, calculated to allow USCIS to hire additional staff to process Forms I–924 and provide better and more thorough service.”
  • The rule includes in passing this interesting tidbit on how IPO currently handles I-829 adjudications:

DHS appreciates the suggestions for improving EB–5 processing times. DHS clarifies that USCIS already has processes in place to streamline adjudication of the business-related portions of multiple Forms I-829 associated with a single, new investment project. Specifically, when USCIS receives a regional center-associated Form I–829 that involves a new commercial enterprise, USCIS reviews the first two petitions associated with that new commercial enterprise to determine if there are specific project-related issues that would apply to all petitioners associated with the new commercial enterprise. After completing that review, USCIS commences adjudication of all Forms I–829 associated with that new commercial enterprise filed within a given period. Similarly, when USCIS receives a regional center-associated Form I–829 that involves a previously reviewed commercial enterprise, USCIS immediately assigns that petition for adjudication. In other words, USCIS currently adjudicates Form I–829 petitions in ‘‘first in, first out’’ order by new commercial enterprises.

  • The rule gives the welcome news that “USCIS is transforming how it calculates and posts processing time information to improve the timeliness of such postings, but more importantly, to achieve greater transparency of USCIS case processing.” To that end, “USCIS is evaluating the feasibility of calculating processing times using data generated directly from case management systems, rather than with self-reported performance data provided by Service Centers and Field Offices” and “USCIS is also considering publishing processing times using a range rather than using one number or date. This approach would show that, for example, half of cases are decided in between X and Y number of months.” (Or, as Sir. Humphrey Appleby might say: of course we understand that you want a usable processing report, and have convened an interdepartmental committee to conduct a feasibility study that will make recommendations at the appropriate juncture, in due course, when the moment is ripe, in the fullness of time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.)
  • The rule says that “USCIS does not have immediate plans to allow electronic filing for EB–5 requests, but appreciates commenters’ desire to avoid voluminous paper filings. USCIS plans to allow electronic filing for EB–5 requests in the future.”

Regional Center Withdrawal Procedure

The rule recognizes the problem that “Currently, there is no procedure for regional centers seeking to withdraw their designation and discontinue their participation in the program,” and offers to provide a withdrawal procedure to “allow a regional center to proactively request withdrawal without the need for the more formal notices sent out by DHS.” To this end, the rule amends the EB-5 regulations, replacing 8 CFR 204.6(m)(6) with the text I quote below. The new language is similar to the previous 8 CFR 204.6(m)(6) except that it adds failure to pay fees as a reason for termination and adds a rather vague paragraph stating that a regional center may notify USCIS by letter or other means if it wishes to withdraw from the program. The paragraph does not clarify what the letter should include, where it should be sent, what kind of decision USCIS has to make about the letter, and to what extent such a regional center will be treated differently from another whose designation is terminated involuntarily.

PART 204—IMMIGRANT PETITIONS
■ 8. Section 204.6 is amended by revising paragraph (m)(6) to read as follows:

  • 204.6 Petitions for employment creation aliens.

* * * * * (m) * * *
(6) Continued participation requirements for regional centers.
 (i) Regional centers approved for participation in the program must:

(A) Continue to meet the requirements of section 610(a) of the Appropriations Act.

(B) Provide USCIS with updated information annually, and/or as otherwise requested by USCIS, to demonstrate that the regional center is continuing to promote economic growth, including increased export sales, improved regional productivity, job creation, and increased domestic capital investment in the approved geographic area, using a form designated for this purpose; and

(C) Pay the fee provided by 8 CFR 103.7(b)(1)(i)(XX).

(ii) USCIS will issue a notice of intent to terminate the designation of a regional center in the program if:

(A) A regional center fails to submit the information required in paragraph (m)(6)(i)(B) of this section, or pay the associated fee; or

(B) USCIS determines that the regional center no longer serves the purpose of promoting economic growth, including increased export sales, improved regional productivity, job creation, and increased domestic capital investment.

(iii) A notice of intent to terminate the designation of a regional center will be sent to the regional center and set forth the reasons for termination.
(iv) The regional center will be provided 30 days from receipt of the notice of intent to terminate to rebut the ground or grounds stated in the notice of intent to terminate.
(v) USCIS will notify the regional center of the final decision. If USCIS determines that the regional center’s participation in the program should be terminated, USCIS will state the reasons for termination. The regional center may appeal the final termination decision in accordance with 8 CFR 103.3.
(vi) A regional center may elect to withdraw from the program and request a termination of the regional center designation. The regional center must notify USCIS of such election in the form of a letter or as otherwise requested by USCIS. USCIS will notify the regional center of its decision regarding the withdrawal request in writing.

8/29 USCIS meeting (policy timeline, minor petitioners, RFC, more), AAO decisions (exit, investors in terminated RC), legislation comments, NASAA advisory

EB-5 World kept busy during my annual wilderness week, so this post is a long one. Before I get into detail, here are a few headlines: No new EB-5 policy or guidance likely this year, IPO steps up scrutiny of parties involved in regional centers and emphasizes due diligence responsibilities, Minors face challenges in qualifying as EB-5 petitioners, Wyoming gets its first regional center.

8/29/2016 EB-5 Stakeholder Meeting

USCIS hosted an EB-5 stakeholder teleconference on 8/29/2016 – ostensibly to review content that we couldn’t hear in the 7/28 engagement, but stakeholders wisely took the opportunity to ask new questions. Nicholas Colucci and Julia Harrison made new statements supplementing the prepared remarks for the 7/28 engagement. IIUSA has shared a recording with members. I was not able to record the event, but have summarized highlights for you.

  • USCIS Timeline for New Policy and Regulations: USCIS expects to finalize the EB-5 chapters for the USCIS Policy Manual by the end of this fiscal year or at least calendar year, and to hold off on releasing new policy and guidance until after those foundational chapters on existing policy have been published. Mr. Colucci described the policy manual as “a compendium of all existing policy of the EB-5 program, putting it all into a single document. As we draft new guidance with respect to the EB-5 program, what we will do is generally put it out for notice and comment and then finalize it in that manual. So it will be a document that gets added to as it goes along.” It will be nice to have existing policy gathered in one place, but what we really want is new policy. In her statement for the 7/28 meeting, Lori Mackenzie promised that “Among the topics we hope to further expand upon are issues associated with the requirements for job creation and investment sustainment that apply to EB-5 investors and the impact of misappropriation of funds on those requirements.” But for now, Mr. Colucci and Ms. Harrison declined to make statements about sustaining investment or dealing with investors following regional center termination, saying that these points would wait to be covered in future policy manual amendments, after the foundational content is completed (ie after this year). The draft Guidance on the Job Creation Requirement and Sustainment of the Investment for EB-5 Adjudication of Form I-526 and Form I-829 (first posted for comment in August 2015, and urgently needed) is now off the table until it can be issued in revised form for comment as a policy manual amendment. Regarding revised regulations, Mr. Colucci said “We are working on an EB-5 regulation. We don’t have a timeline for the publication of that regulation, but we continue to actively work on it.” He did not say anything about a November 2016 target (mentioned last month by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson).
  • I-924 Requests for Clarification (RFC): Mr. Colucci pointed out that IPO has been issuing a number of RFCs to regional center applicants who did not respond completely to Form I-924 Part III(D), which asks for a list of principles, agents, individuals and entities that are involved in the management, oversight, and administration of the regional center. “What we’ve been finding is oftentimes this is left blank when the form is submitted. But as we review the supporting documentation, we see in fact a number of other names that should’ve been included in this section. What we’re doing as part of this Request for Clarification is determining whether other individuals are involved with the regional center, and if so, we’re seeking their identifying information.” I think we can assume that USCIS wants that complete list and identifying information for broader vetting and accountability – perhaps proactively implementing reform proposals from reauthorization bills that Congress hasn’t managed to pass yet.
  • Customer Service Issues: Mr. Colucci stated that IPO would not respond to duplicate requests sent to the Customer Service Mailbox within 15 days of the original request, but reminded people of the escalation process. (See the EB-5 Customer Support page.) USCIS.gov has added a Chinese translation of the support page, and a FAQ page addressing common questions from investors. In response to Q&A, USCIS invited people to use the customer service mailbox to notify USCIS of factual errors in an RFE or NOID notice, and said that USCIS may issue a replacement notice.
  • Minors as EB-5 Investors: Julia Harrison responded to questions about minors under the age of 14 being able to invest in the EB-5 program. She said “Just to clarify, for USCIS the statute and regulations don’t have an age limitation. However, it is important to understand that a minor normally lacks the legal capacity to enter into the various types of contracts that are necessary to demonstrate the qualifying investment. So, while the eligibility for any minor to enter into the contract would depend on the specific facts of the particular case, it could be difficult for them to be the principle petitioner because of the concerns related to their capacity to contract and the presumptive voidability of contracts signed by minors. When a minor does enter into a contract, the petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating via preponderance of the evidence that the minor or legal guardian who enters into this agreement on their behalf will be – that it will be binding on the minor petitioner in the relevant jurisdiction. And again that’s up to the petitioner to demonstrate that evidence when they submit their application to USCIS. For a child less than 14 years old, a parent or legal guardian may sign on their behalf, but you also need to be prepared to demonstrate, with evidentiary requirements, proof of the parent-child relationship.” In response to questions, Ms. Harrison suggested that it might be acceptable for parents to transfer investment on behalf of a minor child, so long as it’s clear that the capital belongs to the minor petitioner, not the parent. She further stated that IPO was not in a position to specify the nature of proof required to overcome a presumption of voidability, or even to give general guidance, but would adjudicate on a case-by-case basis. I wonder if Ms. Harrison was basically saying: IPO currently does not see how it’s practically possible for a minor to be an EB-5 petitioner, but is open to being convinced otherwise. Catherine DeBono Holmes has written articles Using the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act for Minor Investors in EB-5 Investment Funds (September 23, 2016) and Suggested Procedures and Possible Options for Accepting Minors as Investors in EB-5 Investment Funds (June 23, 2016). See also blog posts by Klasko Law and Wolfsdorf Rosenthal on minors as primary EB-5 applicants. These articles take a positive approach, but note that I’ve heard other prominent EB-5 lawyers express strong questions and reservations about the practicalities of minors as EB-5 petitioners.
  • The Rent-a-Center model: I’ll quote this from Mr. Colucci’s published remarks for the 7/28 engagement, since it seems to be a warning shot: “To uphold the integrity of the program, USCIS is focused on ensuring that regional centers exercise due diligence in the oversight of the capital investment and job-creating projects they sponsor. As the program has become more popular, the paradigm of regional center relationships has expanded. But let me remind everyone in the EB-5 community that due diligence, monitoring and oversight are the obligations of the designated regional center entity, and central to the integrity of the program. When we become aware of any threats to the integrity of the program, we seek to take corrective action.” IPO appears to be giving notice that they don’t like a hands-off regional center relationship. Regional centers that use a “rent-a-center” model, licensing third parties to use their designation for projects, should take note and take care to implement sufficient due diligence, monitoring and oversight.
  • Other Points: The teleconference was unusually rich in good questions that solicited new answers – though the answers are marginally bankable since they’re just off-the-cuff in context of a call. But for what it’s worth, I heard: Yes, the first I-526 in a pooled direct investment case establishes deference for subsequent I-526s (and USCIS is considering process adjustments that will make this more workable in the direct context); Yes, IPO accepts a loan secured by equity investment in the petitioner’s own business as an acceptable source of funds (but note a different story in the Ibrahim case being litigated, Ed.); No, USCIS does not defer to previous source of funds determinations, but only to the items listed in the Policy Memo deference policy; No, USCIS does not necessarily require proof of non-EB-5 funding already in the bank but looks for general preponderance of evidence (e.g. things like letters of commitment and term sheets); Yes, it should be sufficient to sustain an investment during the 2-year conditional residence period (implying that the investment need not also be sustained during the period when I-829 is pending); No, I-526 petition processing is not exactly FIFO but happens in a range that’s pegged to when IPO received the first I-526 for that project; No, IPO is not considering new policy to implement the Child Protection Act (and specifically, declines to hold I-526s in abeyance to add time in order to help protect child eligibility); No, IPO does not think that CPA practices for I-130 family-based petitions can be applicable for EB-5.

New AAO Decisions

AAO continues to dismiss appeals of USCIS denials of I-526 cases. Here are the most recent issues.

  • Investor Exit Strategies: JUL272016_01B7203, JUL272016_02B7203, and JUL272016_03B7203 discuss three petitioners in the same deal whose petitions were sunk by these two sentences in the Operating Agreement: “Members who are holders of the Class B Interests may demand a return of the capital contributions upon receipt of the approval of the I-829 Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services” and “In the event of the denial of the I-829 Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions, at the end of the five-year compliance period, following the USCIS’s Request for Evidence in connection with their I-829 petition, the Company intends to refund that member’s $1,000,000 subscription amount paid within 120 days if feasible.” More specifically, the petitions were sunk by two words — “demand” and “$1,000,000” — which USCIS and AAO agree flagged an impermissible redemption agreement. Using the word “demand” (i.e. “claim as due” “require”) profiled the petitioner as effectively a lender (and the investment no more at-risk than a loan), and naming a dollar figure triggered the Matter of Izummi prohibition against assuring the petitioner of a set repurchase price from a willing buyer. (The three cases are identical except that _01 has an additional source of funds issue.)
  • Investors in Terminated Regional Center: AUG032016_01B7203 through AUG042016_04B7203 represent six additional petitioners in the same position as the JUL182016_01B7203 case. All these investors were in the stage between I-526 approval and receiving conditional permanent residence (CPR) when their regional center was terminated. All had their I-526 approvals revoked, with identical justifications based on the policy prohibiting material change during the period between I-526 approval and green card. AAO agreed with USCIS in these cases. I hear through the grapevine that USCIS has gone further and revoked CPR for investors who were further in the process when their regional center was terminated – a very serious development, if the rumor proves to be true and to represent general practice. Material change policy wouldn’t justify such revocations, but we may not be able to discover USCIS’s practices and justifications until we see decisions on investor appeals. In yesterday’s conference call, IPO said they “don’t have guidance yet” for how investors are treated in the event of RC closure – but obviously they do, since they’re busy sending out notices of intent to deny and revoke to some investors, and apparently just unwilling to publicly disclose the current logic guiding their actions. Do people at IPO not care about their own job security, at least? How much adversity and uncertainty do they think the EB-5 program and investors can take, and still be there to provide the “investor program” in “investor program office”? Please, give us some transparency!

Publications of Note

  • Regional Center Program Reauthorization: A group of securities attorneys got together and redlined proposed legislation with comments and corrections from a securities perspective, and have submitted the document to Congress. You can read the EB5 Securities Roundtable suggestions here. With so many arguable points in last years’ proposals, it’s hard to imagine Congress finalizing anything substantial in the next couple weeks, but we’ll take a deep breath and see what happens. We’re now just days away from September 30, the next deadline for Congress to reauthorize the regional center program.
  • International Entrepreneur Rule: USCIS is proposing a new International Entrepreneur Rule which would allow certain international entrepreneurs to be considered for parole (temporary permission to be in the United States) to start or scale a U.S. businesses. This rule is quite unlike EB-5 and not related to EB-5, but – if implemented – could provide a narrow alternate path to U.S. residence for foreign entrepreneurs. Michele Franchett of Stone Grzegorek Gonzalez has a helpful summary, and Ron Klasko comments on the rule’s (non)relevance for EB-5 investors.
  • Sanctions for Brokering EB-5 Investment: Dan Lundy’s article of 8/24 discusses how and why the SEC is making examples of immigration lawyers who appeared to receive transaction-based compensation in connection with recommending a regional center or assisting in purchase of an EB-5 limited partnership interest. The most recent cases involved minor violations and relatively little money, but the SEC perceives immigration lawyers as gatekeepers for EB-5 and is going after them accordingly.
  • NASAA EB-5 Investor Advisory: The North American Securities Administrators Association has published an investor advisory for potential investors in EB-5 projects. The notice provides a due diligence checklist that’s handy for investors, and also for people who think about how to structure and write up proposals that will satisfy investor questions and concerns.

Regional Center List Updates

Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 07/27/2016 to 08/29/2016:

  • America California Construction, LLC DBA American California Regional Center (California): www.madisonrealtycompanies.com
  • America Commonwealth Regional Center (Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia): acrc.us
  • American Heritage Regional Center, LLC (District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia)
  • American Immigration Fund Regional Center (Florida)
  • EB5 of Ohio, LLC (Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio): www.eb5ofohio.com
  • CanAm Texas Regional Center (Texas): www.canamenterprises.com
  • F2E Regional Center, LLC (Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming)
  • USASIA Pacific, Inc (Washington): usasiapacific.com
  • WAHA EB-5 Regional Center of New Orleans, LLC (Louisiana, Mississippi)

Renamed:

  • Global Pacific Regional Center (former name American Sun Regional Center) (California)

New Terminations:

  • EB-5 South Florida Regional Center, LLC (Florida) Terminated 8/3/2016
  • Alabama EB-5 Regional Center, LLC (Alabama) ) Terminated 8/3/2016

7/28 Meeting Notes (RC site visits & audits, I-829 interviews, redeployment), New AAO Decisions (RC geography, indebtedness)

7/28 Stakeholder Meeting

If you would like to review today’s USCIS EB-5 stakeholder engagement, best talk to someone who attended the meeting in person in Miami. I’ve uploaded my recording as usual, but much of it is barely audible. (Updates: USCIS emailed on 7/29 to apologize for the sound quality for phone participants, and published prepared remarks from Colucci and Mackenzie on 8/16 at the above link. Also, Cletus Weber has posted a summary more comprehensive than mine on the IIUSA blog.) Here are points of significance that I think I heard:

  • New Policy: IPO has a new Policy and Performance Division responsible for drafting policy. They’ve been working on revised EB-5 forms (i.e. revised Form I-526 currently out for comment) and on chapters on EB-5 for the in-progress USCIS Policy Manual. Eagerly-awaited policy on the requirement to sustain investment through the period of conditional residence (including the issues of redeployment and what happens to investors in case of regional center termination) will be part of these forthcoming policy manual chapters or amendments to the manual. USCIS will send this policy out in draft form for comment before finalizing it. We can expect to see the draft “in the near future” but “not tomorrow.” Until then, we can look back to the August 2015 draft memo to “see what we’re thinking,” but may also expect changes based on public feedback to that draft and IPO’s consultation with securities professionals.
  • New Regulations: No update on when exactly we may see new regulations published for comment.
  • Compliance: IPO Chief Colucci reports that his office is in contact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the SEC at least weekly, and again encouraged the public to submit tips on any suspected EB-5-related malfeasance. Contact IPO through the website (https://www.uscis.gov/eb-5) or call the Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) team directly at (202) 357-9326.
  • Regional Center Site Visits and Audits: IPO provided this information:
    • Site visits will generally be at the job-creating enterprise site, unannounced, performed by local FDNS staff, and mostly observational (not necessarily interacting with people on site). Their purpose will be to assess whether what’s happening at the JCE site is consistent with what was proposed/represented to IPO.
    • Regional center audits will generally be at the regional center’s office, announced (by letter and by telephone call to the RC principal), involve interaction with management and staff, and may last a week or more. Their purpose is to assess RC compliance with applicable laws and regulations, and they will be conducted in accordance with generally accepted goverment audit standards.
  • I-829 Interviews: IPO is in a beta/testing phase with I-829 interviews, and developing a strategy for them in response to last year’s GAO report recommendations. Interviewees are currently selected at random. Interviews are conducted by video. It is understood that the petitioner may not have exhaustive info about the investment ready to hand, and petitioners will have opportunity to supplement the record in writing after the interview.
  • Processing: IPO has 25,000+ petitions pending. Premium processing continues unlikely as the Congressionally-mandated fee limit is low enough that nearly all EB-5 applicants could be expected to take advantage of PP, were it offered to them. Meanwhile, prospective investors are apparently starting to wonder whether even a lifetime is sufficient time to complete the EB-5 process. IPO addressed a number of questions on the topic of “what happens if the petitioner dies before I-829 is adjudicated” (short answer: case-by-case determination) and “can someone under 18 apply as the primary petitioner” (short answer: yes and no — not prohibited under the regs but IPO foresees practical issues such as capacity to enter into contracts that are binding on the petitioner).
  • Other items:
    • The Commerce Department study commissioned by IPO to assess the EB-5 program’s economic impact is “in the final stages of review” and will be released “in the next couple weeks.” The study covers FY2012-2013, so old news now, but its impact assessments are reportedly higher than estimates for the same period by industry groups (who had less data to work with).
    • Congress has approved funds for IPO to implement a new data system (hooray!) that will allow for better tracking.
    • I won’t bother repeating what Mr. Lyons said about feasibility studies (the obvious – IPO doesn’t require one by default, but may ask for one if the project’s feasibility isn’t established by other means) and pro forma financials (the obvious – that a business plan had better include them). I do appreciate clever Mr. Lawler’s insight into what would encourage Mr. Lyons to repeat himself so we all could hear.
    • Mr. Colucci emphasized that due diligence by regional centers is essential to the integrity of the EB-5 program, and that IPO is focused on regional center responsibility for monitoring and oversight of projects.
    • IPO is translating some EB-5 web content.

New I-924 AAO Decision: Geographic Area

Matter of R-T-E-R-C-, LLC (JUL152016_01K1610) addresses a grey area for regional center designation – how to justify a request for a certain geographic area. The statute and regs say that a regional center is to be designated for a “limited geographic area,” but naturally applicants want to claim the largest area possible. The common way to accomplish this goal, especially since the May 2013 policy memo, is to formulate a hypothetical project (often flag hotels, because they are easy to write up and pack a fairly wide economic impact) and then hypothetically locate that project at strategically chosen locations throughout the desired geography – strategically chosen so that the aggregate impact areas of each project essentially blanket the desired geography. USCIS has approved many RC applications and amendment requests that use this method, but apparently the amendment request in JUL152016_01K1610 came before a new adjudicator who didn’t feel right about designating a huge geographic area (all of Texas and part of New Mexico) just based on seven hypothetical projects. AAO agreed that “it is particularly challenging to define the geographical scope for a regional center that has only proposed hypothetical projects,”  but AAO was compelled by the applicant’s arguments that commuting patterns show that the hypothetical projects would, if real, affect 249 of Texas’ 254 counties, and that worker spending habits and supply chain would also contribute to state-wide impact. AAO also found that “while the Form 1-924 instructions require that the geographic area be contiguous, there is no requirement for an applicant to show contiguous – for example, county-by-county – economic growth throughout the requested geographical area.” The appeal was sustained.

New I-526 AAO Decisions: Source of Funds

The latest AAO decisions on I-526 appeals (JUL072016_01B7203, JUL072016_02B7203, JUL112016_01B7203) continue to press the point that indebtedness only counts as capital placed at risk if secured by the petitioner’s own assets. JUL072016_02B7203 finds that USCIS remarks on indebtedness at the 4/22/2015 stakeholder meeting are a correct reading of relevant statutory and regulatory requirements. JUL112016_01B7203 further argues that remarks at that meeting were not a new rule or new policy, instituted without due procedure, but were just clarifying existing requirements. JUL112016_01B7203 adds a reminder that capital is not at risk if the NCE is overcapitalized (doesn’t show a use for the full amount of investment) and fails to present sufficient evidence of the actual undertaking of business activity (just entering into a lease is insufficient).

Regional Center List Changes
Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 07/05/2016 to 07/27/2016.

  • 5 Starr Regional Center LLC [ID1504052589] (Oklahoma)
  • Advantage America Southern California Regional Center, LLC (California): www.aaeb5.com
  • AmerInvest Regional Center East, LLC (Connecticut, New York)
  • AmerInvest Regional Center West, LLC (California)
  • CV West Coast Regional Center, LLC (California)
  • Golden State Northern California Agriculture Development, LLC (California)
  • One World Development Fund, Inc. (Texas): www.oneworldrc.com

New Terminations:

  • US EB5 New York City Regional Center (Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania) Terminated 7/13/2016
  • Harris Real Estate Fund LLC (former name U.S. Federal Investment Immigration Fund, LLC) (Arizona) Terminated 7/13/2016
  • South Dakota International Business Institute (SDIBI) (South Dakota) Terminated 7/7/2016
  • California Regional Center, LLC (California) Terminated 7/12/2016
  • Harris Investment Immigration Fund, LLC (California) Terminated 7/13/2016

RC designation: use it or lose it (AAO termination decisions)

What is an EB-5 regional center? What kind of tool is the regional center program meant to be? These questions do not have clear answers. We can see USCIS’s uncertainty in its continually changing template for regional center designation letters, with each iteration giving a slightly different statement of what’s being designated exactly and what responsibilities are inherent in designation. AAO challenged USCIS’s fuzzy standards for approving or denying regional center applications in the I-924 denial decision discussed in my previous post (Matter of A-C-R-C). And now the ambiguity around what defines a regional center in the first place is spilling into ambiguity about how a regional center lives or dies. USCIS has terminated 62 regional centers, mostly within the last year. Two centers that appealed their terminations give us insight into USCIS thinking about the nature of regional center designation (see the 2016 Termination appeals folder on the USCIS website).

I’ll focus on JUN202016_01K2610 Matter of A-L-V- LLC (presumably referring to American Life Ventures Everett, LLC, which was terminated in March 2015) because it’s such a clean case. USCIS and the AAO grant that A-L-V pursued multiple potential EB-5 projects over the years, filed I-924A on time every year, and was not involved in any kind of trouble, but nevertheless deserved termination based on failure to promote economic growth. A-L-V (which was designated in 2008) argued that potential projects had not been developed as actual projects due to and out respect for economic conditions, that the regulations do not expressly state that a regional center must be ready to sponsor a project within a particular timeframe and provide marketing related information, and furthermore that its efforts in actively and continuously pursuing EB-5 projects demonstrate that it is promoting economic growth. Neither USCIS nor AAO accepted these arguments. For them, the bottom line was that A-L-V had not raised EB-5 investment and was not actively engaged in soliciting investors (and thus that NCEs and JCEs has not been formed and EB-5 investment had not created jobs) for eight years. A-L-V was not given credit for prudence or high standards in taking time to choose viable and appropriate projects before pursuing EB-5 offerings.

The following paragraphs are copied in both the 2016 termination decisions, which makes me think that they reflect a formal statement from USCIS that deserves careful attention.

The regulation at 8 C.F.R. § 204.6(e) defines a regional center as “any economic unit, public or private, which is involved with the promotion of economic growth, including increased export sales, improved regional productivity, job creation, and increased domestic capital investment.” In order for the regional center to demonstrate such economic growth, it “must provide updated information to demonstrate the center is continuing to promote economic growth, improved regional productivity, job creation, or increased domestic capital investment in the approved geographic area … on an annual basis,” through the filing of its annual Form I-924A. USCIS Policy Memorandum PM-602-0083, supra, at 23; 8 C.F.R. § 204.6(m)(6). The phrase “continuing to promote economic growth” indicates that the regional center has previously promoted economic growth and is presently doing so. In determining whether the regional center has promoted economic growth and is continuing to do so, several factors should be collectively considered. These aspects include the amount of aggregate immigrant capital and aggregate direct and indirect job creation or preservation; the number of industries that have been the focus of immigrant investment capital investments; the total new commercial enterprises (NCEs) or job creating enterprises (JCEs); and the quantity of Forms 1-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, and Forms l-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions, that have been filed reflecting capital investments sponsored by the Applicant.

The EB-5 Program provides for flexibility in the types and amounts of capital that can be invested, the types of commercial enterprises into which the capital can be invested, and how the resulting jobs can be created. This flexibility serves the promotion of investment and job creation and recognizes the dynamics of the business world in which the EB-5 Program exists. USCIS Policy Memorandum PM-602-0083, supra, at 27. Application of this flexibility will vary based on circumstances. For example, it is reasonable to provide greater flexibility to a regional center with a more recent USCIS designation whereas a regional center with a longer period of designation that has not shown any economic growth to the geographic area, may receive less flexibility. In addition; the regional center’s progress in developing actual projects should be taken into account, including the steps taken to identity and pursue developmental projects, how the projects have progressed in the pipeline, and the likelihood of those projects promoting economic growth in the immediate future. Moreover, USCIS may consider any reasonable, temporary delays, such as natural disasters or litigation, which may have prevented the regional center from promoting economic growth in a timely manner, and any alternative plans or actions taken as a result of unexpected delays. This flexibility, however, is not an open-ended allowance in which the regional center can indefinitely explore potential projects or remain stagnant on either a hypothetical or actual plan.

Let’s think about the answer to the question “What is an EB-5 regional center?” that’s implied in the A-L-V termination and this statement. The answer I’m getting is: “A regional center is an entity engaged in raising EB-5 capital and developing EB-5 projects.” This definition appears to protect regional centers with an active EB-5 offering, and also regional centers that are not shy about promoting EB-5 to investors despite not yet having a viable project. This definition threatens entities who applied for regional center designation in order to have EB-5 available as one tool in the toolkit, while also using other economic development and financing tools. Indeed two of the most recent regional center terminations were of economic development agencies that appear to be reputable and active in promoting economic growth generally. But I guess they did not sponsor an EB-5 project within the timeframe that USCIS considered necessary to maintain regional center designation. This aggressive “use it or lose it” stance is counterproductive. Why wouldn’t we want public agencies and other virtuous parties to be able to treat regional center EB-5 as one of several economic development and financing tools – something to have on hand and ready to use if and when the need arises, although EB-5 is only the right tool in select cases, and would be used only occasionally? It’s not as if the designation taken away from Little City Economic Development Corporation opens a new place for someone else – so why revoke it?  I guess that USCIS is panicking because ill-defined designation standards have produced a roster of 800+ regional centers of wildly varying character and motivation, and now it’s faced with the challenge of culling the crowd.  Culling may be necessary, but something’s not right when public agencies and active but over-prudent RCs are among the first victims. (For more discussion, see the comments.)

UPDATE: I recommend Joseph Whalen’s Position Paper Presented to IPO on RC Termination.

New Regs, TEAs, RC Audits, RC Designation AAO, RC List Changes

New EB-5 Regulations Update
In testifying before the June 30, 2016 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of Homeland Security Operations, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson briefly commented on forthcoming EB-5 regulations. To quote from the exchange at about hour 2:25 of the hearing (video linked above):

Senator Grassley to Secretary Johnson: You and I have had a few discussions about the EB-5 program and I thank you. At least two occasions we’ve had long discussions about that, so thank you. I know you share my concerns about the program. I appreciate the fact that you are working to issue regulations that mirror reforms that Chairman Goodlatte, Senator Leahy, Congressman Conyers, and I have been pushing. Will the regulations you planned roll out soon, and finally do away with gerrymandering to prevent regional centers from using an unlimited number of census tracts to build in affluent areas even though they are not high unemployment areas as the law envisions?

Secretary Johnson: Limiting gerrymandering was one of the changes that we are developing, consistent with your recommendations, sir. And as I think we discussed the other day, we intend to put these changes out for notice and comment, I think in November – as soon as November. That is on the list, yes sir.

That “I think” and “as soon as” don’t sound very confident, but it’s nice to see a possible date mentioned.

01/11/2017 Update: USCIS published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking  “EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program” (Docket No. USCIS-2016-0008)  and Notice of Proposed Rule-making EB-5 Investor Program Modernization (DHS Docket No. USCIS 2016-0006).

Targeted Employment Area Debate
Speaking of targeted employment areas, the debate on this issue has taken an intriguing turn. EB-5 industry groups have thought of a way to make concessions while removing the sting from concessions, and have proposed accepting more limiting TEA definitions while at the same time closing the difference between TEA and non-TEA investment amounts. Here’s how the logic looks:

  • TEA definition restrictive to needy areas + substantial monetary incentive to invest in a TEA = substantial incentive to invest in needy areas (This is the theory behind the TEA concept)
  • Loose TEA definition that can encompass prosperous areas + substantial monetary incentive to invest in a TEA = little incentive to invest in needy areas, and an extra incentive for investment in prosperous areas (This is how Senator Grassley and other critics perceive current practice)
  • TEA definition restrictive to needy areas + minor monetary incentive to invest in a TEA = minor incentive to invest in needy areas, and little competition to the natural advantages of prosperous areas (This is the compromise being proposed by industry groups – conceding on TEA definitions while effectively protecting the status quo by changing the monetary incentive variable.)

I’ll be interested to see whether any TEA critics take the industry’s proposed compromise seriously. Can we count on Senator Grassley to be so focused on gerrymandering that he’ll be satisfied with concessions on that point and overlook the other part of the TEA incentive equation? Will he be impressed by IIUSA’s map of sites that would be privileged under its virtuously restrictive proposed TEA parameters, and not consider that definitions are irrelevant if investment levels erode the advantage of being a TEA? (IIUSA leadership suggests $700,000 for non TEAs $600,000 for TEAs which would narrow the gap to insignificance and also – accounting for inflation — make both TEA and non-TEA investments cheaper than they were in 1990, when the $1,000,000/$500,000 thresholds were set.) If there has to be change at all, the industry proposal is the kind of change that successful regional centers and EB-5 investors would naturally like to see.

Regional Center Audits
Joseph Whalen has pointed out a job posting on USAJobs.gov that provides insight into what USCIS plans for its regional center auditors to do. IPO is looking to hire people with accounting, business, and legal background and experience to “conduct audits of regional centers and associated entities; provide written reports to support an agency action/adjudication; and utilize audit findings to conduct statistical analysis to develop risk mitigation strategies.” The listed duties focus on financial auditing and analysis of financial documentation.

Regional Center AAO Decision
I’m late in commenting on this year’s first AAO decision on an I-924 application (APR282016_01K1610 Matter of A-C-R-C-, LLC), but the case is worth reviewing for people interested in regional center application content requirements. The case discusses a regional center application based on actual and hypothetical projects, and addresses several points of ambiguity: (1) How much evidence is needed to qualify an actual project in a regional center application? (2) If an actual project plan has deficiencies, can it be modified to cure the deficiencies or removed from the application without triggering a material change problem? (3) If a hypothetical plan has deficiencies, can it still form a basis for approving a regional center application? In denying the application, USCIS apparently gave or implied the following answers (1) a lot (including evidence such as feasibility study, market study, and research citations); (2) no; (3) yes. In reviewing the appeal, the AAO sends the case back to USCIS to further explain or revisit its determinations.

I’m particularly interested in the hypothetical plan issue. In Matter of A-C-R-C-, LLC, USCIS identified a few deficiencies in the hypothetical business plan and economic analysis (specifically in the data cited and in the estimated timeline), but then sidelines these deficiencies as irrelevant, since the hypothetical projects would not be receiving deference anyway. But can the quality of hypothetical analysis be disregarded, if a regional center can be designated based on hypothetical projects? (In 2014, 65% of initial I-924 approvals were based on hypothetical projects only, and I expect to find the 2015/2016 average even higher.) I hope that USCIS rethinks this issue in forthcoming policy/regulations, because the EB-5 community does not benefit from a flood of new regional centers that were not necessarily required to present reasonable and credible proposals for how they might deploy EB-5 investment. We don’t want the bad old days of requiring all I-924 projects to be so-called shovel-ready (that’s not realistic considering year+ processing times, and not in line with the base requirement for regional center applications to present “a general proposal, for the promotion of economic growth”). But even projects in the hypothetical planning stage can and should be held to standards of credibility and reasonableness, and have a bar higher than that set in the May 2013 EB-5 Policy Memo (which defined “hypothetical” simply as “a project proposal that is not supported by a Matter of Ho compliant business plan.”). I think of Pacific Proton Therapy Regional Center, which was initially designated in 2012 based on a hypothetical plan. Four years later the SEC is bringing charges, having discovered that the principals raised and spent quite a bit of money while their project never did become any more than hypothetical. Perhaps USCIS should have pressed for more evidence upfront that the applicants really had the connections and resources and a viable game plan to make their ambitious project possible to realize.

For those who like to see processing time case studies, here is the history for Matter of A-C-R-C-, LLC: Form I-924 filed in July 2013, USCIS issues RFE in July 2014, applicant responds to RFE in October 2014, USCIS issues notice of intent to deny in April 2015, applicant responds to NOID in May 2015, USCIS denies application in August 2015, AAO remands application to USCIS in April 2016.

RC List Changes
Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 06/10/2016 to 07/05/2016.

  • American Lending Center Colorado Regional Center, LLC (Colorado): usa-rc.com
  • American Lending Center Virginia Regional Center, LLC (District of Columbia, Virginia): usa-rc.com
  • Benefield California Regional Center, LLC (California)
  • George Washington Immigration Group, LLC (Connecticut, New Jersey, New York)
  • HS Regional Center, LLC (California)
  • Huana Group (U.S.), Inc. (California)
  • New Genesis Gulf South Regional Center, LLC (Louisiana, Mississippi)
  • SAA Cedisus EB-5 Projects – SW Indiana Regional Center, LLC (Indiana): saacedisus.com
  • San Diego EB-5 Regional Center (California): sdeb5.com
  • Texas Capital Advisors Regional Center (“TCARC”) (Texas)
  • TriHaven Investment Group Southern California (California)
  • Western Energy Regional Center (Oklahoma): wercregionalcenter.com

Terminations:

  • Washington Development Regional Center (Washington) Terminated 6/17/2016
  • American Gateway Investments, LLC (New Jersey) Terminated 6/7/2016
  • The Lawrence Economic Development Corporation Terminated 6/6/2016(Ohio)

EB-5 Petition Processing Q2 2016

The Immigration and Citizenship Data page on the USCIS website has been updated with official numbers for I-526 and I-829 processing from January to March 2016 (FY2016 Q2). Extraordinarily low I-526 receipt numbers in Q2 balance abnormally high numbers in the previous two quarters. I-829 receipts are back on a normal trajectory after that odd dip in Q4 last year. The number of I-526 petitions processed in Q2 went up while the volume of I-829 processing fell proportionally. The previous quarter shows the same trend in reverse, suggesting that IPO has been allocating resources back and forth between I-526 and I-829. Besides the receipt trend, which is important but old news now, I note the number of I-526 denials. One fourth of the I-526 cases processed last quarter were denied — the most denials we’ve seen since 2013. Meanwhile, the petition backlog was dented but remains daunting.

EB-5 Form Fee Increases, RC List Changes

Proposed Fee Increases
USCIS published a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register inviting public comment, for 60 days, on the proposed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule: (http://federalregister.gov/a/2016-10297). The rule explains that: “USCIS conducted a comprehensive fee review, after refining its cost accounting process, and determined that current fees do not recover the full costs of the services it provides. Adjustment to the fee schedule is necessary to fully recover costs for USCIS services and to maintain adequate service.” Here are fee changes affecting EB-5 forms (see Table 9 on page 87):

  • Form I-924A (to be titled “Annual Certification of Regional Center”): new $3,035 fee
  • Form I-924 application for regional center designation or amendment: increase from $6,230 to $17,795
  • Form I-526 immigrant petition: increase from $1,500 to $3,675
  • Form I-829 petition to remove conditions: no change (still $3,750)

The public has three months to comment (see pages 1-2 of the proposed rule for directions). The rule specifically invites feedback from regional centers, noting that:

DHS does not have sufficient data on the revenue collected through administrative fees by regional centers to definitively determine the economic impact on small entities that may file Form I-924. DHS requests any data that would help to further assess the impact on small entities in the regional centers. DHS is publishing the initial regulatory flexibility analysis to aid the public in commenting on the small entity impact of its proposed adjustment to the USCIS Fee Schedule. (page 89)

In commenting, consider DHS’s attempt to analyze regional center revenue sources and the potential impact of the proposed I-924 fee increase (page 99-101).

The rationale for fee changes in the proposed rule gives an interesting look behind the scenes at DHS. For example, Table 6 on page 8 lists “Completion Rates per Benefit Request” – meaning “touch time,” or the time an employee with adjudicative responsibilities actually handles a case (not including queue time or time spent waiting for additional evidence or supervisory approval). EB-5 processing times run to months and years, but (prepare to gasp) the average amount of time an employee actually works on EB-5 forms, according to this table: I-526: 6.5 hours; I-829: 5.5 hours; I-924: 40 hours; I-924A: 5 hours. And footnote 61 on page 55 gives more detail than I’ve seen before on compliance efforts for EB-5:

USCIS is committed to strengthening and improving the overall administration of the EB-5 Program. The EB-5 Program encompasses Forms I-526, I-829, I-924, and I-924A. The cost baseline includes $16.0 million in FY 2016 and $15.9 million in FY 2017 for additional staff that would comprise a specialized team of forensic auditors, compliance officers, and other staff, whose primary focus would be to ensure regulatory compliance. This would directly contribute to the integrity of the program by providing the USCIS Investor Program Office with employees who have specialized knowledge required to adjudicate these benefits. In addition to enhanced staffing, USCIS would make additional IT systems investments to make case processing more efficient. USCIS would add $1.7 million in FY 2016 and $1.8 million in FY 2017 to improve the case management system and further develop its risk management strategy to ensure program compliance.

Regional Center List Changes
Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 04/25/2016 to 05/03/2016.

  • American Lending Center North Carolina, LLC (North Carolina, South Carolina): usa-rc.com
  • Atlantic Coast Regional Center, LLC (Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia): www.eb5acrc.com
  • Excelsior EB-5 Regional Center LLC (Connecticut, New Jersey, New York): excelsioreb5.com

New Terminations

  • Hidalgo McAllen Reynosa Regional Center, LLC (Texas) Terminated 4/26/2016

IDEA Community Invite

From: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [mailto:uscis@public.govdelivery.com]
Sent: Wednesday, April 27, 2016 3:53 PM
Subject: USCIS Message: Idea Community Feedback on Potential EB-5 Regulatory and Policy Changes

Dear Stakeholder,

As mentioned at the EB-5 listening session on April 25, USCIS is considering potential EB-5 regulatory and policy changes and we want to hear from you, our stakeholders. That’s why we hosted the listening session to begin receiving your individual feedback. We want to continue to hear your thoughts and ideas. Specifically, we would like to hear your individual thoughts on the following four topics:
·        Minimum investment amounts;
·        The TEA designation process;
·        The regional center designation process, including, but not limited to, the exemplar process and the designation of the geographic scope of a regional center; and
·        Indirect job creation methodologies.

As you may know, minimum investment amounts have remained constant since 1991.  We would like your feedback on whether these amounts ($1 million or $500,000) should increase and, if so, the methodology and process by which you believe an increase would be most effective.

We’d also like your thoughts on targeted employment areas (or “TEAs”) and the TEA designation process.  We are specifically seeking your feedback on how the process currently works for you and, if improvements can be made, your input for improving it.

Another topic on which we are seeking feedback is the regional center designation process, including, but not limited to, the exemplar process and the designation of the geographic scope of a regional center.  We are seeking stakeholder feedback on how the process currently works for you and, if improvements can be made, your input for improving it.

Finally, we’d like to hear from you on indirect job creation methodologies.

We are using the USCIS Idea Community, an online crowdsourcing tool, as one method for you to submit your individual feedback and input on these four topics.  Please note that we are only seeking individual input.  We are not seeking group or consensus advice.  Participating in the USCIS Idea Community is easy. All you need is an active email address. You can create a profile and submit ideas.

You can visit the USCIS Idea Community to submit your ideas on the four topics listed above until May 11, 2016.

See you in the USCIS Idea Community!

Please do not reply to this message. Contact us at Public.Engagement@uscis.dhs.gov or USCIS-IGAOutreach@uscis.dhs.gov with any questions.

4/25 meeting notes, RC list changes

4/25/2016 Listening Session
Today’s EB-5 stakeholder meeting with USCIS was indeed a listening session — a venue for stakeholder opinions and not for tips and answers from USCIS. In case you’re a lawmaker or regulator and interested in reviewing insightful comments from the public, here is my recording. For the rest of us, who are mainly just curious about what USCIS has to say, here are a few tidbits that came out in the meeting:

  • USCIS will be initiating an IDEA community campaign to collect additional input on EB-5 regulation/policy changes. When that goes live, I’ll post a notice here.
  • I-829 interviews will begin this year, at first virtually, and interviewees may bring counsel, Regional Center representatives, and Regional Center counsel.
  • An audit program for regional centers is being implemented this year, and site visits are being expanded for direct and regional center projects.
  • IPO is up to 126 staff and on track to have 171 employees by year end.
  • IPO did not give any hints about the anticipated content of or timeline for revised regulations or new policy.
  • IPO will work closely with Congress up to the next deadline for regional center program reauthorization (September 30, 2016), and just in case will prepare “what if” guidance for two sunset scenarios: if the Regional Center program lapses but Congress apparently intends to reauthorize it, or if Congress indicates its desire to end the program.
  • IPO Chief Nicolas Colucci reported some preliminary processing data. Q2 2016 receipts: 849 (I-526), 886 (I-829), 40 (I-924). Completions from October 2015 to March 2016 (Q1-Q2 2016): 4,141 (I-526), 1,255 (I-829), 135 (I-924). The big story in these numbers is I-526 receipts, as illustrated in the following figure.
    Q22016I526

Regional Center List Changes
Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 04/19/2016 to 04/25/2016

  • Regional Center of the Pacific (California)

Additions to the USCIS list of terminated regional centers:

  • WRC EB-5 Regional Center, Inc. (Washington) Terminated 4/13/2016

2/2 Senate Hearing Detail

If you are involved in the regional center program, you should review what happened today in the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on “The Failures and Future of the EB-5 Regional Center Program: Can it be Fixed?” We heard testimony from IPO Chief Nicholas Colucci and SEC Division of Enforcement Associate Director Stephen Cohen, statements by Senators Grassley, Leahy, and Feinstein, and an extensive question and answer period that brought in Senators Cornyn, Schumer, Flake, Blumenthal, Tillis, Sessions, Perdue, and Klobuchar. The judiciary committee website link above currently has video of the hearing and written statements by Grassley, Leahy, Colucci, and Cohen. (After watching the video be sure to read the statements, as they are very informative and include content beyond what their authors said in the hearing.) In case the video disappears, I’ve also uploaded my audio recording of the hearing. (Also, see this post for more on the letter from DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, which was frequently referenced in the hearing.)

I don’t know whether Senator Grassley came away from this hearing with further clarity on the character and prospects of regional centers, but we definitely get a fascinating view of the thinking and activities going on behind the scenes now at USCIS, at the SEC, and in Congress relative to the RC program. The senators present largely advocated for fixing not nixing (or mending not ending) the program (except for Senator Feinstein, who called for an end and also pressed her odd belief that USCIS and the SEC should specially investigate the victims in a fraud case). The senators expressed general commitment to reform while differing in their diagnosis of the nature and magnitude of problems, and in their visions for what the RC program should be. Perhaps most interesting, the senators drew out Chief Colucci to discuss specific integrity measures and program changes that are already in place and in the pipeline at USCIS, regardless of legislation.

USCIS Posts New I-924A Filing Tips

USCIS has just put up tips for completing the Form I-924A that all Regional Centers need to file by December 29th. Better late than never! (All links below direct to the same page at the USCIS website.)

 

FY2015 I-526 and I-829 Statistics

USCIS has published Q4 2015 processing data for I-526 and I-829 petitions on its Immigration and Citizenship Data page.
I’m copying below charts that I made from the data. For those who prefer words, here are a few points that I notice.

  • I-526: FY2015 saw a huge number of I-526 filings – over 14,000 receipts (with 46% filed in the fourth quarter in a surge prior to possible program changes). Assuming that only about 10,000 EB-5 visas can be issued in a year, and an average of 2.2 visas per investor I-526, then this year’s receipts alone will take up over three years-worth of available EB-5 visas. FY2015 ended with over 17,000 petitions pending, which would take up nearly four years of available EB-5 visas. USCIS has shown impressive year-on-year improvements in the number of I-526 petitions processed, up 32% in 2014 and 42% in 2015. USCIS even briefly caught up to the number of receipts in Q3 2015, but then got snowed under again with the blizzard of filings in Q4 2015.
  • I-829: A similar volume of I-829 petitions were filed in 2014 and 2015, but with very different distributions over the year (an increasing number of receipts by quarter in 2014 and decreasing number by quarter in 2015). Overall FY2015 had 10% fewer receipts than the previous year, but I don’t know whether to call a puzzling trend or just note seasonality. The IPO office at USCIS, which took over I-829 processing at the end of 2014, got a slow start but picked up speed and managed to process 467 I-829 petitions in Q4 2015. In all IPO processed over a thousand I-829s in FY2015, but ended the year with a backlog of over four thousand petitions. We hope that IPO picks up the pace so that the I-829 backlog alone doesn’t take four years to process.


And because it’s topical, though I doubt the significance of these averages, here’s a chart with the latest update to IPO processing times.
IPOtimes

9/17 EB-5 Interactive (I-924A), New RCs

9/17 EB-5 Interactive (I-924A)
Today USCIS held the EB-5 Interactive Series: Annual Reporting Requirements for Continued Eligibility within the Regional Center Program, (Form I-924A). I have uploaded my recording here, and will update this post with helpful commentary posted others. The teleconference focused strictly on the Form I-924A, and provided filing tips and suggestions for avoiding a Notice of Intent to Terminate. I gathered two main points: (1) take the Form I-924A seriously, because your Regional Center’s continued eligibility really does depend on what you report in this form; (2) when in doubt, explain. The form has confusing and ambiguous fields, and a Regional Center’s activity in a given year may extend beyond the investment and job creation boxes, so USCIS welcomes supplementary narrative. Don’t only fill out the form, but explain the numbers you’re reporting and provide additional content as needed to demonstrate that your center has done something to promote economic growth in the past fiscal year.

New Regional Centers
Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 09/03/2015 to 09/08/2015

  • Civitas Alabama Regional Center (Alabama) www.civitascapital.com
  • ARC Atlantic Regional Center, LLC (California) arcrc.org
  • CA EB5 Express (California)
  • Rota EB5 Regional Center (Marianas)
  • East West Regional Center, LLC (Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania)
  • Miami Film Regional Center (Florida) www.linkedin.com/in/jeffersonsimmons1
  • EB5 Affiliate Network State of Illinois Regional Center, LLC (Illinois) eb5affiliatenetwork.com
  • LaSalle Street Regional Center (Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin)
  • Civitas Great Plains Regional Center (Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma) www.civitascapital.com
  • Civitas Louisiana Regional Center (Louisiana) www.civitascapital.com
  • Boston Regional Center (Massachusetts)
  • Civitas Masachussetts Regional Center (Massachusetts) www.civitascapital.com
  • Advantage America Nevada Regional Center LLC (Nevada)
  • North Atlanatic Regional Center, LLC (New Jersey, New York, Pennesylvania)
  • G&CW Regional Center, LLC (New York)
  • EB5 Affiliate Network States of Washington and Oregon Regional Center, LLC (Oregon, Washington) eb5affiliatenetwork.com
  • Royal White Cement EB-5 Regional Center LLC (Texas)
  • Texas Mining & Resource Center, LLC (Texas)