Updates (reauthorization, regulations litigation, FY2021 Q3 processing data)

Reauthorization Update: On Wednesday 8/25 at 12PM EDT, the EB-5 investor organization AIIA will hold a webinar to update stakeholders on efforts for legislation to reauthorize the regional center program and protect investor interests. Register here to participate live in the AIIA webinar (or check the Youtube channel later for a recording). See also the most recent AIIA newsletter. AIIA has been unusually open about sharing whatever information they can gather from Congressional staffers and industry contacts about EB-5 legislation, and I recommend the resource. I am not a primary source for advocacy info or opportunities.

Regulations Update: USCIS has indicated that it will appeal the Behring Regional Center decision, which restored the old $500,000 investment amount and TEA rules. For more background, see this EB5 Investors Magazine article and this article by Behring Regional Center. It seems clear that the EB-5 investment amount will not change by regulation any time soon, since court cases take time. USCIS will likely continue to accept I-526 based on $500,000 for some time. However, will USCIS go on to approve I-526 filed today at the $500,000 level? Discuss with your lawyer what will happen to eligibility for pending I-526 if USCIS wins the appeal, and the new regulation thus not vacated after all.

Processing Update: Meanwhile, I continue to get real-time updates that IPO has been handling only a handful of I-526 petitions per day. But thanks to the lack of FIFO discipline, IPO is assigning new as well as old cases, and a number of I-526 filed in late 2019 are already getting reviewed. So some direct EB-5 petitioners will enjoy relatively short I-526 processing times – a welcome development so far as it goes. EB-5 integrity would get such a boost if we could expect that every I-526 would get USCIS attention in months, not years!  So far, the official USCIS Immigration and Citizenship Data page reinforces what my leak says: that productivity at the Investor Program office has still not improved under the Biden administration, and in fact has gotten worse for I-829 as well as I-526 through June 2021 — according to the FY2021 Q3 update. I continue to wait for new leadership at IPO to address this trend. (I am not reporting on receipts in the FY2021 Q3 USCIS report, because I note an error. The report is missing hundreds of I-526 receipts that were received during the reporting period on June 29 and 30, but apparently physically entered into the case tracking system in the first days of July, outside the reporting period.)

I-526 Status Report: July 2021

At last report (in November 2020, the last time IPO deigned to have a stakeholder engagement of any kind), the Investor Program Office at USCIS had a staff of 232 people. What are these people doing, especially now during the regional center program lapse when USCIS decided that “we will not act on any pending petition or application of these form types that is dependent on the lapsed statutory authority.” Are IPO staff busy making progress with the direct EB-5 inventory and I-829, or are they doing something else in or out of the office?

Before I share some inside information on this question, consider the workload facing IPO’s staff of 232 people. Current IPO management is unknown (former Chief Sarah Kendall having left back in November, and a replacement not yet announced), but if you were management, how would you allocate IPO’s staffing and fee revenue resources? What level of processing productivity would you expect?

FormPending Inventory as of 3/31/2021Completion Rate (Average Touch Time per Form)Status during regional center program expiration
I-52613,044 (direct I-526 likely <10% of total)8.65 hoursOnly direct EB-5 I-526 are being processed
I-82910,3658.15 hoursAny forms can be processed
I-92415234.95 hoursNo forms can be processed
SourceQuarterly reportProposed Fee RuleWebsite Alert
Investor Program Office Workload as of 2021

The only official window into IPO productivity comes from quarterly reports with limited data published after months of delay on the USCIS Citizenship & Immigration data page. I chart these data reports to track trends in IPO resource allocation and productivity.

In my frustration at USCIS’s limited and delayed data reporting, I also welcome leakers:  confidential sources within USCIS who can share information that the public should know. I will now share some recent I-526 information from a source that I cannot name but believe to be solid.

I-526 Data Leak: July 2021

  • In the last week of June 2021, between the Behring lawsuit decision (June 22) and the regional center program expiration (June 30), USCIS received 405 I-526 filings.
  • From the 4th of July holiday until the end of July (July 6-30), IPO issued 16 I-526 approvals and 32 denials. At the same time, IPO issued 77 RFE and NOID on I-526 cases. The following is the priority date distribution (calendar year) of these actions: 2015 2%, 2016: 13%, 2017: 16%, 2018: 38%, 2019: 31%.  The priority date range was from September 2014 at oldest to July 2019 at youngest.
  • In July 2021, 16 people withdrew their I-526 petitions.

As I look at these numbers, here’s what strikes me as significant.

More I-526 were filed in the last week in June 2021 than in the entire previous year and half. That shows strong demand for EB-5 at the $500,000 minimum investment, a high level of industry preparation for the Behring court win, and optimism about regional center program prospects.

I-526 adjudication volume was extremely low after 4th of July: only 48 decisions and 77 notices in 21 working days – in other words, fewer than 6 total actions per day on average, and just over 2 decisions per day on average. We’d feared that one consequence of regional center program lapse on June 30 could be IPO decision to move resources away from I-526 adjudication, and that appears to be happening, at least so far. In January to March 2021 IPO adjudicated 882 I-526, and I thought that was extremely low. But that was an average 14 decisions per working day, in addition to RFEs. And now they’re down to barely over 2?

USCIS reported in the 2019 Fee Rule that adjudicative “touch time” for I-526 is less than 9 hours per form on average. If that report is accurate, how few people must have been assigned to I-526 in July 2021, to result in an average of only 2 decisions and 6 total actions per working day? Can it be that with 232 people on staff, funded at least half by I-526 fees, that IPO had fewer than 10 people assigned to I-526 cases in the month of July? I have not been informed about IPO staffing allocation decisions, but feel that the public has a right to know whether a fee-funded agency is using fees to provide the paid-for service.

I have not been told yet how the I-526 inventory divides between direct and regional center cases, but by historical averages it’s possible that only about 1,000 direct I-526 remain to be adjudicated. IPO adjudicated that many cases per month in 2016-2018, and at least adjudicated that many per quarter until recently. But if July 2021’s productivity were the new normal, with only about 2-3 decisions per working day, then even 1,000 I-526 would take forever to process. I have not yet been given I-829 data or staffing data, so I can’t tell whether the I-526 loss is temporary, and whether it is balanced by gains for I-829. If 232 IPO staff are mostly not processing I-526, and not processing I-924, they must be doing something EB-5-related, I hope? (Sarah Kendall attributed part of the huge IPO productivity drop in 2019 to “temporary assignment of IPO staff to other agency priorities” — i.e. staff sent outside to work on non-EB-5 cases. That was an inexcusable use of EB-5 fee-funded resources, and I hope that’s not happening again now.)

I note that 2/3 of IPO’s actions in July 2021 were sending RFEs and NOIDs, supporting my anecdotal observation that IPO rarely decides a direct EB-5 I-526 these days without sending an RFE first – often, an RFE that basically requests I-829 evidence. This practice naturally slows the process and reduces volume of completions.

If, as USCIS claims, “We generally process cases in the order we receive them,” then we’d see a fairly tight date distribution in I-526 actions. The July 2021 data, with actions distributed over I-526 from 2015 to 2019, reinforces what we can also see in the USCIS Processing Times Report “Estimated Time Range”: that I-526 processing is hardly FIFO in practice.

I was not told whether IPO is still using the visa availability approach for I-526, even now with the RC program expiration already drastically reducing the active I-526 inventory. It would be interesting to know whether any/many of the older I-526 actions in July 2021 were on Chinese cases. I do note that most denials in July were on the oldest cases, reinforcing the intuitive sense that delayed adjudication means higher adjudication risk.

USCIS does not normally report withdrawals, but for public policy reasons we need to know how many people are choosing to exit the program, even after having made investments. I will continue to track this number with interest and concern.

The details reported in this post are a fraction of what we’d like and need to know about what’s going on behind the scenes at IPO. I am thankful for whatever I can get, and will continue to make periodic (probably, monthly) reports so long as I can keep my sources. I hope that public exposure can help to encourage accountability and performance at IPO.  Going forward, IPO civil servants, please act like you are being observed and might be accountable to the public.

And for anyone at USCIS/IPO who sees this post, I welcome you to join my public-spirited leaker community. Reach out to me by phone or on Telegram at (626) 660-4030, and let’s chat. The list of areas where USCIS should but doesn’t have public transparency include IPO leadership, I-829 performance, IPO staffing allocation, IPO training, the country composition of the I-526 inventory, the distribution of I-526 receipts by regional center, reasons for increasing denial rates, and I-485 processing for EB-5 cases, to name a few priorities. I would love to hear and share confidentially whatever you can tell me in these areas, for the good of program integrity. And ideally: encourage leadership to start holding public EB-5 stakeholder meetings again, publish timely data for everyone on the USCIS website, and perform in a way that does not justify reproach and desperate measures to get basic information.

I am happy to see that leadership change is starting at the top anyway, with Ms. Ur. M. Jaddou now confirmed as USCIS Director. Her first statement this week sounds great: “As USCIS director, I will work each and every day to ensure our nation’s legal immigration system is managed in a way that honors our heritage as a nation of welcome and as a beacon of hope to the world; reducing unnecessary barriers and supporting our agency’s modernization.”

Sizing the reauthorization hurdle

I’ve been overwhelmed with everything that could be written, in this period of unparalleled transition, opportunity, and existential crisis for the EB-5 industry and investors. I’ll start by getting out a few words on the elephant of regional center program reauthorization, so that I can move on to many updates about USCIS processing, policy revisions, visa numbers and timing, and direct EB-5. And my business plan writing day job, also.

Before I begin my editorial about reauthorization, note that I’m summarizing and commenting from a distance on what I’ve read and heard. You can get more information and direct involvement by joining an advocacy group. Regional Centers and service providers can join IIUSA and/or EB5IC to get educated and influence legislative efforts. For EB-5 investors, I recommend joining AIIA. This organization is off to an impressive start in getting meetings with Congressional staff and industry decision-makers, and holds regular video call updates to involve and inform even small donors. For Chinese investors specifically, I see that AAED has recently been the largest spender on EB-5 lobbying.

And now, my perspective on the outlook for regional center program authorization.

Question: When will the regional center program be reauthorized? Answer: after Congress agrees to the industry’s reauthorization wish list, or the industry backs down and accepts sub-optimal reauthorization legislation. Practically, September 2021 now appears to be about the earliest that reauthorization could happen, and the latest it should happen.

Everyone seems to agree that regional center program authorization can’t get passed as a stand-alone bill, but must get loaded onto one of the big legislative trains going through Congress. That could mean the infrastructure bill being finalized right now, or the budget reconciliation and appropriations bills that will come up in September. The disagreement comes with the question: how big a reauthorization bundle can and should we try to load onto a legislative train?  How small a bundle can the industry agree to present, and how large a bundle will Congress be willing to take onboard?

With S.831/ H.R.2901, Senator Grassley made a relatively small bundle: just reauthorization with integrity measures. Integrity measures are not fun for the industry, but they are politically uncontroversial. No Congressperson is going to get slammed in the media or face an election challenge for having voted for integrity measures. EB-5 industry groups dislike some details, but they unite in saying that they support integrity measures. The industry association IIUSA supports S.831 because it’s a small bundle, and thus relatively easy to fit on a legislative train. The industry association EB5IC opposes S.831 because it’s a small bundle, and thus leaves some important industry priorities behind on the platform. EB5IC accepts reauthorization and integrity measures, but wants that to be bundled together with programmatic changes to reopen new investment: TEA/investment amount changes and visa set-asides. AAED, the group lobbying particularly for Chinese investors stuck in a terrible backlog, wants reauthorization to be bundled with visa relief.

Both EB5IC and AAED see reauthorization as the prime and only near-term chance to get what they need on a legislative train, and thus they balk at allowing a smaller reauthorization bundle to proceed instead. But the things that EB5IC and AAED want to add to reauthorization are politically controversial, thus increasing the risk that legislative trains will pass by without accepting such large bundles.  A Congressman can get slammed in the media and his next primary for having been seen to support TEA changes that obviously benefit prosperous urban developers. If he supports additional visas or new admissions for EB-5, he’ll incite everyone who’s against immigration, and also spark opposition from everyone who’s in favor of immigration but wants the same benefits for different categories. The politically-costly legislative bundles contemplated by EB5IC and AAED would have some great benefits for the EB-5 industry, if only they could be passed, but they create a high political hurdle for reauthorization. The industry has previously agreed that that TEA and visa relief asks are desirable, but now disagrees as to whether they’re at all achievable.  

And thus the reauthorization fight so far has happened on the loading dock, with disagreements about what to try to get on a train together with reauthorization. When Senator Grassley, with IIUSA’s support, brought S.831 up for Unanimous Consent on June 24, Senator Graham, pushed by competing industry factions, blocked S.831 from passing the Senate. In their webinar on June 24 prior to the Unanimous Consent effort, EB5IC explained the reasoning behind this block: they said that they do support integrity measures, but do not want a long-term reauthorization that omits and thus defers their other priorities of TEA/investment amount changes and visa set-asides.  (Senator Grassley attempted to compromise by offering the industry a shorter-term reauthorization – 2.5 years instead of 5 years – but this was not accepted.)  EB5IC went on to reference their negotiations behind the scenes for alternative legislation, and foresaw the infrastructure bill as a possible vehicle, with Senator Schumer as a possible champion willing and able to heft a larger and more valuable reauthorization bundle onto that vehicle.

We spent the month of July waiting, wondering if the industry factions with the will and power to temporarily block the advance of the low-risk low-reward Grassley reauthorization bill would also have the will and the power to advance a more ambitious alternative path to reauthorization. Senator Schumer and his group finalized the text of the infrastructure bill yesterday. The text as of August 1 spans over 2,000 pages and covers a number of economic development programs. It does not include the regional center program. I’m sad but not surprised. With all the effort to rid the infrastructure bill of controversial elements, could Senator Schumer possibly have agreed to pick up a heavy reauthorization bundle weighted with controversial elements, as had been hoped? And yet would industry groups have allowed him to pick up less, considering their objectives for reauthorization?

If the infrastructure bill proves to be a missed opportunity, then industry groups should re-assess how much they can expect and afford to demand in the next reauthorization attempt.  If Congressional negotiators wouldn’t touch TEA changes and EB-5 visa relief in the infrastructure bill, would these asks have a chance to board the next legislative train? Senator Grassley’s S.831/H.R.2901 remains an option, if the industry can accept a medium-term reauthorization with integrity measures, and without other programmatic changes in the medium term. The option of a “clean” no-change short-term reauthorization with the September funding bill is impossible, if Senator Grassley has power to make good on his strongly-worded promise to block such a move. A clean long-term reauthorization is even less an option, since no one but IIUSA would support it. Senator Grassley would oppose it as long-term deferral of his priority integrity measures, while industry groups would oppose it as long-term deferral of their priority programmatic changes. So long as we get long-term reauthorization at all, it’s going to be a bundle of some kind – a bundle that’s a compromise between what the interested parties want and what the interested parties are willing to give. (I don’t bother to account for the majority of Congress and the public who hardly realize or care that EB-5 even exists, and who lack the interest or the power to affect RC program authorization.)

We cannot afford to miss the next opportunity for legislative vehicle. Senator Grassley has little reason to shed tears if the regional center program stays expired due to dissatisfaction with his bill, which he is supporting for his own reasons and not on behalf of constituents. Industry groups do have reason to seriously consider compromise on their priorities, if necessary to get authorization, and the Senators only involved as a favor to constituents have reason to listen to them. AAED’s investor constituents have already suffered greatly from RC program expiration, with long-awaited consular interviews in Guangzhou scheduled and then abruptly cancelled, U.S. jobs lost, and thousands of visas going to waste. Chinese investors have much to lose if reauthorization happens without visa relief, but likely even more to lose from forcing reauthorization to wait for the blue moon of achievable visa relief. Some regional centers are hardened by belief that the EB-5 program is dead with or without reauthorization, unless Congress adds programmatic fixes. But regional center constituents will suffer too if the program stays expired long enough to result in mass I-526 denials, investors fighting for exits for their capital, and wide reputational damage. Regional center EB-5 petitions and applications are being held in abeyance for now, not denied, but USCIS and Department of State may reassess that policy if the fiscal year ends on September 30 with no progress yet toward RC program authorization. That’s a lot of pressure on industry to get reauthorization legislation attached to one of the legislative vehicles available by September 2021, one way or another. Let’s be serious about making reauthorization as probable as possible within that informal deadline. Reauthorization runs genuine risk of continuing to miss the train indefinitely, unless we are realistic.

This is my understanding, based on what I’ve read and heard. You’re welcome to post dissenting views in the comments. But even better, take action that makes a difference. Get involved in advocacy, get the interested factions to hear your voice, and let good results prove you right.

And finally, because I’m a business plan writer and prefer tables to paragraphs, here’s an attempt to summarize the various interests and priorities in table form.

 Priorities for EB-5 Legislation, as of June 2021
Interested FactionRegional center program authorizationIntegrity measuresTEA/investment amount flexibilityVisa set-asidesVisa backlog reduction
Senator Grassley & Senator LeahyPriority (but only if combined with integrity measures)Top PriorityOppose changes to minimize distressed and rural incentivesWere willing to consider this in the pastGrassley opposes increasing immigration
IIUSATop PriorityWilling to supportWas willing to consider this in the pastWas willing to consider this in the pastSupports in theory but believes to be politically impossible now
“Holistic faction” (e.g. EB-5IC)Top Priority (but only if combined with programmatic fixes such as TEA and set-asides to make EB-5 more usable)Generally supportive; a few quibblesTop Priority (goal to make a wide range of projects viable for EB-5 by minimizing high-unemployment and rural incentives)Top Priority (set-asides could mitigate the RC’s backlog problem by offering new investors a shortcut around the backlog)Speaks supportively but tentatively (“hope” “maybe”). Set-asides would only have an effect if the backlog continues to exist.
Chinese EB-5 investors specifically (e.g. AAED)Priority (but only if combined with visa backlog relief)Probably mostly supportiveNot a major concernAppear willing to consider, assuming concurrent backlog reliefTop Priority (more EB-5 numbers, changes to priority, or at least advance parole)
EB-5 investors generally (e.g. AIIA)Priority (but Top Priority is rather protection for past investors, even if without reauthorization)Generally supportive; a few quibblesNot a major concernStrongly opposed, considering negative impact on backlogged investors Would make backlog reduction a top priority if possible (but opposes backlog reshuffle)
The public, the media, and Congress in generalNot a high priority but also not terribly controversial; relatively small and little-known program using <1% of visas; some negative perceptions about program integrityNot controversial; everyone likes integrity; program is perceived to need reformSomewhat controversial, if too-obviously designed to minimize distressed and rural incentivesNot very controversial: “TEA set-aside” sounds good, and those who object to a fast-track to new Chinese investment do not realize that such is the desired effectVery controversial, because triggers those who oppose immigration and those who support immigration but want benefits for other visa categories
*Note that Senator Grassley and Leahy are the only Congressional representatives I’ve listed as an “interested faction,” because it appears that they are the only representatives who are interested for themselves, based on personal motivation. This is compared with other Senators and representatives such as Schumer and Cornyn who are interested and involved in EB-5 only on behalf of constituents, based on what the constituents want, but would not act on EB-5 out of any personal interest.

USCIS Policy Manual EB-5 Updates (regulations, reauthorization, indebtedness, CSPA)

The USCIS Policy Manual is a fluid online document that gets edited periodically, with and without notice, which is exciting and disconcerting. Being someone who likes to know the rules, I save copies of the PM at different dates, and redline changes. In July 2021, USCIS made several PM updates that affect EB-5. However, redline shows that the updates are minor, and reflect policy that’s been in place for awhile already. Here’s my document highlighting specific EB-5 content added to the PM in July 2021.

  1. Regulations update. I’d wondered when USCIS would acknowledge the Behring lawsuit win by revising policy language about EB-5 investment amounts and TEAs. On July 15, 2021, USCIS made a minimal Policy Manual revision: simply copying and pasting the same “Alert” about the Behring lawsuit that’s on the USCIS website EB-5 homepage into the beginning of Policy Manual Volume 6 Part G, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. USCIS did not revise the body of the PM.  So if you go to Chapter 2 today, the body of the chapter still says that the EB-5 investment amount since November 21, 2019 is $1.8 million, or $900,000 in a USCIS-designated TEA, but the header alert clarifies that the required EB-5 investment amount is $1.0 million, or $500,00 in a state-designated TEA and “In other words, we are applying the regulations in effect before Nov. 21, 2019 in this chapter.”  With this update, USCIS takes another important step to officially acknowledge the Behring lawsuit outcome. At the same time, the minimal note implies that someone does not expect the outcome to last long enough to justify actually revising rather than merely footnoting the old policy language.
  2. Regional Center lapse update. Also on July 15, USCIS acknowledged the regional center program expiration by adding an “Alert” to the beginning of Policy Manual Volume 6 Part G, Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4 (but not Chapter 5 on removal of conditions). Again, the body of the PM was not revised, presumably reflecting hope that the RC program expiration also will not last long. The “Alert” added to the PM is identical to the first half of the “Alert” put on the USCIS website regional center page. The PM alert does not include the language about RFE response, I-829, or I-485.
  3. CSPA: On July 26, USCIS announced a Technical Update – Adding References to the EB-5 Visa Program in Child Status Protection Act Guidance. It appears that the single change was to add the words “Immigrant Petition by Alien Investor (Form I-526)” to the list of applicable underlying forms for status adjustment.
  4. Indebtedness: On July 22, USCIS announced a POLICY ALERT – Immigrant Investors and Investment of Loan Proceeds. Redline shows that this update did no more than to replace a couple words in the Policy Manual with the word “indebtedness,” and to add a footnote that “USCIS no longer follows its interpretation of indebtedness as including the investment of loan proceeds as of November 30, 2018, the date of the district court decision Zhang v. USCIS, 978 F.3d 1314 (D.C. Cir. 2020).” Since USCIS lost the Zhang court case in November 2018 and lost its final appeal of that decision back in January 2019, USCIS should have been “no longer following its interpretation” for over two years now already. The new Policy Manual footnote is merely a belated acknowledgement of that fact. See also the “Class Action Member Identification Notice” that’s been on the USCIS website EB-5 homepage for a couple years now. And more to the point, see Administrative Appeals Office decisions that sustain appeals of I-526 denials over loan proceeds. For example: JUN162021_01B7203 and MAR242021_01B7203. If you are a member of the class whose I-526 was “denied on the sole basis of investing loan proceeds that were not secured by their own assets,” you have had and still have the right to get that denial vacated and reconsidered.

Direct EB-5 Resources

The permanent direct EB-5 program has been the focus of new interest, now that the regional center program has expired until the industry can agree on legislation that Congress will agree to pass. Direct EB-5 offers valuable opportunities, and many challenges.

I will write more as time permits, but for the moment note that I have a detailed and well-documented Direct EB-5 Page to address questions about how direct EB-5 works.

I mention this page again, because I am receiving advertisements for direct EB-5 deals that appear non-compliant. I can see that the promoters are accustomed to regional center EB-5, and have not thought through all the implications of a basic direct EB-5 difference: that the New Commercial Enterprise and the Job-Creating Entity must be formally one and the same, meaning that all NCE requirements also apply to the JCE and vice versa. This well-known structural fact has a cascade of less-obvious practical consequences for direct as opposed to regional center EB-5, including differences with respect to preexisting business investment, investment terms, investment structure, investor role, investor source of funds, timing considerations, and exit options. (See my Direct EB-5 page for discussion and examples.)

Direct EB-5 is personal for me because I have written over a hundred direct EB-5 business plans – many of them in 2015-2017 during the surge of direct EB-5 demand that occurred around the last cliff-hanger regional center program sunset date in 2015. Every plan meant a business and entrepreneurs that I got to know, and it’s been satisfying and sometimes painful to follow their stories. I’ve had years now to watch outcomes unfold, in USCIS review and in business development. There have been successes I’d love to see again, and tears that I’d like to help avoid going forward. Everyone attempting direct EB-5, take time to educate yourselves. Work with people who have walked a distance on the direct EB-5 path, and learned the hard lessons of practical experience.

I’ll end with a chart that illustrates how the direct EB-5 opportunity has been used over the years, according to numbers of EB-5 visas issued. Note that direct EB-5 accounted for a majority of EB-5 visas until the regional center opportunity gained popularity following the financial crisis in 2008. Direct EB-5 got another boost around 2015, when the fight over regional center program authorization legislation encouraged people toward the relative stability of direct EB-5. That boost was gradually depressed by long processing times and practical challenges that particularly impact direct EB-5, combined with a complacency around short-term regional center program extensions. Direct EB-5 demand may revive again now in 2021, as the regional center program fights for authorization, and direct investors may be able to skip ahead in waiting lines and take advantage of a temporary window for reduced investment amounts. Note that direct EB-5 investors have historically been more tolerant of higher investment levels than regional center investors. A significant percentage of direct EB-5 visas to date were based on investments at the $1 million dollar level, even twenty years ago.

 

USCIS Guidance for Regulations

USCIS has finally reacted to the court decision on the EB5 Modernization Regulation, with an Alert and note published at https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/permanent-workers/eb-5-immigrant-investor-program

Alert: On June 22, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in Behring Regional Center LLC v. Wolf, 20-cv-09263-JSC, vacated the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization Final Rule (PDF). While USCIS considers this decision, we will apply the EB-5 regulations that were in effect before the rule was finalized on Nov. 21, 2019, including: 

–No priority date retention based on an approved Form I-526;

–The required standard minimum investment amount of $1 million and the minimum investment amount for investment in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA) of $500,000;

–Permitting state designations of high unemployment TEAs; and

–Prior USCIS procedures for the removal of conditions on permanent residence.

In other words, we are applying the regulations in effect before Nov. 21, 2019, on this website and in the USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 6, Part G, Investors. In addition, we again will accept the April 15, 2019, version of Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, because the Nov. 21, 2019, version of the form reflects updates from the now-vacated rule.

The USCIS main page has a slightly different alert:

On June 22, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in Behring Regional Center LLC v. Wolf, 20-cv-09263-JSC, vacated the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program Modernization Final Rule. We will apply the EB-5 regulations that were in effect before Nov. 21, 2019, and accept Form I-526 petitions filed on the April 15, 2019, version, which is the only form that DHS updated as part of the vacated rule. DHS, along with the Department of Justice, is reviewing the court’s ruling and is considering all judicial and administrative options for preserving important changes made by the vacated regulation. For more information, see the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program page on our website.

USCIS Guidance for RC Lapse (updated)

10/4/2021 UPDATE: USCIS published revised guidance on October 4, 2021.

7/1 UPDATE: USCIS just replaced its guidance on the USCIS website page for Approved EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Centers with a new message that now says regional center Form I-485 and I-765 filings will not be accepted during the lapse. (The message is now also repeated on the main EB-5 page, the Form I-924 page, and the Form I-526 page.) The I-485 change is odd, since Department of State is accepting regional center visa applications, per the July 2021 Visa Bulletin. I’m copying below the guidance on 7/1, while keeping my original 6/30 post that records what USCIS said yesterday. Who knows how often I’ll need to update this post going forward, as USCIS changes its mind.

Statutory authorization related to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program expired at midnight on June 30, 2021. This lapse in authorization does not affect EB-5 petitions filed by investors who are not seeking a visa under the Regional Center Program. Due to the lapse in authorization related to the Regional Center Program, USCIS will reject the following forms received on or after July 1, 2021:

Form I-924, Application for Regional Center Designation Under the Immigrant Investor Program, except when the application type indicates that it is an amendment to the regional center’s name, organizational structure, ownership, or administration; and

Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Investor, when it indicates that the petitioner’s investment is associated with an approved regional center.

In general, we will not act on any pending petition or application of these form types that is dependent on the lapsed statutory authority until further notice. If you were issued written correspondence regarding your petition or application on or before June 30, 2021, you should review the written correspondence and respond by the due date (as applicable). Although USCIS is unable to review your response at this time, we will receive and maintain the response for review if circumstances change.

We will continue to accept and review Form I-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status, in the normal course, including those filed on or after July 1, 2021.

We will begin rejecting all Forms I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and any associated Forms I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and Forms I-131, Application for Travel Document, based on an approved Regional Center Form I-526.

We will provide further guidance to the public if circumstances change or further guidance becomes necessary.

https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/permanent-workers/employment-based-immigration-fifth-preference-eb-5/eb-5-immigrant-investor-regional-centers/approved-eb-5-immigrant-investor-regional-centers

Original 6/30 post:

The USCIS website page for Approved EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Centers was just updated with this statement:

Alert: Statutory authorization related to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center Program will expire at midnight on June 30, 2021, unless Congress reauthorizes it. A lapse in authorization does not affect EB-5 petitions filed by investors who are not seeking a visa under the Regional Center Program.

In the event of a lapse in authorization related to the Regional Center Program, we will reject the following forms received on or after July 1, 2021:

–Form I-924, Application for Regional Center Designation Under the Immigrant Investor Program, except when the application type indicates that it is an amendment to the regional center’s name, organizational structure, ownership, or administration; and

–Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Investor, when it indicates that the petitioner’s investment is associated with an approved regional center.

In general, we will not act on any pending petition or application of these form types that is dependent on a lapsed statutory authority until further notice. If you were issued written correspondence regarding your petition or application on or before June 30, 2021, you should review the written correspondence and respond by the due date (as applicable). Although we cannot review your response at this time, we will receive and maintain the response for review if circumstances change.

We will continue to accept and review Form I-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status, in the normal course, including those filed on or after July 1, 2021.

We will continue to accept Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, based on an approved Form I-526. However, in the event of a lapse in authorization, we will be unable to act on any Form I-485 based on an approved Form I-526 associated with an approved regional center unless a visa through the Regional Center Program is reauthorized.

We will provide further guidance to the public if circumstances change or further guidance becomes necessary.

https://www.uscis.gov/working-in-the-united-states/permanent-workers/employment-based-immigration-fifth-preference-eb-5/eb-5-immigrant-investor-regional-centers/approved-eb-5-immigrant-investor-regional-centers

Authorization (webinars updated), Regulations (articles), FY2021 Q2 Processing Data

With a record level of uncertainty in EB-5, it’s hard to know what to say. But I shall provide resources and processing updates, at least.

Regional Center Program Authorization Legislation Updates

  • USCIS has not yet published guidance for the now-inevitable regional center program expiration/lapse as of July 1. 6/30 UPDATE: Now USCIS has published an alert on the website page for Approved EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Centers.
  • Attorney Carolyn Lee hosted an EB-5 Program Sunset Pop-Up Event, on 6/30 at 2:00 PM ET. I will link to a recording here when available
  • AIIA is hosting a Town Hall on July 1 at 6 pm ET to provide EB-5-investor-focused updates on what’s happening and solicit investor input for EB-5 reform negotiations. UPDATE: Recording available on YouTube.
  • IIUSA is hosting a webinar on June 7 at 12 pm ET to discuss reauthorization efforts and the IIUSA advocacy plan. UPDATE: Recording available on YouTube.
  • EB5IC and the China-focused EB-5 investor advocacy organizations are not offering any public engagement so far as I know, but I’ll update this list if I hear anything new. (UPDATE: EB5IC is doing some Sarah-Kendall-style public engagement, and emailed video on July 1.)

Regulations Update

The government has not yet reacted publicly (that I can find) to the court decision on June 22 vacating the EB-5 Modernization Regulation. The Code of Federal Regulations 8 CFR 204.6 at ecfr.gov (updated as of June 25), the USCIS Policy Manual Vol. 6 Part G, and the EB-5 page at USCIS.gov still say that the minimum EB-5 investment amount is $1.8 million, or $900,000 in a TEA designed by USCIS. EB-5 lawyers agree that the June 22 court win did indeed return the EB-5 investment amounts to $500,000 or $1 million in a State-designated TEA, and that I-526 can be filed at this level so long as the June 22 change still applies. The expert lawyers do not agree on the probability that USCIS will go on to approve I-526 filed at the lower investment level, or how and how soon and for whom the rules may change back again. I’ve started a table lining up the variety of opinions I’m seeing/hearing on regulations-related questions, and may publish it later once I have more feedback. A few expert reference articles available so far:

EB-5 Form Processing Update and FY2021 Q2 Processing Data

On the positive side, USCIS says they welcome the extensive public feedback on “Identifying Barriers Across USCIS Benefits and Services.” A USCIS Public Engagement email last week said that: “We greatly appreciate all the feedback submitted and are actively reviewing the comments we received. We will use this feedback to inform future policy changes and operational improvements. We remain dedicated to providing all stakeholders with opportunities to share meaningful feedback and to engage with the agency.”

A second piece of good news:   On June 24, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Ms. Ur Jaddou’s nomination for USCIS director, bringing her bringing the nomination closer to a full Senate vote.

And now for the rest of the news. The Investor Program Office and EB-5 processing have not shown improvements yet. Last week, the USCIS Citizenship & Immigration Data page was updated with data reports for FY2021 Q2 (January to March 2021). Processing volume in this quarter remained low – even worse than in the last quarter under the Trump administration. This is not the trend I wanted to see. I-526 receipts also remained low, though a bit higher than we had thought: total 189 for October 2020 to March 2021. I was glad to see that I-829 receipts caught up in January to March, compensating for an artificially low previous quarter.

I-526ReceiptsApprovalsDenialsTotal ProcessedPending
Jan 2021 to Mar 20219875213088213,044
Fiscal Year to Date1891,7562492,005
I-829
Jan 2021 to Mar 20211,0535663760310,356
Fiscal Year to Date1,2581,207781,235
EB-5 Form Processing Data from https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/document/reports/Quarterly_All_Forms_FY2021Q2.pdf

USCIS reported 13,044 pending I-526 as of March 31, 2021. Considering historical trends, we can assume that over 90% of those are regional center I-526 that cannot be processed once the regional center program lapses starting on July 1.  A Bloomberg Law article from June 25 “Backlog of Investor Visa Applications in Limbo as Program Dies” included this quote: “The Homeland Security Department subagency can’t yet say what the fate of those EB-5 applications are, USCIS spokesman Joe Sowers said Friday.” That’s over 10,000 regional center investors and their families and over 5 billion dollars in limbo associated with pending I-526 alone, not to mention over 70,000 regional center applicants at the visa stage. As industry negotiators keep up their “my way or nothing” positions, they must think about the implications associated with that amount of money in the economy, if not that number of tender individual human beings dependent on regional center program authorization.

Mandamus litigation has offered hope to combat the EB-5 processing slowdown since 2018. But the hope is limited. The above-linked Bloomberg Law article reports (though without citing sources) a high rate of denial and dismissal for mandamus lawsuits. The article indicates that federal courts threw out two of four EB-5 mandamus actions in 2020 and two out of three suits in January and February. One suit in May had a partial victory for the plaintiffs, while three were denied in June. “In many of these cases, judges cite a set of factors in a 1984 case—Telecommunications Research and Action Center v. FCC—that set standards for when courts ought to compel agencies to take action in the event of an unreasonable delay. The opinions often cited the concern that siding with the plaintiffs would send a signal that litigious applicants for the program can jump to the front of the line.” Ideally someone will soon address the across-the-board slowdowns and productivity loss at the Investor Program Office, as illustrated in the above charts, so that individual petitioners do not have to fight individually for treatment that everyone deserves.

What will happen to EB-5 processing during the regional center program expiration/lapse? If we assume that about 1,300 pending I-526 are direct petitions, that IPO continues processing I-526 at a rate of 900 petitions per quarter, and that the RC program stays expired for months to come, then the direct I-526 inventory could all be adjudicated this year. Or maybe IPO will eventually respond to changes by moving staff over to I-829 adjudications, in which case I-829 rather than direct EB-5 may benefit from the RC program lapse/expiration. With so many moving parts, prediction is difficult.

Senate setback for RC program authorization

What happened?

Today June 24, the Senate’s last working day before the regional center program sunset on June 30, Senators Grassley, Leahy, and Cornyn stood together on the Senate floor to request unanimous consent to pass S.831 to reauthorize the regional center program. (The EB-5 portion of the Senate floor proceedings on 6/24 can be reviewed here starting at time 2:54:52.) All three Senators spoke warmly about the regional center program and their efforts to reform and preserve it. Senator Cornyn’s decision to join Grassley and Leahy was significant, since he had been associated with the “holistic” faction alternative to Grassley’s reform efforts, and was an original co-sponsor of the S.2778 bill that the opposition hopes to revive. I was happy to see at least this level of compromise and unity in the cause of reauthorization. However, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, another Senator in the “holistic reform” corner, registered an objection to the unanimous consent. And so S.831 did not pass the Senate today. A short-term extension was not brought forward by Senator Schumer or his proxy, as some had hoped. The Senate is now on recess until after July 4, so the window for legislation in advance of June 30 has closed. (The House version of the Grassley bill has been making progress, with 23 cosponsors so far, but the House can’t pass laws by itself.) The regional center program will sunset starting July 1, 2021. The battle for reauthorization legislation will continue once Congress gets back to work after July 4. The timeline and outlook for final resolution remains unknown.

What does it mean?

Regional center program lapse/expiration does not directly affect direct EB-5, or regional center investors who have already been admitted for conditional permanent residence. The lapse will put a freeze on pre-green card regional center petitioners and applicants, until the RC program is reauthorized.

USCIS has yet to publish guidance for how exactly they will handle regional center petitions during this program lapse/expiration. There’s informed speculation that the policy will initially be similar to what was published in December 2018 during the last lapse. I will report when the USCIS website gets updated. (In the meantime, attorney Robert Divine has a helpful article on practical implications of a lapse.)

The July 2021 visa bulletin gives the Department of State policy on visa issuance during the lapse/expiration for regional center (i.e. I5 and R5) visas. “The I5 and R5 visas may be issued until close of business on June 30, 2021 and may be issued for the full validity period. No I5 or R5 visas may be issued overseas, or final action taken on adjustment of status cases, after June 30, 2021. Since there has been no legislative action at this time, the final action dates for the I5 and R5 categories have been listed as “Unavailable” for July. If there is legislative action extending this category for July, the final action dates would immediately become “Current” for July for all countries except China-mainland born I5 and R5, which would be subject to a November 8, 2015 final action date and Vietnam I5 and R5, which would be subject to an April 1, 2020 final action date.” Any questions regarding what’s in the visa bulletin can be directed to the blessed Charles Oppenheim, who will be hosting another “Chat with Charlie” live on Youtube on Monday, June 28, 2021 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time. (Per the visa bulletin, one can email questions to VisaBulletin@state.gov ahead of the event with “Chat with Charlie Question” in the email subject line.)

Why did it happen?

Maybe there was practically no chance to get RC reauthorization passed before the tight June 30 deadline regardless, given the lack of legislative vehicles to which it could have been attached. Maybe compromise could and should have advanced legislation, if only negotiators had been more flexible.

Instead of speculating about causes and blame, I will start by simply repeating what key players in the reauthorization drama have to say for themselves. As background, key industry players have been IIUSA and its allies, who have chosen to support the current Grassley bill as the best/only way to avoid RC program death; and EB5 Investment Coalition (EB5IC), which considers that the Grassley bill is death and should be opposed to make an eventual path to something better. IIUSA has associated with Senators Grassley and Leahy, while EB5IC has implied association with Senator Schumer, and also Rounds, Graham, and (previously) Cornyn. Grassley v. Schumer represents a long-standing division around EB-5 legislation that has been in place since the last multi-year RC program extension ended in 2015 – a division roughly caricatured as Middle America vs. the Big City.  Schumer, Rounds, and Graham did not make any EB-5 statements today that I can find (beyond Graham’s one-word objection on the Senate floor). I’m copying below statements made today by Grassley, Leahy, and Cornyn, and excerpts from the most recent statements from IIUSA and EB5IC. I’ll let you think about where grains of salt need to be applied, where the rights and wrongs lie, and where the path forward could be. (One question I keep thinking about: what does each of these players think the BATNA is? Could compromise be encouraged by pointing out issues with some of those envisioned BATNA?)

IIUSA’s perspective was recently represented in an article by IIUSA Executive Director Aaron Grau published on June 21 in the Times Union. I copy excerpts here:

Recently, Senators Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced S.831, the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2021, a bipartisan bill that protects investors, assures the program’s integrity and secures its longevity. Shortly after, Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., introduced an identical companion bill in the House of Representatives, HR 2901. The House bill has 20 cosponsors and counting, Republicans and Democrats.

However, opposition continues to mysteriously fester, unfairly keeping key policy makers, like Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, away from embracing the bipartisan, bicameral solution at hand.

The EB-5 Regional Program needs change, including increased integrity measures to help protect against the fraud and abuse brought on by one too many bad apples. It needs provisions to protect good-faith investors who, through no fault of their own, may find themselves in a terminated project. And the program needs stability — the kind of stability that only comes from a long-term, five-year reauthorization.

With just days until the program expires, time is of the essence and, without Schumer’s support, this powerful development tool goes away and future EB-5 investments and vital jobs for New Yorkers will be eliminated.

[Update: See also IIUSA’s 6/25 Advocacy Alert on program sunset. I also recommend the 6/23 Investment Migration Report webinar with Aaron Grau, an extremely substantive 1.5-hour discussion that addresses most questions about the legislative process, and also touches on the Behring litigation on regulations.]

EB5 Investment Coalition does not typically make statements, but kindly held a webinar for the public at 9 am EST on June 24, ahead of activity in the Senate. Below, I transcribed an excerpt of legislation-related remarks from that webinar, quoting EB5IC co-founders Laura Foote Reiff of Greenberg Traurig and Jeff Campion, CEO of Pathways EB-5.

Jeff Campion: So I know that we’re working on extension. Obviously you said it expires June 30, we all know that. So let’s talk about where the extension is. Grassley and Leahy, they’ve hot-lined the bill. It’s on UC I guess today. What does that all mean? I know that we’re trying to get the program extended for a period of time. But what’s the lay of the land from your side?

Laura Foote Reiff: So we’ve always had for the last six-plus years some key players who have been interested in the program. We saw last Congress Senators Cornyn, Rounds, Schumer, and Graham introduce a more holistic bill, S.2778. It was a bill that would change the programmatic rules and deal with integrity measures. Senators Leahy and Grassley have introduced an integrity-measure only bill. They reintroduced that bill this Congress. And we’ve been trying to talk to them about adding in some programmatic measures to deal with backlog issues and investment levels and the TEA definitions, to no avail. There were some serious conversations for the last couple weeks with, I think, Senator Schumer’s office. We’re trying to work with them on some edits that would be acceptable. Senators Grassley and Leahy have now done what they called “run a hotline” on the legislation, and I understand they’re going to take the bill to floor of the Senate for unanimous consent without any edits except for the fact that instead of the five-year extension, they’ve amended it to a two and a half year extension of integrity measures only. So it’s unfortunate.

Jeff Campion: So there’s a few options here, right? I guess one option is they make it where its not 27 months, it’s 15 months or 3 months, or someone puts a hold on it and it doesn’t go through. I mean those are kind of the different options, right?

Laura Foote Reiff: Yeah, I mean, it’s unfortunate in Congress these days that you can’t go through regular order to get legislation through. We’ve been trying to get more comprehensive legislation on EB-5 through for many years. So this is one tool that Senators will use, the unanimous consent effort. If there is any objection to the unanimous consent motion, then the thing fails. And we think that there are enough holds on it that it probably won’t pass. But there’s going to be some negotiation. We’re hoping in the end they come up with something, some kind of compromise so that there’s a shorter-term extension of the regional center program with an opportunity to negotiate out that more holistic reform to deal with some of the programmatic issues that exist.

…What could happen with the reauthorization, when Congress comes back from their recess, they could take this up at any time. They could have unanimous consent in July, they could have unanimous consent on something, whether it’s a short-term extension, whether it’s integrity measures, whether it’s a holistic thing. They could also work together, like Senators Cornyn, Graham, Schumer and Rounds did, on a more holistic bill, and have that attached to another vehicle. As we just said at the beginning of this program, it’s very difficult to pass a stand-alone piece of legislation. So the vehicle could be an infrastructure bill, it could be some other immigration bill going through. And/or we could see ourselves being reattached, maybe recoupled back in September. Nothing is guaranteed. It’s all kind of making sausage up on the Hill. I know a lot of people are afraid about the program expiring. It’s never fun to have a program expire, but it happens.  I know, as you said Jeff, there’s going to be a lot of pressure to do something to try to resuscitate the program between now and September 30.

(As background on what’s involved in a more holistic bill, see my post EB-5 legislation and the question of options. See also IIUSA’s article on why the industry trade association did not to demand programmatic fixes as a condition of passing integrity reforms. As background for what Senator Grassley thinks about short-term extensions coupled with appropriations bills, see his posts from 2015 and from 2018.)

Senator Grassley published an article on his website today with a typically pugnacious comment about what happened. To quote some excerpts:

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today condemned a blockade of their bipartisan bill to reform and extend the EB-5 investor visa program, which expires on June 30. The blockade was led by a small group of wealthy and unscrupulous real estate developers who blindly oppose any efforts to improve accountability and transparency in the EB-5 visa program.

“A narrow subset of big moneyed and corrupt interests has now shown that they would rather kill the program altogether than have to accept integrity reforms designed to clamp down on their bad behavior,” Grassley said on the Senate floor.

“It’s really unfortunate that a bipartisan bill supported by the overwhelming majority of EB-5 stakeholders was blocked at the behest of a small minority that blindly opposes much-needed accountability and transparency in the program.  Senator Grassley and I have worked together for years to develop a thoughtful, careful compromise that would both keep the program alive and curtail the worst abuses of it.  Now that our bill has been blocked, the EB-5 visa program is unfortunately going to lapse in the days ahead and have untold economic consequences throughout the communities that rely on the program for development projects.  I remain committed to reforming the EB-5 program should there be another opportunity to do so,” Leahy said.  

Senator Cornyn’s website published this message.

Today on the floor, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) discussed the importance of the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program and his legislation that would make commonsense reforms, which was blocked from passage this afternoon. The current authorization runs out on June 30th. Excerpts of Sen. Cornyn’s remarks are below, and video can be found here.
EB-5 investments are a major economic driver in Texas. EB-5 projects use merit-based immigration to create thousands of American jobs and bring billions of dollars in investment to major urban areas like Dallas and Houston, as well as our rural communities across the state. These projects include investments in infrastructure for a wide variety of sectors, including energy, hospitality, residential and commercial.”

“I’m a supporter of the EB-5 program and its resources it delivers to the community, but there is no question, as Senator Grassley has said, that it could stand some reforms.”

“I’m glad to join Senator Grassley today in offering this legislation to improve the integrity and security of the EB-5 program while ensuring law-abiding Texas job creators aren’t negatively impacted. This bill would have reauthorized the EB-5 program until 2023 with significant oversight and integrity measures.”

Senator Cornyn went on to say (quoting from the end of his statement on the Senate floor starting at time 2:57:11):

This happens to be very similar to legislation that I introduced in 2015 with Senator Schumer and Senator Flake, which included recommendations from both the Department of Homeland Security and the Government Accountability Office. I appreciate Chairman Grassley’s leadership on this legislation, and I hope at some point we can reauthorize the EB-5 program and safeguard critical investments in communities across the country.

Senator Leahy of Vermont had this to say (starting at time 2:59:26 in the recording of Senate floor proceedings for June 24):

I was happy to join both Senators Grassley and Cornyn on the EB-5 reform bill. Senator Cornyn has worked very hard on this, Senator Grassley has, and I have. And it was a truly bipartisan bill that has widespread support among EB-5 stakeholders – those who responsibly welcome changes in the program that would improve oversight and accountability.

Senator Grassley and I have been working for years to reform the EB-5 visa program. We want to reduce the fraud that’s current in several EB-5 projects, including one that occurred in my own state of Vermont. And this legislation – again, bringing Republicans and Democrats across the political spectrum together – reflects a careful, thoughtful compromise that will keep the EB-5 program alive and curtail the worst abuses.  

There’s actually only a small minority that wants to keep the program operating without these improved these standards and oversight, and I wish they would be willing to bring it out, vote it up or down. Be on the record, saying how they’re going to vote. Because opposing our effort on this is a vote that allows the EB-5 program to lapse. That’s going to have untold economic consequences throughout the communities that rely on the program for development projects, like those that the Senator from Texas just mentioned.

I wish that the senators supported Senator Grassley’s consent request, but I will take a moment to thank Senator Grassley for working with me over the years to find a bipartisan compromise reform list. Hours have gone into that. He and Senator Cornyn and I and others have worked hard to have a compromise. I’m sorry that the unanimous consent was objected to, especially since it means this will expire, and we won’t have votes on improvements that could take part. I think it’s a wasted opportunity.

And finally, a note for people inspired to share their touching personal-impact stories in response to this post. Advocacy organizations might love to hear your experience, so they can bring it forward in conversations with members of Congress and the media to directly influence legislative outcomes. Consider contacting an advocacy organization to tell your story. AIIA has a form up to collect contact info for a database of EB-5 investors willing to speak with or be quoted to Congresspeople in various constituencies, and journalists. And IIUSA says “Share your EB-5 success stories with us via e-mail so we can share them with members of Congress.”

What the RC program deadline means

This blog is not the place for hot takes, so I will wait to report in detail on regional center authorization status and implications going forward. But I’m getting showered in marketing emails that imply that filing a regional center I-526 before June 30 will allow investors to beat the regional center program deadline and its consequences. For the sake of program integrity, I would like to repeat a paragraph from preeminent EB-5 authority Robert Divine in the article “The problem with EB-5’s reliance on temporary legislation.”

WHAT HAPPENS IF THE EB-5 PROGRAM DOESN’T GET REAUTHORIZED?

The shocking reality is that expiration of the program without renewal would invalidate the immigration processing of every regional center investor who has not already been admitted to the U.S. as a conditional permanent resident, even if they already have filed their I-526 or have an approved I-526 and is waiting for a visa number or processing.  That would affect as many as 100,000 investors who have already placed their capital in a project and who might remain stuck in the investment while losing all immigration benefits.  The investors would not be able to “change gears” to try to count only the direct operational jobs of the project (if there would be any) if they invested through an NCE separate from a JCE (extremely typical). 

USCIS probably would hold I-526 petitions in abeyance for several months waiting for a retroactive legislative solution, but eventually if that solution did not come, USCIS would deny all pending I-526 petitions and revoke all I-526 approvals for all investors who had not already been admitted to conditional permanent residence.  Affected investors might bring lawsuits against USCIS arguing that the expiration of legislation should only be prospective, but that would be an uphill battle. Investors who already were admitted as conditional residents would not be affected and would be able to file I-829 petitions to remove conditions.

[Update: see also Mr. Divine’s follow-up article “A swirl of EB-5 Developments”]

This tough reality needs to be disclosed and accounted for in today’s decisions, and motivate how hard we work to get authorizing legislation as soon as possible. I 100% agree with Mr. Divine that “Congress should at least provide that the regional center legislation in effect at the time an investor files Form I-526 will remain in place throughout those waits until the investor can remove conditions on permanent residence through adjudication of Form I-829.” It’s a pity that such a provision does not exist yet, and a shame when promoters pretend that it does. As Mr. Divine notes in his article “Given how much the EB-5 investments have benefitted regional economies all over the U.S., it seems unlikely that Congress will let the regional center program expire, but in the next renewal Congress should eliminate the nagging worry that investors must face when considering whether to invest in the program.”

The drama continues (reauthorization, regulations)

For a recent update on what’s happening with EB-5 legislation see “EB-5 Regional Center Program reauthorization: Will it happen this week?” (June 22, 2021) in Homeland Preparedness News. Senator Grassley has been still pushing to get a reauthorization bill to the finish line. People opposed to the Grassley bill would like to see that bill fail and a short-term extension – or least hope of a future short-term extension – instead. However, Senator Grassley says that he would rather see the program die than allow for such a short-term extension. The HPN article quotes Grassley staffer Taylor Foy: “Extending the program without the reforms ‘would be legislative malpractice,’ said Foy. ‘If they are not enacted by the end of the month, the program will die.’” Strong words, with little understanding or sympathy for the economic not to mention personal stakes involved. But disturbing, and I understand the frustration. The industry said “a short-term extension to give more time for legislation” in 2015, and again in 2016, and again in 2017, and again in 2018, and again in 2019, until 2020 when the removal of the regional center program from the appropriations process that had facilitated short-term extensions. The pattern of extensions since 2015 is clearly not sustainable. We are past time for stabilizing legislation.

The investor advocacy organization AIIA has published open letters to Senators Schumer, Grassley, and Leahy, calling on them to keep faith with past regional center program users. “With the reauthorization deadline looming and no sign of resolution of gridlock on this issue, AIIA would like to remind Congress about the importance of upholding the contract with existing immigrant investors.” 

Meanwhile, the 2019 regulations that increased the EB-5 investment amount and changed TEA definitions have been vacated in court. This sends the matter back to current DHS leadership, which may choose to reinstate the regulation with the $900,000/$1.8M investment amount (and likely will, since Director Mayorkas already confirmed that he supports the 2019 regulation) and/or to Congress to include investment amounts and TEAs in future legislation (thus making the legislative battle even more wide-ranging and contentious than it is already). I’m watching the USCIS website for an announcement. While waiting for these things to happen, there maybe a limited window to make a $500,000 investment – in the case of the regional centers, an investment in reliance on an immigrant investor program that may offer no chance to immigrate. Not the easiest marketing pitch. But if the court win on regulations does prove effective for marketing, that will be great for U.S. businesses that desperately need funding, especially where offering documents allow businesses to keep and use the money regardless of whether or not the investors are practically able to pursue the immigration process. (Regional centers may consider using escrow to help share the risk.) Making an investment/filing I-526 locks funds into a private business, but those actions do not lock in a chance to get a visa from the government based on that investment. (I have a post coming soon on what does get “locked in” at various stages in the EB-5 process.) So it’s complicated, and the need for authorizing legislation continues.

To quote Behring Companies, which brought the suit:

Today, the US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled in favor of Behring Regional Center, vacating the 2019 EB-5 Modernization Rule. The court agreed that DHS had no authority to implement the 2019 Rule due to the unlawful appointments of the Acting DHS Secretary and Acting USCIS Director who were appointed during the Trump administration without confirmation by the Senate. The Court vacated the Rule and remanded the matter to DHS and it may take steps to reinstate the Final EB-5 Rule pursuant to Administrative Procedure Act’s rule-making process. DHS may also file an appeal and seek to stay the order while the appeal is pending. The current sunset date for the EB-5 Regional Center Program is June 30, 2021. Congress is already discussing various legislative proposals for EB-5 reform. With Behring’s legal victory, we fully anticipate final bills will increase the required investment amount. Our efforts are focused on achieving a long-term extension and meaningful EB-5 reform for a better and more sustainable EB-5 Program.

UPDATE: I will copy relevant articles here as they are posted.

EB5 Investment Coalition has decided to speak with the public, and holding a webinar on June 24 at 9 am EST. This is a chance to hear from the faction opposed to Senator Grassley’s legislation to reauthorize the regional center program, and how they see their efforts creating hope rather than spelling disaster for the future.

Policy Updates, Webinars

USCIS Updates Policies to Improve Immigration Services

Today USCIS announced policy updates “to clarify the criteria and circumstances for expedited processing; improve request for evidence (RFE) and notice of intent to deny (NOID) guidance; and increase the validity period for initial and renewal employment authorization documents (EADs) for certain noncitizens with pending adjustment of status applications.”

These actions are part of a series of planned improvements designed to modernize USCIS and “to eliminate policies that fail to promote access to the legal immigration system.” The USCIS press release quotes Acting USCIS Director Tracy Renaud: “USCIS is committed to promoting policies and procedures that ensure we operate in a fair, efficient, and humane manner that reflects America’s heritage as a land of opportunity for those who seek it.”

Yay! Looking forward to several more years of improvements like this!

AIIA Webinar Invitation

In debates over regional center program reauthorization, EB-5 legislation, and USCIS processing, EB-5 investors have had little voice and influence. A few investors are trying to change that, and have formed American Immigrant Investor Alliance, a non-profit organization with plans for investor-focused advocacy and community development activities. “AIIA hopes to provide investors a seat at the table with respect to the decisions that directly affect them. As investors, we believe our stories and our investments are the best representatives of the good that the EB-5 program brings to the United States.” Interested in this effort? The organizers are hosting an introductory webinar on Saturday, June 12 at 8 am PDT/11 am EDT to discuss goals and plans and invite participation. UPDATE: A recording of this excellent webinar is now available on YouTube.

Behring Companies Webinar Recording

On June 7, Behring Companies hosted a webinar covering topics including the Behring V Wolf et. al. lawsuit on the EB-5 regulations (including goals, arguments, and potential outcomes), EB-5 program reauthorization efforts, and reform priorities from a holistic perspective. Register to view the recording.

Know of other EB-5 advocacy events and activities that should be mentioned? Email me at suzanne@lucidtext.com

Updates (USCIS director, visa bulletin, visa numbers, regs litigation, country caps)

Another post with bits and pieces of news you should know in EB-5.

USCIS Leadership and Processing Improvements

Ur Mendoza Jaddou, the nominee for USCIS Director, made this statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee at her nomination hearing on May 19:

At the heart of a functioning immigration system is an agency that effectively processes immigration and naturalization applications under the law, like those of my family and so many others. This means that USCIS must process applications fairly, efficiently, and in a humane manner; be accessible, transparent, and accountable; and safeguard the integrity of the system; and ensure the security of the nation.

My most immediate responsibilities if confirmed will be to return the agency to firm solvency, resolve dramatically increasing processing times and backlogs, and utilize 21st century tools. I’ll work to ensure that USCIS retains the confidence of the American public as an agency able to fulfill its mission. In addition, I’ll work to ensure that the hardworking and dedicated men and women, my former colleagues at USCIS, have the resources, leadership, and support they need to carry out their roles without undue difficulty.

[Transcribed from Ms. Jaddou’s opening statement 1 hour and 23 minutes into the hearing video.]

These are precisely the words I wanted to hear. I also appreciated this testimonial from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

Ms. Jaddou has significant experience working on immigration policy and she is very familiar with the operations of USCIS. Ms. Jaddou’s knowledge and experience would be indispensable in providing the critical leadership needed to stabilize the agency’s financial challenges, reduce its significant processing backlogs, and provide stakeholders with more consistency throughout the various adjudications processes it conducts every day. Throughout Ms. Jaddou’s public service, she has shown a keen understanding of how USCIS operations affect businesses across various industries. The Chamber is confident that she would continue to consider the views of the American business community on the issues that are critically important to the ability of many companies to meet their current and future workforce needs.

Ms. Jaddou presented herself well at the hearing, and did not get many questions. A couple Senators grilled her on the controversial issue of parole, and one asked about tackling petition backlogs. Regarding backlogs, she noted that she has a running start thanks to understanding all the small steps that go into creating processing times. I hope that she is confirmed soon! The Biden Administration has nice-sounding goals for restoring integrity to USCIS operations, and I’d love to see a few of them realized.   

Visa Processing and Availability (Vietnam, China, FY2022 numbers)

Department of State Press Office has been doing a wonderful job with the YouTube live chats at https://www.youtube.com/user/TravelGov/videos In just a few minutes a month, Department of State reminds us that they have skilled, caring human beings ready to take and respond to public questions. Watch and learn, USCIS.

At the end of the June 2021 Visa Bulletin “Chat with Charlie” (minute 33) Charles Oppenheim mentioned “an excellent chance” that the Vietnam EB-5 Final Action Date will be “current” by September 2021. Current means that any Vietnamese who’s ready at the visa stage could proceed to final action then, regardless of filing date. Mr. Oppenheim did not give any background to this prediction, but we can identify two reasons:  (1) slow I-526 processing limiting the number of Vietnamese who reach the visa stage, and (2) Vietnam’s excellent work in controlling COVID-19 and getting consular processing back on track. Judging by visa issuance so far, Vietnam may be the one country that may actually approach the 1,302 EB-5 visas technically available to each country in FY2021. According to statistics on monthly visa issuance, Vietnamese had received 541 EB-5 visas through consular processing as of April 2021. Ho Chi Minh City issued a heroic 320 EB-5 visas in March alone. If that kind of performance continues into next year, the estimated visa wait time for incoming Vietnam EB-5 applicants could be reduced from the expected 7-8 years to more like 5-6 years.

Guangzhou and Mumbai are still not doing well with EB-5. I count only 29 EB-5 visas issued to Indians and only 14 to Chinese through consular processing so far this year (October 2020 to April 2021). The consulates in China and India are issuing a small number of visas in all categories, and EB-5 sadly belongs to the “Tier 4” lowest level in Department of State’s priority list. The best hope for Chinese and Indian EB-5 applicants may be to catch up next year, when EB-5 will once again have additional visas available.

EB-5 visa availability in FY2022 will be increased by a share of the unused family-based visas that spill over from FY2021. In the “Chat with Charlie” video linked above, Mr. Oppenheim stated that he expected the FY2022 Employment-Based visa limit to be at least 290,000. That would mean EB-5 would get over 20,590 visas (7.1% of the EB total) and each country would get over 1,441 visas (7% of the EB-5 total). If consular processing is back to normal by then, and those extra visas could be issued, then India and China could at least counterbalance the losses in FY2021.

The June 2021 Visa Bulletin finally moved the China EB-5 Final Action Date from August 15, 2015 (where it’s been since last August) to September 15, 2015. In the “Chat with Charlie” linked above, Charles Oppenheim indicated that he expects to continue to move all EB dates aggressively, but mentioned China EB-5 as a specific exception to that rule.  (For other EB categories, he predicted that the the “dates for filing” in the June 2021 visa bulletin will likely be the “final action dates” in the September 2021 visa bulletin). Department of State elaborated further in an AILA Liaison Committee Meeting on May 27, 2021. AILA had asked “2. Given that Guangzhou resumed IV processing on April 9th, how far does DOS expect the EB-5 final action dates to advance by the end of this fiscal year?” DOS responded: “The China EB-5 Final Action Date will be advanced based on estimates of visa availability under the FY 2021 EB-5 annual limit. Movement of the date is likely to be limited based on the large number of filings received during September 2015.”

EB-5 Regulations Litigation

I’ve avoided commenting on the litigation to invalidate the EB-5 Modernization Regulation – an effort that’s justified and that also risks derailing regional center program reauthorization efforts and being misrepresented to prospective investors. What makes an immigrant investor program attractive? One important factor: price. A more important factor: whether the program even offers a path to immigrate. That second factor is in question now, and must be resolved before the regulations can make a difference.

For expert analysis of what the litigation involves and could imply, see these articles:

Court may invalidate 2019 EB-5 Regulations while regional center legislative expiration looms” (May 14, 2021) by Robert Divine

“Behring Regional Center v. Department of Homeland Security and The Case for Common Sense” by Aaron Grau, May 2021 Regional Center Business Journal (page 37)

Update: Behring Companies hosted a helpful webinar on June 7 to explain their goals and vision for the litigation, and expected outcomes. Recording available here.

Country Caps Legislation (EAGLE Act)

The country caps debate is now officially back on the table, as Rep. Zoe Lofgren has reintroduced the Fairness for Highskilled Immigrants Act, now called the EAGLE Act. The bill text reflects H.R.1044 from last Congress, and once again offers no transition period to protect in-process EB-5 investors, should the bill become law. (The proposed transition period and special provisions apply to EB-2 and EB-3 only, suggesting who’s paying for lobbying.) Country caps are what prevent high-demand countries from claiming all available visas in EB categories. If the EAGLE Act passed, then the EB-5 visa wait line would become simply first-come-first-served order, benefiting the tens of thousands of Chinese who have been waiting longest, and creating unexpected multi-wait times for applicants from most other countries. With over 80,000 people in the EB-5 wait line, a new investor from any country could expect to wait over 8 years for a visa. (I discussed the implications in this post.) Country caps legislation has been around for many years without getting passed. It managed to pass both House and Senate in last Congress, but didn’t end up on the President’s desk. We’ll see what happens this time around. Kamala Harris had co-sponsored the Fairness Act when she was a Senator.

Other Articles of Note

“The Corporate Rights of EB-5 Investors: How to Navigate the Legal Maze of Redeployment and Liquidation Once the EB-5 Investment is Repaid” by Vivian Zhu and Rogelio Carrasquillo May 2021 Regional Center Business Journal (p. 10)

“What The Latest Unemployment Data Tells Us About The Trends and Distribution Of EB-5 TEAs” by Lee Li May 2021 Regional Center Business Journal (p. 40)

I am once again a “Top 5 Business Plan Writer” in the EB5 Investors Magazine poll. A big thank you to my industry colleagues who have voted for me every year since 2016, and to clients who trust me with their business plans. I continue to enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to make EB-5 work for business.

EB-5 legislation and the question of options (Grassley’s S.831 vs. the “holistic” S.2778)

The EB-5 Regional Center Program sunsets on June 30, 2021, unless Congress passes legislation to extend it. (I’ve been updating my Reauthorization Page with resources and suggested action items for this effort.) But still, even many people who want reauthorization hesitate to strongly support the legislative option on the table: Senator Grassley and Leahy’s S.831, and its House companion bill H.R.2901, sponsored by Rep. Stanton and with 13 co-sponsors so far. Why the hesitation?

There’s hesitation based on hope for X: X meaning an alternative to S.831/HR.2901. If you are a regional center, investor, or Congressperson who understands the economic, public policy, and personal stakes and wants the regional center program reauthorized, what’s in your best interest: (a) go all in to push now for S.831/HR.2901 (as IIUSA suggests), or (b) wait for X (as EB5IC suggests)?

Besides the risk of holding out for an alternative not yet available, let’s consider an important question: What is X? If there will be a future alternative to the Grassley bill, provided I wait long enough, what will it be, exactly? Whose interests will it represent? Will it avoid my problems with the Grassley bill, not create worse problems for me or my clients, have better politics to pass, and reward me for holding out for it?

Those wondering about options can and should pursue these questions. Although Alternative X is not on the table at the moment, it has existed and can be scrutinized. The great Grassley vs. Not-Grassley EB-5 debate has been actively on-going since before 2015, leaving an extensive paper trail at Congress.gov. We have the “good government” faction and the “holistic” faction. Both sides call what they want “reform,” but mean different things by that word. To Grassley, “reform” means regulating and directing EB-5. To the other side, “reform” means making EB-5 more accessible and usable. IIUSA currently supports the Grassley “good government” effort as the best and likely only path to long-term regional center program authorization. The “holistic” side has been associated with EB-5 Investment Coalition, Greenberg Traurig, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Senators such as Schumer and Cornyn whose constituents include the kind of big-city developers whose prolific EB-5 usage looks like abuse to Senator Grassley.

In 2019/2020, we had a Grassley/Leahy “good government” bill (S.2540), and also an alternative “holistic” bill (S.2778, introduced by Senator Rounds, co-sponsored by Senators Graham, Cornyn, and Schumer).  For those holding out hope for a future alternative to Grassley, and looking for Schumer’s support, let’s scrutinize what the Holistic Faction previously negotiated in S.2778.  You can pull up the text of S.2778 and S.831 at Congress.gov, and do a side-by-side comparison. (Keeping in mind that S.831 is current this Congress, and S.2778 is a bill from last Congress that might or might not be eventually updated and brought forward again.) A bill-to-bill comparison helps to look beyond the rhetoric, and think specifically about what has been offered by each side in the EB-5 debate. I highlight below a few key issues.

Comparison of the 2021 Grassley-backed legislation (S.831/HR.2901) with the most recent alternative legislation (the Schumer-backed S.2778 from 2019) across key areas

Limits on Judicial Review

The most broadly unpopular provisions in Grassley’s current S.831 are the limits on judicial review, and the requirement that petitioners exhaust administrative remedies (i.e. spend forever in the internal appeals process that almost always sides with USCIS) before suing USCIS over a denial or termination. EB-5 investors and service providers join in disliking these provisions. However, note that S.2778 included identical language on judicial review.I suppose that the judicial review limit has come from both sides because it’s probably the number one demand from USCIS to Congress. (USCIS has spent a lot of money recently being found wrong in court on EB-5 issues.).

Additional Fees

Another unpopular aspect of Grassley’s S.831:  new fees that would further depress the market and particularly burden small regional centers. However, S.2778 proposed the same fees for regional centers and heavier fees for investors.

Fees in both S.2778 and S.831

  • Regional centers pay an annual fee of $20,000 (or $10,000 if the RC is non-profit or had under 21 investors)
  • Investors pay a $1,000 fee with each I-526 (called a Petition Fee or Integrity Fund Fee)
  • Monetary sanctions/fines up to 10% of total investor capital are authorized for non-compliant regional centers

Fees in S.2778 only

  • Investors pay a required $50,000 Program Improvement Fee with each I-526
  • I-924 applicants have the option to pay an additional $50,000 for premium processing (I-526 petitions with TEA investment are offered premium processing without fee)

I suppose that fees appear on all sides because fees are probably near the top of cash-strapped USCIS’s EB-5 legislation demand list for Congress. Also, the proposed regional center fees are not really a burden for any RCs prosperous enough to be lobbying, and could help eliminate their competitors.  There’s no clear hope for an alternative when it comes to fees historically backed by all sides.

Reauthorization

Like S.831, S.2778 offered a 5-year extension to the Regional Center program. 5 years means people will need to stay at the negotiating table, because 5 years is not long enough to create program stability. Current EB-5 investor distress has informed the market that EB-5 immigration depends on regional center program authorization continuing on to the visa stage. New investors will hesitate to start a program that is at risk of expiring before it can deliver the promised return. If legislation says “Visas made available under subparagraph (A) shall be made available through September 30, 2025,” then the legislation will stay potent only so long as new regional center investors can expect to get visas before 9/30/2025 — i.e. not long, considering processing times. The market will soon be demanding a longer-term authorization.

Investment Amounts and TEAs

 S.831 is silent on investment amounts and TEAs. The Holistic Faction is holding out for change in this area.

Senators Grassley and Leahy want to incentivize investment in rural and distressed areas, and they think that the November 2019 EB-5 Modernization Regulation already accomplishes this, with its $900,000 difference between TEA and non-TEA investment and TEA definitions. Therefore, they did not propose any investment amount or TEA changes in S.831.  (They do not like the idea of EB-5 as a program for the very wealthy, but haven’t realized that it was not so, until the Regulation forced it to be so by doubling the EB-5 investment amount.)

The Holistic Faction wants to make EB-5 accessible, and seeks to vacate or legislate a replacement to the EB-5 Modernization Regulation. S.2778 proposed to reduce the TEA incentive to only $100,000 ($1.0M TEA; $1.1M non-TEA), and to redefine what can qualify as a TEA – including by incentivizing Opportunity Zone investments instead of high unemployment area investments. In 2019, Senator Schumer supported this proposal, which would have been good for New York. However, it happens that the S.2778 proposal would be bad for Schumer’s constituents in 2021, because COVID-battered New York City actually has significantly more high-unemployment area than Opportunity Zone area, and benefits under the existing TEA rules. IIUSA encourages New York constituents to point this out to their representatives. So I’m not sure what would be in the Holistic Faction’s future legislation with respect to investments/TEAs, if they introduced something. (Presumably they are not sure yet either, pending the outcome of regulations litigation.) But in any case, the investment amount and TEA incentives are moot if the regional center program lacks authorization to carry RC investors to the visa stage. From an investor perspective, $500,000 is just as much too high as $1.1 or $1.8 million, if for a low-interest equity investment with no reliable path to a visa. So Holistic Reform must prioritize long-term regional center authorization via legislation, before TEA or investment amount changes from any source or side can do regional centers any good.)

A spokesman for Senator Schumer told ABC in 2015, when the legislative battle we see today was already well underway: “Sen. Schumer supports reforms that will bring transparency and accountability to the EB-5 program, but strongly believes that the EB-5 program should continue to act as a catalyst for thousands upon thousands of jobs throughout New York.” A Schumer spokesman explained to the Wall Street Journal in 2017 that Schumer believes good projects in EB-5 “should rise to the top based on how many jobs they’ll create,” and that the government should not be trying to direct development to specific areas. What do you think? What will Congress and the Administration think, when it comes to having to pass bills? What message will Schumer want to send in 2021 about EB-5 reform, considering his donors and his image? Can we and he afford the optics of holding out for legislation that reduces TEA incentives very dramatically?

On the Grassley side, although S.831 does not change incentives to invest in certain areas, it does try to constrain the types of projects and investments that can use EB-5. Specifically, by restricting EB-5 investment in publicly-available bonds, and by requiring projects to have at least some economically-direct job creation impacts. Consider the rationale and impact of those restrictions, and the optics of resisting them.

Visa Backlog Provisions

High on the industry wish list for EB-5 legislation: visa relief. To regain viability and make additional economic contributions, EB-5 must have more visas. Today, over 80,000 people are already in line for EB-5 visas that can only be issued at a rate of about 10,000 a year. Country caps concentrate that backlog burden on the few countries that would normally drive EB-5 demand. That’s clearly a damper on program potential.

Grassley does not claim to offer visa relief. The Holistic Faction does hold out for visa relief. At least, that’s the rhetoric. The details are more ambiguous, if we look at what’s specifically in S.831 and S.2778.

  • Neither S.831 nor S.2778 offers additional visas to EB-5. (Additional visas seem to be a political impossibility, despite the need and potential reward. Even Biden’s generous U.S. Citizenship Act proposal was not generous to EB-5, proposing to reduce the EB-5 percent quota so that EB-5 would not benefit from a proposed increase to total EB visas.)
  • Both S.831 and S.2778 offer some provisions that would ease the visa backlog pain. Both offer “concurrent filing” of I-526 and I-485. S.831 offers most flexibility for petitioners to change course in the event of project and RC changes or problems that occur over the course of long wait times. S.2778 offered the best child status protection, providing that a child at the time of I-526 filing shall continue to be considered a child until removal of conditions.
  • Only S.2778 offered visa set-asides and a parole option. This is what the Holistic Faction calls visa relief. The offer also risks being called bait-and-switch.

The set-aside proposal is clever, if it’s effective. Let’s say I’m a regional center deploying EB-5 investment, and hoping to stay active in economic development. The longer my past investors wait for visas, the longer I can and must deploy their funds. In that sense limited visas benefit my efforts, since they create visa wait times that expand my time to use the EB-5 investment. However, limited visas are a problem for raising new capital, because I have nothing but wait times to offer my best prospects from high-demand countries. What I need is ideally to free up some visas to incentivize new EB-5 investment, while at the same time not reducing time under management for my existing EB-5 investment. Plus avoid the problem that politics do not allow adding additional visas for EB-5.

So what can be done? Why not go for the classic “rob Peter to pay Paul” strategy, removing visas from the pool available to past investors to offer them to new investors.  This becomes possible with legislation for “set-asides,” proposing to take 30% of visas from the EB-5 quota, and reserve them for applicants making investments in newly-defined TEA areas. This could create a fast track around the backlog for new investors and incentivizes new EB-5 usage, with the profitable (for some) tradeoff of increasing time under management for redeployment funds, since past investors would progress more slowly with fewer annual visas available to the backlog. (Set-asides would primarily hurt the China backlog, which would see the “leftover visas” available to the oldest Chinese applicants (just over 4,000 in recent years, thanks to relatively low ROW demand) reduced by 3,000 annually.)

Before past investors cry about their deferred immigrant visa dreams, they can be comforted with the offer of a temporary, case-by-case non-immigrant option during their newly-extended wait: parole. “Parole” is a provision that can allow certain noncitizens to enter or remain in the U.S. for specific reasons, while not yet formally “admitted” to the U.S. (This CRS report goes into detail of what parole involves, why it’s been controversial, and how existing parole programs for special populations have worked.)  Why should investors care about the receding EB-5 visa opportunity, if parole may allow them to still enter and stay temporarily in the U.S. without EB-5 visas, and possibly get work authorization? True, parole is temporary by definition — typically one year, with special parole programs offering two years (Haitian and Cuban programs) or at maximum five years (International Entrepreneur Program). True, parole means an option given to DHS, not a right necessarily granted to noncitizens, even when they qualify as part of a special population. (S.2778: DHS “may temporarily parole, in its discretion, under such conditions as the secretary may prescribe, on a case-by-case basis” and “may authorize” parolees to engage in employment, with “may” being the operative word. For reference, the CRS report linked above gives parole approval/denial statistics and DHS’s track record in actually implementing parole programs approved by Congress.) True, parole is ungenerous to spouses and children (in the IEP program, the spouse can only enter with the entrepreneur if he or she can independently argue significant public benefit.) But even a possible option for some EB-5 investors to enter the U.S. through parole for a short time is better than the status quo, which has no EB-5 parole option for anyone to ease wait times. Assuming that Congress could be convinced to give parole to EB-5 (it’s controversial even for Dreamers) and DHS agreed to grant it to many investors, why would the investors care about set-asides creating a longer wait for green cards and more distant EB-5 investment exit? They’re living in the U.S., at least for a couple years maybe, and maybe with their spouse — what more did they want? Maybe I can look my past investors in the eye and say “I support set-asides with parole; this is visa relief” and maybe the investors will look back and agree “Yes, that’s how it looks to us too. Thank you for being a good fiduciary. Supporting visa set-asides makes you and the industry look great. We’ll tell our friends and media how happy we are with the EB-5 deal.”

Speaking as Suzanne and not a hypothetical regional center, I see the visa set-aside proposal as the single greatest fault in Holistic Faction advocacy. I believe the best of people, and keep expecting advocates to say “Oh, I didn’t realize how bad this proposal is and looks in light of impact on backlogged applicants, but now I see and will not pursue set-asides anymore.” But that has not happened. I still hear set-asides mentioned by smart people as a top priority for holistic reform, and a prime reason to hold out for potential future legislation that includes set-asides. (Aside: it’s possible that set-aside language would actually neither hurt nor help anyone, if it were interpreted to not apply to new TEA investment but to simply duplicate the TEA set-aside that already exists in statute. The existing TEA set-aside makes no difference because it’s available to the backlog dominated by old TEA investment. If a mere duplication, then the Holistic Reform visa set-aside suggestion is not problematic, except as a meaningless red herring with no effect for or against visa relief or TEA incentive. But if it’s effective for new investment, then it’s paid for by backlog harm. If it offers a fast track to new investors, that means line-cutting around existing investors.)

Integrity Measures

Both the Grassley side and the Holistic Faction support integrity measures. S.831 and S.2778 differ in what they specifically offer, considering that Grassley prioritizes security and the Holistic Faction prioritizes usability. I’m not going to line everything up in this already overlong post, but you can make the comparison yourself. If there’s a restriction or requirement that you don’t like in S.831, check whether that language was also in S.2778. If you do like a protection offered in S.831, see whether S.2778 also offered that protection. [Update: I subsequently did this comparison myself; this Word doc has my notes FYI. Comparison shows that the two bills are actually very close when it comes to integrity measures, with S.831 having, if anything more limited language than S.2778 when it comes to most oversight requirements. The exception is that S.2778 excludes three integrity measures that are in S.831: making annual statements available to investors, fund administration, and regional center audits.]

For example, Aaron Grau of IIUSA mentions that S.831 opposition is coming in part from interests who do not like required disclosure of broker fees and conflicts of interest, and who do not want the S.831 prohibition on foreign government participation. However, note that S.2778 had similar language restricting involvement in EB-5 by foreign individuals and governments.

One significant difference is the account transparency/fund administration provision, which S.831 has and S.2778 did not. Fund administration and account transparency are powerful integrity measures from an investor and public policy perspective (directly addressing a common denominator in past problem deals), and also a significant hassle and expense for regional centers. Would an alternative bill with no fund admin/account transparency requirement be better, more likely to gain support, and worth holding out for? What about the requirement for regional center to make annual statements filed with USCIS also available to investors (a provision in S.831 and not S.2778)? That makes sense, right? How serious would integrity measures look, if they only involve making records available to opaque and sluggish USCIS?

Investor Benefits

Both the Grassley side and the Holistic Faction are primarily concerned with regional centers, and not necessarily going out of their way for immigrants. But each side has negotiated a few benefits. Both offer processing time improvements (S.831 by asking USCIS to adjust fees for efficient processing generally; S.2778 by asking for a premium processing option available for a fee and to TEA investments.) The best investor benefit in S.831 involves “treatment of good faith investors following program non-compliance” (with new flexibility to affiliate with different regional centers and NCEs if things go wrong, and not only in case of RC termination, as in S.2778). The best investor benefits exclusive to S.2778 were protection for children against age-out, and the possibility of parole. At the end of the day, no investor benefit is more important than regional center authorization, which determines whether or not regional center investors will be able to qualify for visas at all.

Conclusion

I aim to help with information, but cannot do much more than that. As one side or another suggests advocacy actions and opportunities, I include them on my Reauthorization Page. You can visit that page for ideas. If you know of relevant resources not mentioned on that page, please email me links and I will update. I want to be fair to all sides. The bottom line that must unite all efforts to some extent: no one benefits if we wake up on July 1, 2021 with a lapsed program, and uncertainty hanging over billions of dollars in deployed EB-5 investment. I believe that all sides are working to avoid that outcome. I hope that these efforts can be as thoughtful and informed as possible.

Public input to USCIS

I’m sharing below a copy of my comment to USCIS, submitted yesterday in response to “Identifying Barriers Across U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Benefits and Services; Request for Public Input.” USCIS asked the public to suggest ways that USCIS “can reduce administrative and other barriers and burdens within its regulations and policies, including those that prevent foreign citizens from easily obtaining access to immigration services and benefits.” Where does one even start? In my comment, I tried to highlight EB-5 problems in context of specific USCIS questions and concerns, while suggesting achievable actions that I judge would help get at the root of those problems. (And I have a long list of other items to discuss shortly in forthcoming articles, as I get time free from business plan work to post more on this blog.)

TO:                         Tracy Renaud

FROM:                   Suzanne Lazicki, Lucid Professional Writing

SUBJECT:                DHS Docket No. USCIS-2021-0004

DATE:                      May 19, 2021

1           Assessing Burdens

(2) Are there any USCIS regulations or processes that are not tailored to impose the least burden on society, consistent with achieving the regulatory objectives?

Problem: Are there any USCIS regulations or process from recent years that were tailored to impose the least burden on society? In her July 2019 Statement for the House Judiciary Committee, Sharvani Dalal-Dheini described her experience at USCIS.

Throughout most of my career at USCIS, any time new policies and procedures were being discussed, there was an informal, but almost automatic reflex to sincerely consider the operational impact it would have on adjudications and the overall effect it would have on the budget. … Things changed in 2017 when a new group of political leadership took the reins and were eager to get out new policies at any cost. As new policy measures were being discussed, we were told that “operational concerns don’t matter.” It became clear that operational, legal, and financial concerns were no longer co-equal voices at the table, but rather policy goals and vetting took the favored child status. [1]

Ms. Dalal-Dheini’s testimony gives many specific examples of burdensome policies and procedures initiated under the leadership attitude that “we are not a benefit agency, we are a vetting agency”[2] and “operational concerns don’t matter.” So long as leadership declines to count costs and considers barriers as a value, then burdens and barriers will proliferate.

Solution: Today, I suggest that the single most important change that new USCIS leadership can make is to say at every table: “we administer benefits” and “operational concerns do matter.” When leadership places a priority on efficiency as well as integrity, then specific efficiencies will naturally result. When leadership cares to count operational and financial burdens, then specific burdens will naturally tend to be noticed and reduced where appropriate.

Example with Data: As an example, consider the performance of the USCIS Investor Program Office (IPO), and how productivity rose and fell as a function of leadership priorities.

Table 1. Performance History for EB-5 Forms (I-526 and I-829) at the Investor Program Office[3]

In her first year as IPO Chief, Sarah Kendall succeeded in making the Investor Program Office four times less productive than it had been previously, and processing times ballooned. In her second year, new EB-5 form filings fell to historic lows.  Plummeting receipt and adjudication numbers reflect a variety of specific barriers and burdens implemented under her leadership, but fundamentally follow from the basic attitude discussed above — “we are a vetting agency” and “operational concerns don’t matter.” Sarah Kendall repeatedly emphasized during her tenure that “Program integrity is at the forefront of everything we do. IPO is continually fielding questions from Congress and others on performance in this area.”[4] She did not place a value on efficiency, and performance data shows the result. Today, the single best way to reduce barriers and burdens in EB-5 would be to put new leadership in place who will say “Integrity and efficiency are at the forefront of everything we do, and we are continually fielding questions about our operational effectiveness.”

2           Promoting Equity

(3) Are there USCIS regulations or processes that disproportionally burden disadvantaged, vulnerable, or marginalized communities?

Problem: Long USCIS processing times disproportionally harm the most vulnerable. This is obvious in theory: who suffers most from a long wait for a benefit? The one who most needs the benefit. It is also evident in practice.

Take the example of EB-5, where the processing time for I-924 Application for Regional Center has been posted at three to five years. Which kind of project can best afford to wait three years for USCIS review: the wealthy urban project that can proceed with or without EB-5 immigrant investors, or the project in a distressed area that depends on EB-5 to proceed? With unpredictable multi-year processing times for I-924 and I-526, EB-5 can hardly do what Congress intended: promote investment in vulnerable areas, in projects where economic impact and job creation are contingent on EB-5 investment, and thus on EB-5 processing. Instead, long processing times privilege the strongest projects best able to proceed without EB-5 and create jobs regardless of EB-5 delays.

Data Example: To confirm and quantify the disproportionate negative impact of long USCIS processing times in EB-5, USCIS could request the following data from the Investor Program Office: (1) trend in number of direct EB-5 vs. regional center I-526 filings (with direct EB-5 generally involving small business and individual entrepreneurs for whom long processing times present a particular barrier); (2) trend in the number of projects in first tier cities vs. small cities and rural areas (with small areas most dependent on the EB-5 investment and thus the timely processing); and (3) trend in the amount of EB-5 investment used to replace existing financing, rather than directly fund project costs.  Anecdotally, I see ballooning EB-5 processing times correlate with a trend toward EB-5 investment seeking the large and fully-funded urban projects best able to weather USCIS processing delays. This pushes EB-5 from a job-creating to a mere capital-cost-reducing program, contradicting Congressional intent for EB-5.

Solution: USCIS should place a value on efficiency and well as integrity, realizing that long processing times are not equitable.

3           Data Sources

(6) Are there existing sources of data that USCIS can use to evaluate the post-promulgation effects of regulations and administrative burdens over time?

a. USCIS should analyze and learn from its own data as reported on the Immigration and Citizenship Data page.[5]

  • Receipt data: USCIS should regularly analyze trends in receipts for each Form type. Falling receipts means depressed demand, which likely reflects a barrier or burden. For example, data shows that I-526 receipts fell 98% following implementation of the EB-5 Modernization Regulation in November 2019 (comparing I-526 receipts in the three quarters before and after the regulation took effect). That Form receipt data point is obviously relevant to understanding the impact of the regulation on potential immigrants.

USCIS’s own receipt data is also critical when budgeting for Fee Rules. According to OMB Circular A-25, fees should be set “based upon the best available records of the agency.”  But the 2019 Fee Rule relied on estimated “projected workload receipts” dramatically at odds with actual workload receipts as published on the USCIS Citizenship & Immigration Data page. For example, the 2019 Fee Rule had a “projected workload” of 14,000 I-526 receipts for FY2019/2020 even as USCIS had reported barely 5,000 I-526 receipts for FY2018/2019. This resulted in the 2019 Fee Rule massively overestimating future Form I-526 revenue, not to mention failing to account for funds needed to cover the burden of processing the large backlog of pending I-526 from previous years. Such oversights could have been rectified, had USCIS consulted its own data for form receipts and inventory.

  • Approval and denial data: USCIS should regularly analyze trends in adjudications (approvals plus denials) for each Form type. Falling adjudication volume reflects falling productivity at USCIS, which flags a barrier. For example, data shows that Investor Program Office productivity was 77% lower in FY2020 than in FY2018 despite staffing increases (comparing the number of approvals and denials of Form I-526, I-829, and I-924 between those fiscal years). That productivity data point flags management problems at IPO, and raises questions about new EB-5 policies and procedures that resulted in making adjudications three to four times more time-consuming than previously.
  • RFE data: USCIS should regularly analyze RFE trends for each form type. When an increasing percentage of cases are receiving an RFE, this flags a burden that can then be scrutinized. Educated by data, management can ask: why are more RFEs being issued? Have standards changed, and if so, how? Are the changes reasonable and operationally justifiable? Were the changes announced? Could the situation be improved by clarifying Form instructions or other guidance, so that petitioners know to provide correct and complete information upfront to avoid RFE?
  • Cost data: USCIS should examine trends in the amount of money it has spent defending against litigation. When constituents resort to suing USCIS, this signals frustration levels with barriers and burdens that need to be addressed. It also invites management reflection about how funds might be better used to address problems before they become lawsuits. For example, USCIS could reduce Mandamus litigation significantly by the simple expedient of improving the USCIS Processing Times Report. A confusing and misleading methodology and obviously unreasonable “case inquiry date” on the Processing Times Report create needless frustration and attracts lawsuits.
  • Data reporting: To the end of making its own data useful for management, USCIS should improve its data collection and reporting. The “All Forms Report” on the USCIS Immigration and Citizenship Data page may take the prize for Worst Data Presentation of All Time. The report makes every data point impossible to read without a magnifying glass, omits historical data needed to identify trends, and stymies Form-specific analysis. And yet this report is the only data source for many USCIS forms. Even Excel could take minutes to generate individual reports of USCIS form data, if USCIS valued data transparency and data-based oversight enough to generate readable and actionable reports.

b. USCIS should attend to existing public feedback about USCIS operations.

  • I recommend USCIS to review testimony presented at the House Judiciary Committee Hearing on “Policy Changes and Processing Delays at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services” held on July 16, 2019.[6] This hearing gathered detailed feedback from a wide array of constituencies on specific barriers and inefficiencies at USCIS, specific costs associated with those barriers, and suggested solutions. It is not clear that USCIS noted or responded to any of the excellent input offered at this hearing.
  • I recommend USCIS to review public comments made in response to USCIS Policy Manual updates.[7] We the public put great effort into providing detailed feedback on the practical impacts of policy changes, and no one even reads the Policy Manual feedback so far as we can tell.[8]
  • I recommend USCIS to review input provided to the CIS Ombudsman. The Ombudsman and the public expend considerable effort to identify and diagnose performance problems, and then USCIS does not respond.[9]

4           Form I-526 Inconsistency

Problem: The evidence requested in the Form I-526 and Form I-526 Instructions does not align with evidence checklists provided to adjudicators who review Form I-526. This inconsistency is evident to the public from (1) Requests for Evidence, which routinely quote standardized evidence lists not included in the Form I-526 or I-526 Instructions, and (2) materials from “Immigrant Investor Program Office Training May 8, 2019” (obtained via FOIA request) which instruct adjudicators to request evidence that the Form I-526 and Instructions do not request.

For example: no public-facing guidance requests I-526 petitioners to prepare source of funds documentation for non-EB-5 investors in the New Commercial Enterprise. This category of evidence is not mentioned in the Form I-526 Instructions, not in the Form I-526 Filing Tips or Suggested Order of Documentation for I-526 published on the USCIS website. The EB-5 regulations could justify requesting this category of evidence, but in practice USCIS evidence collection documents and guidance do not request it. (Possibly, because it’s obviously unreasonable to ask a petitioner to prove the source of funds for unrelated third parties who happen to have invested in the same project, and are not seeking immigration benefits.) But if an unreasonable information request exists, it should at least be published. No one benefits from lack of transparency upfront about required evidence. Petitioners cannot know to prepare evidence that USCIS does not request.

Solution: The May 2019 IPO Training discloses the existence of the following three internal “adjudication worksheets,” each of which is accompanied by an “instructional guide”: Form I-526 Worksheet; EB-5 Project Review Worksheet; Form I-526 Deference Worksheet. USCIS should review the content of those adjudicator worksheets and instructional guides, and identify discrepancies with the public I-526 Instructions, Filing Tips, and Suggested Order of Documentation. Then revise the internal and/or the public guidance and instructions as needed so that everyone is on the same page about what is required for I-526 adjudication.

5           Form I-924 Inefficiency

Problem: Form I-924 is problematic because it uses a single form, single fee, and single processing workflow for a variety of applications that are entirely different in their workload and processing needs: initial application regional center application; request for project review; required regional center amendment; optional regional center amendment. Regional centers are discouraged from sending optional updates to USCIS (e.g. new contact information) because such updates use the same form and thus involve the same $17,795 fee as a labor-intensive new application.  Regional centers are discouraged from getting optional project review from USCIS – a step that’s extremely valuable for program integrity – because that project approval uses the same form and thus promises the same deadly 3-5-year processing time as an initial application.

Solution: Create separate forms, fees, and processing workflows for the separate processes currently combined in Form I-924.

6           Data Reporting: Country-Specific Demand Data

Problem: USCIS does not report country-specific demand data for numerically limited categories (i.e. receipt data for petitions in categories with limited visa availability).

Specific example of why this is a problem: EB-5 is a numerically limited category subject to country caps, with future backlogs and visa waits created by the number of people by country who start the process by filing Form I-526. Thus, preparing for backlogs and wait times requires data for the number of I-526 receipts by country.  USCIS regularly collects and reports this data to Department of State for planning purposes, but has persistently not only neglected to but positively refused to share such data with the public. I-526 receipt data by country is not published on the USCIS Immigration and Citizenship Date Page.  Furthermore, the Investor Program Office Customer Service has repeatedly declined to respond to public inquiries requesting this information[10], Freedom of Information Act Request soliciting this information have gone unanswered[11], and the one country-specific I-526 inventory report briefly provided by USCIS was subsequently deleted from the website[12]

Lacking visibility into I-526 receipt numbers by country, businesses and prospective EB-5 immigrants cannot predict or plan to avoid future backlogs and excessive visa wait times. The public is left with no visa backlog signal except the visa bulletin (which reports on past visa wait times rather than signaling future wait times), and periodic non-public industry event presentations from Department of State.

Lack of country-specific I-526 data reporting led to the quiet buildup of a decade-long EB-5 visa backlog before China-born prospective immigrants became aware of the problem, and were empowered to choose to avoid it. [13] This unfortunate history promises to repeat today for India, whose EB-5 backlog situation may be severe but is not yet publicized. U.S. businesses today are still recruiting EB-5 investor applicants from India and making business plans assuming a five-year investment horizon, looking at the Current visa bulletin. They are unable to account for the number of India I-526 filed with and pending at USCIS, because USCIS refuses to publish this information. This lack of transparency from USCIS is a major integrity problem and needless process barrier.

Solution (EB-5 example): Start publishing these two data reports regularly on the USCIS Immigration and Citizenship Data Page:

  1. Essential: quarterly I-526 receipts country (top 8 countries + rest of world)
  2. Ideally also: I-526 pending inventory itemized by country (top 8 countries + rest of world) and by month or quarter of filing date

Alternatively or additionally, publish the I-526 data report that the USCIS Investor Program Office already generates monthly and provides privately to Charles Oppenheim of Department of State for visa bulletin reference.

Publishing demand information will help to prevent pileup of expensive and painful backlogs by educating the public and facilitating self-regulation. Publishing visa demand data would conform to the project management best practice to “elevate the constraint” with respect to the visa limits that constrain immigration processes.

7           Data Reporting: USCIS Processing Times Report

Problem: The USCIS Processing Time Report[14] is confusing and creates costly frustration. It reports an “estimated time range” for each form, where the first month represents the median age of recently-adjudicated cases, and the second month represents the age of extreme outliers in recent adjudications (the 7% oldest cases)[15]. The second number – the age of extreme outliers – is then used to calculate a “case inquiry date” which limits who can use normal channels to inquire about case status. According to the stated method, only the low month in the “estimated time range” represents something like normal processing – i.e. the median age of recent adjudications. And yet, the report stipulates a case has to be older than 93% of cases recently adjudicated before the petitioner can even make a case inquiry.

Example of why this is a problem: According to the current USCIS Processing Times Report, the median processing time for recent non-China I-526 adjudications is less than 31 months, and yet a given petition cannot be considered “delayed” or make an inquiry unless it has waited over 49.5 months for adjudication. In April 2021, I-829 had a “case inquiry date” in the year 2000, meaning that no I-829 petitioner could even inquire about status unless he or she had already been waiting over 20 years for I-829 adjudication.  These metrics are too-obviously unreasonable, create frustration, and lead petitioners who have above-average wait times yet barred from ordinary inquiries to jump to costly litigation. In EB-5, Mandamus litigation has become “the new normal”[16], creating needless expense for immigrants and USCIS.

Solution: Revise the USCIS Processing Times Report to calculate the “Case Inquiry Date” from the low end (median) rather than the high end (extreme outliers) of the “Estimated Time Range.” This will allow for reasonable inquiries, short of litigation.

To make the USCIS Processing Time Report less misleading, report an average as well as a median processing time.


[1] Statement of Sharvani Dalal-Dheini Director, Government Relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association Submitted to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship “Oversight of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services” July 29, 2020, available at https://docs.house.gov/meetings/JU/JU01/20190716/109787/HHRG-116-JU01-Wstate-LindtM-20190716.pdf

[2] Louise Radnofsky, Ken Cuccinelli Takes Reins of Immigration Agency With Focus on Migrant Vetting, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, July 6, 2019, available athttps://www.wsj.com/articles/ken-cuccinelli-takes-reins-of-immigration-agency-with-focus-on-migrant-vetting-11562410802

[3] Data for I-526 and I-829 receipts and processed (approvals plus denials) from the USCIS Immigration and Citizenship Data page. Reported numbers of IPO staff from EB-5 stakeholder meetings and Congressional testimony.

[4] https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/document/outreach-engagements/IIUSA_2020_Virtual_EB-5_Industry_Forum-IPO_Chief_Sarah_Kendalls_remarks.pdf

[5] https://www.uscis.gov/tools/reports-and-studies/immigration-and-citizenship-data

[6] https://judiciary.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=2273

[7] https://www.uscis.gov/outreach/feedback-opportunities/policy-manual-for-comment

[8] For example, see IIUSA’s “Comments on USCIS Policy Manual, Vol. 6, Part G, Chapters 2 and 4,” submitted through the USCIS Policy Manual Feedback process and also available at https://iiusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/IIUSA-AILA-Comments-on-Deployment-of-Funds-to-USCIS_8.23.2020.pdf 

[9] For example, consider IIUSA’s “EB-5 Industry Comments, Questions, and Concerns for IIUSA Meeting with CIS Ombudsman Office on Tuesday, February 2, 2021” submitted to the CIS Ombudsman, and also available at https://iiusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/IIUSA-Comments-for-CIS-Meeting_2.2.21.pdf

[10] For example, this document copies my email correspondence with IPO customer service (uscis.immigrantinvestorprogram@uscis.dhs.gov) on this topic from January 2020 to March 2020 https://www.dropbox.com/s/jrvykh6l8grdgqo/IPOemail.docx?dl=0

[11] For example, I have been waiting for over a year so far for response to my FOIA request COW2020000203 submitted in March 2020 for country-specific I-526 data. EB-5 industry trade association IIUSA has made many FOIA requests for country-specific I-526 data that are still pending – for over three years, in some cases. https://iiusa.org/blog/iiusa-foia-information-court/

[12] One extremely helpful data report posted on 10/24/2018 at https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Working%20in%20the%20US/i526list.pdf was deleted by USCIS, and now only saved in my folder https://www.dropbox.com/s/zxkmwye1yr1100t/i526list.pdf?dl=0

[13] Excess volume of I-526 filings from China apparently began in 2013, but not well-known until 2017 with the publication of the CIS Ombudsman Annual Report 2017, which reported that Chinese nationals “will likely wait 10 years or longer for their EB-5 immigrant visas due to oversubscription.” The China EB-5 market then regulated itself after 2017, thanks to this education, but too late for thousands of U.S. businesses and investors who had already made investment decisions in ignorance of decade-long wait times resulted from un-reported country-specific usage.

[14] https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/

[15] https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/more-info

[16] “EB-5 litigation: The new norm for EB-5 investors” By Bernard Wolfsdorf in EB5 Investors Magazine (April 1, 2021) https://www.eb5investors.com/magazine/article/eb5-investor-litigation

FY2021 Q1 EB-5 Performance Data

The USCIS Citizenship & Immigration Data page has published performance reports for FY2021 Q1 (October to December 2020), with data for EB-5 form receipts and adjudications. Since the full reports are formatted to be almost unreadable, I clipped out content most significant to EB-5 from the All Forms report and I-485 report. These summaries are followed by notes and charts that put the FY2021 data in context of previous reports.

General Comment

Overall, the numbers for October 2020 to December 2020 show low receipts, low productivity, and a faulty record-keeping system. But this time period represented dark pandemic days, and lingering Trump administration leadership on immigration. So I do not consider the period characteristic, or necessarily indicative for future performance. I am not ready to predict the current/future trends until I hear from new USCIS leadership, and start to see performance data for this year.

Report Format

For the first time, the All Forms performance report adds columns for total processed petitions, and processing times. That’s nice.

As with the annual report, the quarterly-report processing times are significantly lower than the median times reported day-by day for the same period. (For example the USCIS Processing Times Page reported median times for I-829 of 35 months in October, 36.5 months in November, and and 33 months in December, per my log of contemporary reports. And now this quarterly report states that 50% of I-829 processed October to December 2020 took less than 31.5 months to process.)

I-526 Performance Data Notes

The I-526 data reported for FY2021 Q1 shows that USCIS struggles to count inventory, even after taking over three months to generate the report.

We don’t know how many I-526 were filed in Q1, because the report gives a letter “D” in place of I-526 receipts. The report code explains that “D” means “Data withheld to protect applicant’s privacy.” Another definition could be “Data withheld to disguise our counting errors.” In theory, last quarter’s period-end pending petitions plus this quarter’s receipts minus this quarter’s approvals and denials (which also includes withdrawals) should equal this quarter’s period-end pending petitions. If that equation gives a false result, then something’s wrong with USCIS data reporting. Doing this equation quarter by quarter (as I do in a table below), shows discrepancies every quarter. Using the equation to solve for receipts in FY2021, I see that “D” masks a negative number: -194 to be exact. EB-5 demand would plausibly have been low October to December, but can’t have been actually negative! So USCIS must have miscounted approvals/denials or pending in Q1, or possibly compensating for errors in previous quarters. This quarter’s I-526 report is not very helpful, except as additional ammunition for Mandamus lawyers demonstrating to judges that USCIS self-reporting is confusing at best and unreliable at worst.

I-829 Note

I-829 receipts were down significantly in FY2021 Q1, and calendar year 2020 overall. In theory, I-829 filings to remove conditions should be fairly steady, reflecting the steady pace of EB-5 visa issuance two years previously. When I-829 receipts fall, I worry that some disaster befell the cohort of EB-5 investors who entered the U.S. 21 months earlier. I want I-829 numbers to show success through to the EB-5 finish line. (Update: BOS InvestorVoice makes a good point in the comments: USCIS struggled in 2020 to issue I-829 receipt notices, with mutliple I-829 applicants reporting severe delays just to get the notice. That could explain low recorded receipt numbers even if I-829 submissions were in fact as high as ever.)

On the bright side, I-829 processing productivity only fell a little in Q1, and the approval rate remained high (94%).

Investor Program Office Productivity

Between Q3 and Q4 2020, IPO had exhibited an encouraging 16% increase in number of forms processed (I-526 plus I-829).  Q1 FY2021 regressed again, with 7% fewer forms processed than the previous quarter. Sarah Kendall left IPO after November 2020 according to her LinkedIn page, so FY2021 Q1 represents the end of her direct influence. I warmly hope that future FY2021 reports will show the positive effect of new leadership at IPO (though Kendall still looms as USCIS Regional Director). IPO has so much room for productivity improvement, considering that they used to regularly process three times more forms with fewer staff than they have today.

I-485 Note

I do not usually report I-485 data because USCIS does not itemize EB-5-based I-485. The report just gives aggregate numbers for all EB category visas. However, this post highlights employment-based I-485 performance data specifically for the California Service Center, which I understand is responsible for most (all?) EB-5 I-485 decisions, and which is apparently having a meltdown. In FY2021 Q1, the California Service Center approved a record-low only 38 Employment-Based I-485 per the report (having previously averaged 300-400 EB approvals per quarter), and ended with a record-high backlog of 5,027 Employment-Based I-485 pending. Ms. Mendoza Jaddou, please hurry up and get confirmed as USCIS Director, and then find out what’s going on at the California Service Center. No one wants to see the processing times that will result if 5,000+ Employment-based I-485 continue to get processed at a rate of fewer than 100 forms per quarter. If indeed EB-5 I-485 are all ultimately forwarded to the California Service Center for adjudication, how about reconsidering that decision in light of recent performance? Too many EB-5 visas have been lost already.

Plug

Collecting and processing EB-5 data has become increasingly difficult and time-consuming. If my analysis helps you, please consider a PayPal contribution to support my work. Thank you!

I am not currently promoting my I-526 timing estimate service, due to limited recent information. After I see 2021 data and hear from new leadership at IPO, I will be better able to judge the current trend and make educated estimates about the future.

EB-5 news (USCIS public input request, reauthorization, RFE response and litigation, NVC update, PT report update)

Request for Public Input

Today DHS published Request for Public Input: Identifying Barriers Across USCIS Benefits and Services. This request aims “to better understand and identify administrative barriers and burdens (including paperwork requirements, waiting time, and other obstacles) that impair the functions of the USCIS process and unnecessarily impede access to USCIS immigration benefits.” Thank you Secretary Mayorkas! Yes, we have input for you.  

Click on the above link for instructions for how to submit effective comments. Note that the comment due date – originally written in error as today – has been updated to May 19, 2021. If anyone would like to hire me for EB-5-specific comment writing service, I am available and bring a successful track record. The Final Rules on the EB-5 Modernization Regulation and the 2019 USCIS Fee Rule both quote extensively from comments that I submitted on the proposed rules. My strategy is to be rigorous and draw on my massive repository of data and citations.

Reauthorization

The best news I have on the push for regional center program authorization is that EB-5 giant Robert Divine has published an article in EB5 Investors Magazine: “The problem with EB-5’s reliance on temporary legislation.”  In just 600 unminced words, Mr. Divine explains the reauthorization situation and what’s at stake for investors, industry, and the country. If I were writing to my representative to press for reauthorization, I would attach Mr. Divine’s article as clear, honest, and authoritative background reference. If I shared anything on social media, I’d share this article as a call to action. And I’d like to give a standing ovation to this conclusion from the article:

Congress should at least provide that the regional center legislation in effect at the time an investor files Form I-526 will remain in place throughout those waits until the investor can remove conditions on permanent residence through adjudication of Form I-829. The United States is a country of laws designed to protect reasonable expectations. This nation should not be encouraging people to invest to create jobs for us without protecting the reasonable expectations of investors who take the risk of such investment.

I continue to update my Reauthorization page as I hear of news and resources. Most recently, I noted that the text of S.831 has finally been published at Congress.gov.

RFEs and Litigation

The April 2021 edition of EB5 Investors Magazine is generally rich in helpful articles. I particularly note my article, and multiple articles on recent trends in EB-5 litigation.

Consular Processing and Visa Updates

The Visa News page on the Department of State website includes several significant updates.

  • Apr 6, 2021 Visa Services Operating Status Update This post confirms that as of April 2021, EB-5 is still not a priority for interview scheduling. “Posts that process immigrant visa applications are prioritizing Immediate Relative family members of U.S. citizens, including intercountry adoptions, fiancé(e)s of U.S. citizens, and certain Special Immigrant Visa applications.”
  • Apr 9, 2021 National Visa Center Meeting with AILA on February 17,2021 This meeting transcript from February is full of interesting information. Including:
    • “During CY 2020, the median time for an approved I-526 petition to reach NVC from USCIS was 126 days…. NVC does not have a way to proactively search USCIS systems for approved I-526 petitions that have not been electronically transferred to NVC.” (DOS here quantifies the problem of delays by USCIS in forwarding I-526 approvals to NVC, and suggests there’s not much DOS can do about the problem.)
    • “As of January 25, 2021, NVC’s queue of documentarily complete employment-based or family-sponsored cases (including family preference and immediate relative cases), with a visa number available, waiting for an immigrant visa interview is: Family-Sponsored: 312,782 cases; Employment: 11,504 cases; EB-5: 3,930 cases.” (That huge family-based number is alarming, because family cases are getting priority over employment cases as noted above. The EB-5 number is interesting, because it tells us how many consular cases are ready to go based on how far the visa bulletin has already moved. The total number of EB-5 cases registered on the immigrant waiting list at NVC, which includes those without visas available yet per the visa bulletin, is much higher of course.)

See also “Briefing with Consular Affairs Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services Julie M. Stufft on the Current Status of Immigrant Visa Processing at Embassies and Consulates” from March 1, 2021

The May 2021 visa bulletin has announced another “Chats with Charlie” to take place on April 22, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. EST at https://www.youtube.com/user/TravelGov Questions can be emailed to VisaBulletin@state.gov ahead of the event with “Chat with Charlie Question” in the subject line. The previous visa bulletin live chat from March 17 was incredibly helpful and informative, and I’m looking forward to the April iteration.

Processing Time Report Update

The USCIS website has long had a page titled “Historical Average Processing Times” that I used to ignore because it reported a meaningless and misleading data point. Instead of reporting processing times, this “processing times” page used to report “average age of all petitions currently pending.” Average inventory age combines processed and unprocessed petitions, naturally falls with an influx of new receipts, and does not directly reflect on processing times. This misleading page was probably heavily referenced by people filing Mandamus complaints, because average inventory age is often less than processing times. And now, USCIS has finally gotten around to fixing the page. 

Since March 31, 2021, the Historical Average page is now titled “Historical National Median Processing Time (in Months) for All USCIS Offices for Select Forms By Fiscal Year,” and uses a revised method. Instead of reporting average inventory age, the page now reports median age specifically of processed forms, consistent with the method used for the Case Processing Times page.  “Processing times are defined as the number of months it took for an application, petition, or request to be processed from receipt to completion in a given time period. …The number of months presented is the median. It represents the time it took to complete 50% of the cases in a given time period.” This page provides median times across a full year, which are interesting when compared with median times reported monthly for those same years (as recorded in my on-going log). For example, the Historical Average page now reports a median I-526 processing time of 19 months across FY2019 adjudications, while monthly I-526 processing time reports from October 2018 to September 2019 indicated median times ranging from 20 to 27.5 months – never as low as 19 months. Hmmmmm….. After all, the revised Historical Average page continues to provide ammunition for Mandamus lawyers seeking to show that the monthly USCIS processing times reports are misleading. The annual averages also starkly illustrate that the I-526 visa availability approach, instituted in 2020, did not bring down the average age of adjudicated cases as intended by USCIS.

Historical National Median Processing Time (in Months) for All USCIS Offices for Select Forms By Fiscal Year: Fiscal Year 2017 to 2021 (up to March 31, 2021)

FormFY 2017FY 2018FY 2019FY 2020FY2021 to March 31
I-52616.617.91931.231.2
I-82918.221.825.924.833.7
I-92419.51918.819.134.8
I-485 (all employment-based)710.6108.811.5
summarized from https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/historic-pt as of April 19, 2021

Sharing I-526 Experience

The most compelling processing time evidence comes from individual experience. I appreciate EB-5 investors who share their experience and case status analysis in blog post comments. And I appreciate the suggestion for a single static place to collect these reports for common reference. I’ve made failed attempts at this in the past (including starting a forum that I didn’t have time to moderate, and setting up a Google form whose link no one can ever find). But I will continue to think how I can best facilitate info sharing. FYI, from my various information sources, November 2018 continues to be the filing date I most commonly see on I-526 decisions.

Perspective on reauthorization and S.831

This week IIUSA held a Leaders Advocacy Summit to help explain and build support for efforts to reauthorize the regional center program in advance of its June 30, 2021 sunset date. Particularly, the summit focused on the only active reauthorization legislation to date: Senator Grassley and Senator Leahy’s S.831 – A bill to reauthorize the EB-5 Regional Center Program in order to prevent fraud and to promote and reform foreign capital investment and job creation in American communities.

The IIUSA Leaders Advocacy Summit recordings are available for free. I recommend them for extensive primary-source information about what’s happening now with EB-5 legislation, and what we can do.

  • The panel “Capitol Hill Update and IIUSA Advocacy Strategy” features commentary from IIUSA’s lobbyists. They discuss the process that resulted in the currently-proposed Grassley/Leahy bill, potential hurdles, milestone goals for the coming weeks, and influencing key decision-makers in Congress. The lobbyists acknowledged that EB-5 legislation is unlikely to get floor time as a stand-alone bill, but will depend on getting sufficient endorsements, co-sponsors, and attention that key decision-makers can recognize its importance and popularity and agree to attach the EB-5 bill to other legislation.
  • The panel “Congressional Staff Roundtable” allows us to hear directly from the staff at Senator Grassley and Senator Leahy’s offices responsible for the proposed EB-5 legislation. They give interesting insights into their senator’s priorities and hopes for the bill, and practical considerations as the bill moves forward in the legislative process.
  • The panel “EB-5 Legislation Review” gives an expert-guided tour of the text of S.831. I was interested to hear the panelists’ insight on what is and isn’t an actual change from current practice/existing law, and what resulted from IIUSA negotiation or remains in place despite negotiation. At least, S.831 is an improvement on previous iterations of Grassley/Leahy EB-5 legislation. For people struggling for reasons to support S.831 for what it contains, not just what it represents, this panel’s in-depth analysis offers some help.
  • Other panels discuss media strategies and regional center reactions to the bill.

Hearing the IIUSA speakers struggle to present S.831 as a good bill reminds me of us last year trying to feel good about our presidential votes. S.831 is the Joe Biden and Donald Trump of legislation. Whatever happened that the choice came down to this? How many of us voted in last year’s election with a bitter taste, not for our candidate so much as from a calculation of alternatives? And that’s where I am with S.831. The bill is not well designed to accomplish its objective “to prevent fraud and to promote and reform foreign capital investment and job creation in American communities.” It does not address the factors that have depressed investment and stymied job creation. Its impractical reforms would help deter good use of the program (by making it exclusive to the few who can afford all the fees and red tape) and undermine USCIS accountability (by deferring judicial review) as much as deter fraud. S.831 will not make the regional center program work as intended — the truly needed changes will have to come in another bill after S.831 addresses the immediate reauthorization crisis. S.831 is only a stopgap, since a mere five-year authorization will not even cover the existing regional center backlog through the visa stage, much less provide needed stability for new investment in an environment of multi-year processing and visa waits. But I support S.831 because I must have some vote against the alternative, which is to allow the regional center program to lose authorization after June 2021. Supporting S.831 appears to be my only chance to vote against betraying the in-process EB-5 investor applicants who depend on on-going regional center program authorization to get visas, and to avoid undermining the projects deploying their billions in investment. And the negative way Grassley and Leahy frame S.831 – as a bill to solve problems and reduce risks, not as a bill to support immigrant investment – is plausibly the best way to make it uncontroversial in Congress and get reform+reauthorization a chance at passage.

Last Fall, I spent a moment with pen hovering over my presidential ballot, wondering if I could make myself feel better by writing in Joe Neguse. But I admitted that would be false comfort. And now too in the EB-5 legislation context, supporting a positive but nonviable option could be counterproductive. Consider the low probability of a significantly renegotiated S.831 (what we’ve got is already the fruit of six years of industry negotiation with Senators Grassley and Leahy), a bill that gives visa relief (who thinks that Schumer and Pelosi would dare be seen to help immigrant investors right now, while kids at the border, DACA, etc. remain unresolved?), a bill with investment amount/TEA changes (such a bill doesn’t exist yet, and would be a long shot if it did since the Biden Administration just ratified the regulations, and reducing the TEA incentive would look controversial to Congress), or another indefinite series of short-term extensions (an option that was already tenuous over the past six years, and which Congress apparently intentionally took off the table when it gave the RC program a new mid-year sunset date). I would love for someone to give me reason to hope for and way to support one of these alternatives. From my armchair, I do not see the realistic path around S.831 to get to reauthorization. But IIUSA, at least, sees alternatives in the path after S.831.

If my future business would be dead without RC program authorization, but equally dead if S.831 passes, why not gamble on holding out for a third alternative, however improbable? But gamblers must remember that someone else does have something to lose: tens of thousands of EB-5 investor families whose future immigration hopes depend on on-going regional center program authorization. S.831 is a bird in the hand that could protect them in the near-term, at least (and protect the projects that don’t want to be abruptly besieged now by tens of thousands of anxious/disappointed investors). We have a responsibility to these constituents — and should recognize that their public future success or failure affects our interest as well. Therefore, I have added my name to  https://www.saveandcreatejobs.org/members, where it can be used by lobbyists to help create the impression of support and enthusiasm that the Grassley/Leahy reauthorization bill will need to pass. And I encourage other industry stakeholders to do the same. Ah, democracy.

Note that I continue to update my Reauthorization page and Washington Updates page on an on-going basis, to avoid cluttering the blog feed.

I shall end this post with a bit of history, as context for how we got where we are today: My log of EB-5 legislative proposals 2015 to 2019, and my chart of regional center program authorization history.

And finally, because this reminder can’t come too often, the last count (from Charles Oppenheim in November 2020) of EB-5 investors and family still at NVC or USCIS without visas yet. The tens of thousands of regional center investors in this count will not be a happy constituency if the regional center category becomes “unavailable” in the Visa Bulletin — which will happen automatically starting July 1, 2021 unless and until the regional center program is reauthorized.

EB-5 visas issued by country in 2020

All sections of the Department of State’s Report of the Visa Office 2020 are now available. In the past, I have analyzed reports of EB-5 visa issuance by country as an indicator of EB-5 visa demand. But for 2020, the numbers tell a story about visa processing constraints. The distribution of EB-5 visas issued in 2020 by country, type, and path does not reflect who wanted visas, but who was lucky to get visas despite massive COVID-19 restrictions and processing bottlenecks.

I think the headline in 2020 visa data is Adjustment of Status. The Report of the Visa Office reports total EB-5 visas issued (Table V) and EB-5 visas issued by consulates (Table VI). The difference shows the number of EB-5 visas issued to applicants using I-485 to adjust status in the U.S.. When consular processing nearly shut down back in March/April 2020 even as USCIS continued to operate, I had hoped that USCIS might pick up some slack, and process more EB-5 I-485 to help prevent loss of visa numbers. Now, looking at the data, I see that USCIS did complete a few more I-485 than usual for Chinese and Indians in 2020, but overall even fewer I-485 visas than in the previous three years.

I doubt that dropping I-485 visa numbers can be attributed to falling demand (Charles Oppenheim mentioned in the November 2020 IIUSA meeting that USCIS had approximately 2,500 I-485 pending for China-born applicants alone.) I am more inclined to blame conservative visa bulletin movement (for low China numbers) and glacial USCIS processing (for low numbers overall). EB-5 visa issuance has generally dipped over the past four years — and that not due to falling demand (backlogs are higher than ever) or reduced visa quotas (the visa limits were actually higher than average since FY2017). COVID-19 gets credit as the major constraint in 2020, but apparently it’s not the only depressing factor. (UPDATE: in today’s “Conversation with Charlie” on the Visa Bulletin, Charles Oppenheim confirmed that indeed, Department of State is not able to move the visa bulletin specifically to maximize adjustment of status during consular closures. Start listening at about minute 32 for discussion of China EB-5 visa movement. The webinar also mentioned that over 9,000 Chinese EB-5 applicants are already “ready to go” at the current final action date, and thus the date is unlikely to move “for the foreseeable future” — at least this fiscal year.)

Note also the multi-year trend in consular processing across all categories.

And now, for my usual table itemizing EB-5 visas issued to countries that received at least 20 visas during the year. But again, I would not make many conclusions from these numbers, which reflect more than anything the accident of which applicants happened to be lucky to get visa interviews in October 2019 to February 2020.

What indirect job creation means in EB-5

I have planned a series of educational articles to help support efforts to reauthorize the regional center program. Each article will tackle an area of misconception about what the regional center program involves and how it works. To begin: what does “indirect job creation” mean?

Key Features of Indirect Job Creation

Please note these critical and oft-misunderstood features of “indirect job creation” in the EB-5 context:

  1. Indirect job creation is a defining characteristic of the regional center program, as distinct from the permanent “direct EB-5” program. (See Point 1 below for quotes from the statute and policy.)
  2. The EB-5 definition of “indirect job” is NOT THE SAME as the economic model/common usage definition of “indirect job.”  In its EB-5 definition, an indirect job is a job that resulted from an EB-5 investment, yet not a W-2 employee of the particular entity in which the EB-5 investor is an equity member. This definition comprises jobs that would be considered both direct and indirect from an economic perspective. For example, for an EB-5 investor in a hotel development, all construction workers and hotel employees at the hotel site are EB-5-defined “indirect jobs,” assuming that they’re on the payroll of various contractors and a hotel management company, not on the payroll of the investor-owned entity. By contrast, in the economic model definition, those construction workers and hotel employees would be defined as direct jobs for the hotel project, while indirect jobs would have a different meaning: employment in supplier industries. (See Point 2 below for additional discussion drawn from policy and a training for USCIS adjudicators.)
  3. EB-5 indirect job creation explains why regional center and direct EB-5 are not interchangeable, such that over $20 billion dollars and over 80,000 in-process EB-5 applicants currently depend on the regional center program being reauthorized into the future. Nearly 100% of regional center investments are structured with an EB-5 new commercial enterprise (NCE) that invests in a job-creating entity (JCE). That degree of separation makes all verifiable JCE direct employees and other job creation by the investment project structurally “indirect” by the EB-5 definition, and thus only countable by investors with a regional center sponsor, under the regional center program. It doesn’t matter if you can go and talk to the employees at your project, or if an economist would count direct job creation by the project. Those jobs are still “indirect” by EB-5 definition and for EB-5 purposes, except as on the payroll of the NCE. (See Point 3 below for an example from an AAO decision, discussing why an investor who lost regional center sponsorship could not go on to qualify under the direct EB-5 program.)    

Misconceptions about Indirect Job Creation

I’ve written this post before (for example back in 2015, when we were in the same square we’re still in today, facing a reauthorization deadline, a Grassley reform bill, and popular misconception about how EB-5 works). But here’s to trying again.

Senator Grassley has apparently remained under the mistaken impression that “indirect job” means an unreal and unverifiable job. (He worries that “None of the jobs created have to be ‘direct’ or verifiable jobs but rather are ‘indirect’ and based on estimates or economic modeling. Again, not knowing for sure if jobs are created.”) The Congressional Research Service report “EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa” (January 26, 2021) appears to conflate the EB-5 definition and economic model definitions of “indirect job.” (Footnote 25: “Indirect jobs are held outside of the NCE but are created as a result of it. For example, they can include persons employed by the producers of materials/inputs for the immigrant investor’s enterprise.” The first sentence gives the EB-5 definition of an indirect job. The second sentence gives an example from the economic model definition of an indirect job.) Our Congressional representatives need to understand that “jobs created indirectly” in the EB-5 context indeed include the real people employed on site at projects receiving EB-5 investment, not just economic fictions or tangential impacts in supply industries.

And people may believe incorrectly: couldn’t regional center investors who have yet to get visas still go on to qualify under the permanent EB-5 program based on direct job creation? The investor might assume that a job should count as “direct” so long as it’s a real and verifiable employee on site at the project she funded – but that’s not how it works. In the EB-5 definition, the direct/indirect distinction is a matter of investment structure, not just of economic fact. The typical regional center investment structure (new commercial enterprise investing in a separate job-creating entity) makes all job creation “indirect” according to the EB-5 definition. Thus, loss of regional center program sponsorship would not only prevent regional center investors from counting economic model “indirect jobs,” but from any counting any jobs at all based on how regional center investments were structured. (This problem specifically applies to past investors who have not yet been admitted to conditional permanent residence. The regional center statute specifies that people who were already admitted under the regional center program (i.e. at the CPR or I-829 stage) can go on to count jobs created indirectly. If by chance the regional center program were allowed to expire, it’s possible that Congress would agree to pass new protections that would also cover past regional center investors who do not yet have conditional permanent residence.)

More Detail

Point 1: EB-5-defined indirect job creation is a defining characteristic of the regional center program.

The law that established the regional center program provides that:

the Attorney General shall permit aliens admitted under the pilot program described in this section to establish reasonable methodologies for determining the number of jobs created by the pilot program, including such jobs which are estimated to have been created indirectly…

(Public Law 102-395, Section 610(b), p. 47)

USCIS Policy Manual Vol. 6 Part G Chapter 1(B)2:

The Regional Center Program is different from the direct job creation (stand-alone) model because it allows for the use of reasonable economic or statistical methodologies to demonstrate job creation. Reasonable methodologies are used, for example, to credit indirect (including induced) jobs to immigrant investors. Indirect jobs are jobs held outside the enterprise that receives immigrant investor capital. 

Point 2: EB-5-defined “indirect job creation” is not the same as “indirect jobs” as defined by economists.

The special EB-5 definition of “direct” and “indirect” can be found in the USCIS Policy Manual Vol. 6 Part G Chapter 2(D)5:

Direct jobs are those jobs that establish an employer-employee relationship between the new commercial enterprise and the persons it employs. Indirect jobs are those that are held outside of the new commercial enterprise but are created as a result of the new commercial enterprise. For example, indirect jobs can include, but are not limited to, those held by employees of the job-creating entity (when the job-creating entity is not the new commercial enterprise) as well as employees of producers of materials, equipment, or services used by the new commercial enterprise or job-creating entity. 

By contrast, in the context of economic analysis, direct jobs are related to the specific industry, indirect jobs support that industry, and induced jobs result from employee spending in the community.

USCIS training for EB-5 adjudicators uses the words “legally direct” vs “economically direct” and “legally indirect” vs “economically indirect” to emphasize the distinction between terms as used by EB-5 legal authorities vs. economic models. (See “USCIS EB-5 Training Materials (Pre-Nov 2019)” p. 82-85 and 153)

Point 3: The structural nature of EB-5-defined indirect job creation makes regional center and direct EB-5 non-interchangeable.

In AUG032016_01B7203 Matter of J-C-, AAO explains why a petition filed as a regional center investment could not practically qualify as a direct investment. Without regional center sponsorship, the investor would lose the chance to count economically indirect jobs (which were needed in her case to reach the total job requirement) and also could not count economically direct jobs (which were created by a JCE not wholly owned by the NCE, and thus still “legally indirect” for EB-5 purposes.)

The Petitioner maintains that she should be able to pursue her immigrant investor visa even without being part a regional center that formed the basis of her initial Form I-526 petition. Specifically, she states a lack of the Regional Center involvement does not impact her eligibility because the project continues and will create a sufficient number of direct jobs within the two-year period.

…As explained below, for the Petitioner to continue to pursue an EB-5 visa as an individual investor independent of the prior Regional Center, she would need to demonstrate both the requisite direct job creation and that the JCE is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NCE. The record does not currently reflect these conditions. Meeting these conditions would necessitate material changes and thus a new petition.

First, different rules apply to individual and regional center investments with respect to how qualifying jobs are tallied. The former Regional Center’s business plan included indirect job creation figures, which are not available to an individual investor without a regional center’s involvement. The Regional Center’s final business plan claimed 256.9 jobs, of which 202 were direct jobs. But, for the 24 foreign national investors to be able to proceed independently of the since-terminated Regional Center, the project(s) must create a minimum of 240 direct positions (10 per investor). The now defunct Regional Center’s business plan is short 38 direct jobs to support 24 independent foreign investors. As a result, the record does not establish that the Petitioner and her co-investors have met the direct job creation requirements.

Second, different rules apply to individual and regional center investments with respect to which entity must create the new jobs. For individual investors (not associated with a regional center), job creation must occur within a new commercial enterprise or within a wholly-owned subsidiary. The new commercial enterprise’s employees must provide “services or labor for the new commercial enterprise and [must receive] wages or other remuneration directly from the new commercial enterprise.” The Petitioner has not offered evidence that the JCE in this case is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NCE. Thus, the Petitioner has not shown that the job creation will occur within the NCE or that the employees of the JCE meet the regulatory definition of employees.  Proceeding without regional center involvement would require the NCE to absorb the JCE and make it a wholly-owned subsidiary. This activity would constitute a material change to the original petition.

For additional explanation and examples, see my post What is Material Change?