On Dec. 5, 2014, USCIS held a stakeholder conference call for individuals interested in the EB-5 Program. Approximately 50 stakeholders attended in person, while another approximately 500 stakeholders dialed in via telephone. The engagement was attended by León Rodríguez, director, USCIS; Nicholas Colucci, chief, Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO); Julia Harrison, deputy chief, IPO; Karin Karis, division chief, IPO; Lori Melton division chief, IPO; and John Lyons, division chief, IPO.
Mr. Rodríguez began the engagement by stating that the FY 2014 EB-5 filings represent over $5 billion in potential EB-5 investment funds. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Colucci both outlined the topics that were to be covered in the engagement and gave his remarks relating to recent developments in the EB-5 program. Specifically, Mr. Colucci emphasized the following statistics:
- the IPO received 11,000 I-526 Petitions in FY 2014, which represents a 72 percent increase from FY 2013;
- the IPO received 2,500 I-829 Petitions in FY 2014, which represents an 106 percent increase from FY 2013; and
- the IPO received 270 I-924 Applications in FY 2014, which represents a 34 percent increase from FY 2013.
As of today, there are 600 approved regional centers. Specific figures on I-526 and I-829 Petitions received, approved, denied and pending can be found here and here, respectively. With this unprecedented growth, Mr. Colucci stated that the IPO currently has 94 staff members and is expecting 10 additional staff members in the near future. Unfortunately, IPO has not been able to reduce processing times. Currently, USCIS is processing I-526 Petitions in approximately 14.7 months, I-829 Petitions in approximately 8.6 months and I-924 applications in approximately nine months. To obtain the most recent processing times, please click here.
Further, Mr. Colucci stated what the IPO’s operational plan would be for FY 2015, which includes improving customer service and outreach, maintaining high quality of services, and improving the program’s integrity. Interestingly, the IPO anticipates site visits to validate supporting docs, and regional center compliance reviews with new commercial and government data to assist. Mr. Colucci also reported that he expected the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) audit on the EB-5 Program to be final by summer 2015. The GAO received this request from Republican Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Lastly, USCIS has agreed to an engagement with the Department of Commerce to review and report on the EB-5 Program’s economic impact. This report is anticipated to be final in November 2015.
Below are a few of the highlights from stakeholder questions, IPO responses and the remaining portion of the stakeholder event:
Petition Processing: The IPO stated that while its general policy is to process petitions on a first-in first-out basis (FIFO), IPO gains efficiencies by grouping petitions by project and assigning those petitions to a team. Due to the transition to the DC location, the FIFO policy was a little off track in FY 2014; however, IPO expects that stakeholders will see “cleaner FIFO in the coming year.”
Deference – I-526 Petitions: The IPO confirmed that when I-526 petitions are filed through a regional center without an exemplar petition, IPO will treat the first I-526 petition as if it were an exemplar petition, and, upon approval, will give deference to its supporting documents for purposes of I-526 petitions based on investments in the same new commercial enterprise.
Common Occurrences in Source of Funds: The IPO explained that requests for evidence (RFE) are frequently issued to request evidence showing how the petitioner derived the funds that enabled him/her to acquire an asset that serves as collateral for a loan, which in turn is the immediate source of EB-5 investment funds. Specifically, the IPO states that a petitioner must show that they had sufficient income to purchase the asset that serves as the collateral. The IPO also noted that where the source of investment funds is based on accumulated income, they want supporting documents to include evidence of the accumulation of income over a period of at least five years.
Retrogression: USCIS is keenly aware of retrogression and the various impacts it may have on the EB-5 Program. Accordingly, USCIS has been actively working to develop policy guidance regarding I-526 Petition adjudication, the 2.5 year rule, whether job creation must occur within the two year period of conditional permanent residency, whether jobs created must be in existence at the time of I-829 Petition filing and what does “sustained” mean in the context of the I-829 Petition statute and regulations.
SEC and the IPO: In response to a question about the extent of SEC involvement in the program, IPO confirmed that SEC does not participate in the adjudication of cases, but that USCIS has a memorandum of understanding with SEC for “very limited review” in the event that securities fraud is a concern.
The Dec. 5, 2014, engagement was prolific and USCIS was responsive to a lot of the questions and concerns held by EB-5 stakeholders. These engagements are pinnacle to the continuing success of the EB-5 program and the IPO deserves applause listening to the stakeholders. All in all, the FY 2015 should be an exciting time for the EB-5 program.