On April 23, 2014, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) held an EB-5 Stakeholder teleconference for individuals interested in the EB-5 program. Nicolas Colucci, EB-5 Program Director, and Dr. Winslow Sargeant, Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, were present during the call. The purpose of the teleconference was to solicit feedback and input related to strategies for combating fraud and abuse, methods for improving current EB-5 regulations, and requirements relating to eligibility and filing.
Colucci emphasized that all the input received from the call will go toward both strengthening and clarifying the EB-5 program regulations. However, no case specific questions were answered, meaning this was purely a stakeholder input only meeting. According to Colucci, the stakeholder teleconference will lead to ensuring the integrity, consistency, efficiency, and predictability of the EB-5 program regulations.
A few highlights from the stakeholder input session included the following:
Premium Processing: Several stakeholders suggested implementing a premium processing fee to encourage predictability and efficiency in processing times. One stakeholder proposed that the fees be used to increase USCIS staff size.
I-924A Fee: This suggestion would introduce a filing fee for Form I-924A, which regional centers must file annually for continued eligibility, in order to both phase out inactive regional centers and increase USCIS funding.
I-924 Processing Times: Current processing times for regional center designation are leading to expiration of project documents that were submitted with I-924 petition. Therefore, I-924 processing times should be more predictable to combat this issue.
Regional Center Liability: One stakeholder, concerned with issues of fraud, suggested that regional centers should be liable for overseas broker misrepresentations.
Regional Center Database: There should be an addition to the USCIS website that provides up to date information on active and inactive regional centers, including approval/denial rates.
TEA Designations: Currently, projects may only obtain Targeted Employment Area (TEA) designations from state agencies; however, it was suggest that this should be expanded to allow Federal agencies to provide TEA designations as well.
Direct Investment Job Creation: Both direct investment and an investment through a regional center should be allowed to calculate indirect and induced jobs, rather than the current rule which only allows for regional centers to count indirect jobs.
USCIS and OCC: A stakeholder proposed that USCIS and Office of Chief Counsel work together to facilitate EB-5 procedures more efficiently.
Standalone Source of Funds: One suggestion would allow investors to file a standalone source of funds petition (apart from the project documents). This could allow for quicker processing and more predictable outcomes.
Processing Times and Release of Escrow: For a project that calls for escrow funds to be released after one to three I-526 approvals, USCIS should give priority (i.e. expedited processing) to a project that has at least 50 percent of the project funds currently in escrow to allow for the funds to be released in a reasonable time, rather than the current 10 to 20 month processing time.
Up-to-Date Information: It was requested that USCIS should release quarterly information on most common I-924 and I-526 Request for Evidence issues to help ensure future filing success.
Although the teleconference was limited to only viewpoints and suggestions from stakeholders, and no substantive case questions or issues were answered, the meeting appeared to be quite successful. Stakeholders are hopeful that Colucci will use the suggestions offered during the teleconference to strengthening the integrity, consistency, efficiency, and predictability of the EB-5 program regulations.