The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has begun issuing I-526 approvals to EB-5 visa applicants who invested in American Life Regional Center’s Marriott Hotel project in Los Angeles. The issuance of these approvals has been met with relief from those involved with the EB-5 visa program and could indicate that the USCIS has made substantive changes in the adjudication process of EB-5 visas.
The EB-5 visa program enables foreign investors to become permanent United States residents if they make an investment of $500,000 or $1 million in a U.S. business that leads to the creation of 10 U.S. jobs. The program has garnered increased interest in recent years. It has been on pace to generate over $2 billion in investment and create over 40,000 American jobs this fiscal year, according to the Association to Invest in the USA.
However, there have been concerns that the EB-5 visa program’s effectiveness has been hampered by the USCIS, which administers the program. At issue has been the methodology used for proving that EB-5 investments lead to the creation of the required number of American jobs. Recently, the USCIS seemed to have invalidated the “tenant occupancy” job creation model that, until then, had been accepted. The tenant occupancy methodology allows jobs created by tenants under certain leases, such as hotel management agreements, to count towards EB-5 job creation requirements.
The USCIS began submitting Requests for Evidence (RFEs) to EB-5 applicants who invested in projects that relied on the tenant occupancy model even though the USCIS had accepted such methodologies for over 15 years. These Requests for Evidence bring EB-5 cases to a standstill and indicate that USCIS has an issue with an aspect of the application.
For example, Requests for Evidence were sent to those who had invested in a $172 million Marriot Hotel project in downtown Los Angeles, which threatened to halt the project. According to economic studies, the 23 story Marriot Hotel project will help create 3,400 U.S. jobs and will also help alleviate a hotel room shortage in the busy downtown district of Los Angeles.
“Los Angeles suffers from a shortage of hotel rooms,” wrote Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villarigosa in a draft letter to the USCIS. “This is an important employment generating project for the City of Los Angeles.”
Now just last week, the USCIS began approving I-526 petitions from EB-5 investors of the Marriott Hotel project. The I-526 Petition is a crucial part of the EB-5 visa application process which demonstrates that the applicant has invested in a viable project that is in accordance with program requirements.
“This approval is great news for everyone involved in the EB-5 program. It is a strong indication that the USCIS has reached a conclusion on tenant occupancy and job creation issues,” states EB-5 Attorney David Hirson. “It means that other EB-5 projects and even pending Regional Center designations should start to have final adjudication, and hopefully approvals, in the near future.”