Summary of the February 3, 2016 IPO EB-5 Stakeholder Engagement -

Summary of the February 3, 2016 IPO EB-5 Stakeholder Engagement

Shaun Staller

On Feb. 3, 2016, the Immigrant Investor Program Office (“IPO”) of USCIS kicked off its EB-5 Program Stakeholder Engagement series for the new year. Presiding over the teleconference were: Nicholas Colucci, Chief of the IPO; Julia Harrison, Deputy Chief of the IPO; and Laurie McKenzie, the incoming Division Chief of Policy and Performance.

Anticipating what many stakeholders have been eager to hear, the IPO started the engagement by touting its efforts to expand its staff in response to increasingly larger petition backlogs. Specifically, as of today the IPO counts 113 staff members, with approved staffing levels for FY2016 authorizing a total of 171 employees over the coming months. To that end, much of the agency’s manpower in recent months has gone to recruiting, hiring, and—most importantly—training its new officers and adjudicators. While this has done little to relieve current backlogs in the short-term, the IPO hopes that a well-trained adjudicative body will work to reduce processing times for all EB-5 processes, including I-526, I-829, I-924 and I-924A.

As of Jan. 26, 2016, the IPO reports the following statistics regarding its current caseload and associated processing times:

 IPO’s EB-5 Program Statistics


Number of Cases Pending

Current Processing Time

Form I-526


15.5 months

Form I-829


15.7 months

Form I-924


7.9 months

Unsurprisingly, the inordinately lengthy processing times are attributed to the large influx of cases the IPO received in advance of the then-anticipated sunset dates for the EB-5 Regional Center Program, on Sept. 30 and the temporary extension through Dec. 11, 2015. The agency will be approaching these cases on the basis of first adjudicating those that have been pending the longest. Unfortunately for stakeholders, however, processing times are expected to increase further until such time that the IPO fully trains up and/or expands its workforce, which consists of many new hires.

While stating that a main prerogative of the IPO is to reduce backlogs and processing times, the agency also announced that it intends on increasing the frequency with which it requires an interview for I-829 applicants seeking to remove the conditions on their lawful permanent residency. Only time will tell if the office can work these two goals in a synergistic fashion. A bright side for stakeholders, however, lies in the fact that the regional center (and counsel) would be permitted to attend the interview in order to represent their interests that are germane to the I-829 process. The merit of this however is up for debate. As more I-829 petitions focus on the success of the project in creating jobs, it is unclear what information the USCIS seeks to garner from the investors themselves. It may be more beneficial to introduce a hearing before the administrative decision board for projects where questions related to job creation and sustainment of investment arise. 

Regional Centers

The IPO made clear that one of its primary areas of focus moving forward will be fraud detection and related issues within the EB-5 Regional Center Program. In the wake of his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee just the day before, Mr. Colucci was understandably emphatic about the office’s intended anti-fraud measures. Of particular note for regional centers and their management will be heightened scrutiny on how funds are deployed and expended, having referenced instances of commission payments to agents and recruiting trips to China using EB-5 capital. Indeed, in FY2014, the IPO issued 85 Notices of Intent to Terminate (“NOITs”) and ultimately terminated nine (9) regional centers. The speakers cited as the primary basis for terminating these regional centers a mere failure to file the required annual compliance report via Form I-924A; another salient basis for further probing into regional center activity was a failure to promote economic growth. Regional centers should monitor IPO updates in the coming months as they intend on establishing an audit program to ensure stringent compliance with the requirements of the EB-5 program; on-site visits/audits will undoubtedly experience an upward trend in the coming fiscal year.

The IPO also reported that it has witnessed an increase in similar sounding names or improper names (e.g., using “United States” or “federal” in the name) amongst regional centers. It also warned against improper use of the official Department of Homeland Security seal on regional center materials. In an effort to aid the public in navigating this terrain, the IPO has added ID numbers to each regional center listed on its website. Moreover, for those Regional Centers that have recently changed their names, the website will now show both the current and the former name of the entity.

New Division of Policy and Performance

Laurie McKenzie was introduced as the head of a new division which is focusing on policy and performance of the IPO. To that end, she discussed that her division was in charge of considering comments and revisions to the August 2015 draft memorandum. She is also going to be reviewing all the forms, including the Form I-526, Form I-924 and Form I-924A, for potential updates. Lastly, she noted that USCIS and the Department of State have prepared guidance in the event that the EB-5 program sunsets, but that it will not be issued unless sunset occurs.

Other Points of Interest

  • If an approved investor does not timely file his/her I-829 or they file timely but the I-829 is denied, USCIS will move to terminate the investor’s conditional permanent resident status. If the individual is currently in the United States, they will also issue a Notice to Appear and place the individual into removal proceedings.
  • USCIS/IPO will not discuss visa availability or the visa bulletin, as they fall under the purview of the Department of State.
  • It is permissible to fund an EB-5 investment in installments (i.e., “actively in the process of investing when filed”). It is also permissible to use the services of a private currency exchange, keeping in mind that lawful source of funds and path of funds must also be demonstrated (e.g., when an applicant’s home country has in place currency restrictions limiting their overseas remittance amounts); the IPO may require additional evidence from the petitioner to validate the legitimacy of funds if it has doubts.
  • Regional centers must notify the IPO within 30 days of any changes to its ownership or management. While it is acceptable to make this notification via the EB-5 mailbox, the IPO strongly suggests doing so by filing an amendment to the I-924, as such changes can comport additional modifications to the terms of the regional center’s operations.
  • Referencing the existence of EB-5 projects in Puerto Rico, the IPO confirmed that projects can be located in U.S. territories.
  • The next EB-5 Stakeholder Engagement will take place on April 25, 2016, both in person and via telephone.

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