Observations from the USCIS EB-5 Stakeholder meeting on May 1, 2012
Last week I had the pleasure of being asked to participate as a guest speaker at the IIUSA Conference on the EB5 Visa. I found the conference to be one of the most informative events of the year related to the EB5 program, especially considering it was attended by many of the most influential and informed people within the EB5 industry.
The following day we had the pleasure of attending the quarterly EB5 Stakeholder Engagement at the USCIS Service Center, another colleague of mine recently referred to this event as the “Un-engagement” because of the lack information that was actually shared by USCIS and the indifference they seemed to have toward what many people in the industry feel are very critical and pressing issues.
While many of the 400+ EB5 professionals that attended this meeting were expecting to hear specific answers and direction from the USCIS panelists we unfortunately were treated to a lot of song and dance.
The following are a few points of interest that we had the pleasure of hearing on May 1 at the greatly anticipated EB5 Stakeholders meeting :
■ The panel started discussions with an announcement that they would not allow questions about and would not comment on the “tenant occupancy” issue that is perhaps one of the biggest concerns at the moment in the world of EB5.
■ In the past the USCIS panel would prepare a presentation that would provide statistics and address specific questions presented in advance from various stakeholders. However on this day they not only did not provide full PowerPoint presentation but they did not address any of the stakeholder questions solicited and provided in advance of the meeting. This was surprising because at the beginning of the meeting they announced the panelists had prepared answers to some of the questions that had been submitted.
■ While the panel was made of several Senior Staffer, they said very little and Sasha Haskel (Director of the Service Center) pretty much ran the show.
■ USCIS acknowledged concerns with regard to processing times and stated certain goals they have to improve upon wait times but they really made no specific comments on how the current lengthy processing times would be improved upon and made no effort to streamline the communication process other than to direct all inquiries to be addressed to the “public engagement mailbox”.
■ The USCIS panel acknowledged there was great concern and desire among Stakeholders to improve communication between Adjudicators and Attorneys who represent the Petitioner but they had no specific plan or goals they could provide on how the Service Center planned to improve in this area.
■ USCIS provided the usual EB-5 statistics, and promised that stats will be published consistently in the future.
■ Sasha Haskel suggested that USCIS would issue a new draft of the EB-5 policy memo soon and Stakeholders should expect this to “be released in a few weeks,” and that the USCIS is not currently deferring to the draft memo or implementing the “material change” guidance previously included.
■ Haskel also confirmed that Regional Center applicants who were issued a “tenant occupancy” RFE will be contacted directly by the Service Center with a notice that their deadline for response will be extended. However, there was nothing said to indicate that would be any guidance related to the RFE.
During the meeting many members had the opportunity to ask direct questions to the Panel however very little “engagement” actually occurred. Some of the questions being responded to with vague answers and some even being met with literally no answer at all, just a blank stare and uncomfortable silence. Although I did not hear this myself, one other blogger from the EB5 community has reported that after the moderator had ended the meeting, the live microphone caught a private comment that was interpreted to be Sasha Haskell saying aside: “I think we’re doing fine, I don’t care what they say.”
With an opportunity such as the EB5 Program having such incredible potential of making a real impact on the economy as a whole and the ability to make a real difference to improve unemployment in so many areas of the country that need it the most, I am sad with the level of indifference that seems to be evident from the USCIS Service Center. The EB-5 Regional Center Pilot Program has so much promise, and but this meeting clearly pointed out that while there are serious issues at hand, there does not seem to be any clear course of action to correct what so many people feel can be improved with simple common sense and action. Unfortunately many of these issues will simply not just “fade away” by being ignored. With so many professionals in attendance at the previous days IIUSA conference that were sharing ideas and plans for proposals of projects that would create real jobs and significant economic impact, the Stakeholder “engagement” did not seem to bring us any closer to knowing the direction of the USCIS Service Center or if and when there would be any clear direction given to the increasing number of Petitioners who want to participate in this very promising federal immigration program.