I share the following comments after spending two days in Washington, DC attending the Congressional EB-5 hearing and the EB-5 Stakeholders Meeting, as well as listening to the meeting with USCIS Director Mayorkas:
Premium processingis unlikely to be implemented in the very near future. My best estimate is the first half of calendar year 2012, and maybe the first quarter. It will likely be limited to regional center designation applications and exemplar I-526 (project pre-approval) petitions. There is a possibility that individual I-526 investor petitions will be eligible for premium processing at a later date. In the meantime, regional centers and investors should file petitions in the normal fashion. If premium processing is implemented, almost certainly it will apply to pending petitions.
There appears to be agreement between Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives for a long term and hopefully permanent extension of the regional center pilot program. The biggest area of disagreement may be whether, as part of the extension, Congress implements a new EB-6 program for venture capital financing of startup ventures in the U.S. If so, there is some indication that at least the Republicans in the House of Representatives may want to take the visa numbers for the EB-6 program out of the EB-5 quota. EB-5 advocates will be arguing against any attempt to reduce EB-5 numbers.
USCIS has already hired three new business analysts and is in the process of hiring one or more economists. Hiring and training these individuals will be a critical part of implementing premium processing and implementing the proposed Decision Board, which would allow for in-person or telephonic discussions between regional centers and CIS prior to decisions on regional center designations and project pre-approvals.
Even without premium processing, regional center designation applications and project pre-approval applications will likely be processed more promptly than the present 8 to 10 months. Now that USCIS has mostly completed the November 2010 filings, and since there were far fewer filings in the months following November 2010, processing times should improve. It is not as clear that processing times will improve on the investors’ I-526 petitions.
USCIS will not commit to a formal position on three legal issues “for several weeks” and likely will include most or all of the positions in a new policy memorandum. The three issues are:
- Deference to safe designation letters with respect to geographical areas of TEAs;
- EB-5 money used to pay down bridge financing;
- Definition of “material change” for purposes of condition removal and what must be done in the event of a material change.
- It appears likely that CIS will agree that it should defer to state designation of geographical areas of TEAs and that EB-5 money can be used to pay down bridge financing. Until issuance of a policy memorandum, there are indications that CIS adjudications on these issues have been more favorable since we had our meeting with Director Mayorkas on August 10. The material change issue will likely be the subject of a separate USCIS stakeholders engagement meeting prior to issuance of any memorandum.
Following our August 10 meeting, it appears that USCIS is rethinking its policy on exemplar. Hopefully, the policy memorandum will include a commitment that, if the documentation regarding the regional center and the project in the investor’s I-526 petition is identical with the exemplar 526, CIS will be bound by the approval of the exemplar. Unless and until that happens, there does not appear to be any good reason for waiting the necessary time for approval of the exemplar 526 if it will be filed independently of a regional center designation application. If it will be filed concurrently with a regional center designation application, since the processing time will be the same as the regional center designation processing time, it may be sensible to continue filing the exemplar 526 for the first project.