Sunday, February 20, 2011

U.S. government giving foreign investors the shaft

I've been doing a lot of thinking about EB-5 investors lately.
What happens when they get to the I-829 petition stage (removal of conditions) and there is insufficient information from the investment project that the investor's money was "fully invested" as required by federal regulations?
What happens to the investor if there is insufficient information from the investment project that it created at least 10 U.S. worker jobs as required by federal regulations?
What happens to the investor if the investment project fails? What happens to the investor if a regional center fails?
What happens if the investor is approved for removal of conditions but the investment project goes bankrupt?
Apparently neither Congress nor U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) gave much thought to this because it wasn't happening when the law was passed and the regulations were written. It's happening now. As everyone knows, the worst recession in our lifetimes delivered a roundhouse punch to the U.S. economy, and the recovery -- which is occurring in some parts of the United States -- is extremely slow.
It is in this economic environment that EB-5 investment projects are not doing well or failing. Insufficient jobs are being created to cover EB-5 investment project investors (minimum of 10 U.S. worker jobs each). EB-5 investors' money is being lost. And the consequences for the foreign investors -- who, in good faith, put their hard-earned money down and in many cases sent their families to the United States and their children to enroll in school -- are brutal and patently unfair and unjust.
When the investors have insufficient information and documentation to deliver to USCIS along with their I-829 petitions, the petitions are denied and the investor and family members -- if in the United States -- are put in deportation (removal) proceedings.
One can argue about the unfairness and injustice of this for quite awhile, but what we (immigration lawyers, Congress, USCIS, regional centers) need to focus on is how to protect the investors. These problems are not their fault and they should not be denied immigration benefits if their money is lost and/or an insuffucient number of U.S. worker jobs is created through no fault of their own.
It is my understanding, although records are incomplete, that USCIS is denying about one-third of the I-829 petitions filed with the California Service Center. This situation is not sustainable if the EB-5 Program is to survive.
News travels fast, and bad news travels faster. If I have a one in three chance of not obtaining a permanent "green card" if I invest through the EB-5 Program, my money is staying home.
There is a precedent in U.S. visa programs for situations where there are failures of eligibility requirements. On October 28, 2009, Congress passed the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act for FY2010. Thanks to Brent Renison's organizational skills and relentless lobbying, it contained help for family immigration beneficiaries.
"The Act contains two measures to address survivors’ issues: (1) self-petitioning rights for all widow(er)s of American citizens and their children contained in section 568(c) of the Act; and (2) certain survivors’ rights for family based, employment based, and other immigrants contained in section 568(d)," Renison wrote.
"The 'widow penalty', whereby spouses of U.S. citizens and their children faced automatic denial of a visa petition if the death of the spouse occurred prior to adjudication and prior to two years of marriage, effectively ended upon the passage of § 568(c). That section removes the two-year marriage requirement from the current law that permits widows and widowers ('widow(er)s') of U.S. citizens to file a self-petition for themselves and their children.
"By removing the two-year precondition to a current statutory program, Congress retained the widow(er) self-petition procedure including the requirement to show a good faith marriage. The law does not alter the rights of widow(er)s who were married two years or more, who have been able to self-petition since 1990.
"The deletion of the two-year marriage requirement will allow a widow(er) who was married less than two years at the time of the citizen spouse’s death to file a Form I-360 self-petition within two years of the law’s passage, or within two years of the spouse’s death, whichever is later."
Do you see any parallels by applying the above to the troubled EB-5 Program? First, when it was writing regulations for the EB-5 Program, USCIS plucked the "two-year rule" from the marriage fraud amendments without any consideration of its impact in the business world. That is the two-year conditional period during which the EB-5
investor must "fully invest" his or her money and create 10 U.S. worker jobs.
I am, of course, using the analogy of a deceased U.S. citizen spouse for my proposition that failed EB-5 investment projects or regional centers are akin to the death of a petitioning spouse.
If an EB-5 investment project fails and I, as a foreign investor, have fully invested my money in good faith, should I be able to self-petition for removal of conditions at the I-829 petition phase? I think it's only fair that I be allowed to do so.
What do you think? Should the federal government give these foreign investors the shaft when they cannot (through no fault of their own) meet all of the requirements for removal of conditions (to the permanent "green card"), or should there be a means to self-petition if an EB-5 investment project or regional center fails?