EB-5 Commentary

EB-5 Regional Center Application Approval Times

Posted by Phil Cohen on Tue, Nov 24, 2015 @ 07:17 AM

One of the most common questions EB-5 professionals are asked from those thinking about starting an EB-5 regional center is, "How long will it take to get approved?"

The answer to this question is multi-layered.  The actual time it takes for USCIS to process an EB-5 regional center application is constantly changing.  Officially, the last-posted processing time on the USCIS website was as follows (I-924 is the official name for an initial regional center application package):

EB-5 Processing Times    Source: USCIS

What people really want to know, however, is how long it takes to get money in the door. There are several things to consider in order to get the real answer here:

  1. Do you have your team together?  This is a critical first step; it is important to understand who you need and how to choose your team.  This step should not be rushed.
  2. Do you have all the answers that your team will need?  Do you know what those things are?  Save yourself a ton of time and expense by finding good resource to help you understand what you'll need to get started.  This information goes beyond a normal start-up's requirements and waiting until you have your (often expensive) team together means that you will quickly come to rely on them for guidance on things that you might have easily discovered on your own at far less expense with a good resource.
  3. Is your deal good or great?  Talk to marketers early on to understand what will make a deal stand out in today's market.  Good deals can sell; great deals will sell faster.
  4. From there the package needs to be assembled and your team of experts need to do their thing.  Depending on your EB-5 regional center's complexity, expect anywhere from 1 to 2 months on average to get your package assembled and ready for submission.  Most experts will tell you that the clients take much longer.
  5. Once your package is submitted you can start marketing.  How will you market to foreign investors?  How big is your raise?  How saleable is your deal? The answers to these questions will have an impact on how quickly you can get the capital you are seeking.
  6. Once you win investors, each investor must submit their own petition to have themselves approved as an EB-5 investor.  This adds several months to the process (for each investor).
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Phil Cohen is the founder and President of Strategic Element, a company that focuses on developing regional centers, EB-5 business plans, economic impact reports, feasibility studies and custom 'direct' EB-5 projects for its clients (www.strategicelementconsulting.com). 

 

Tags: EB-5 center I-924, EB-5 Team, I-526, EB-5 Regional center processing times, I-924, EB-5 Regional Center, job creation

Heard About Flexible Adjudication to Save Time on EB-5 Projects?

Posted by Phil Cohen on Thu, Nov 05, 2015 @ 02:47 PM

As readers of this blog are likely aware by now, the rules flexible resized 600
and processes involved in the development of an EB-5 regional center application are relatively complex and often subject to interpretation by the lawyers involved and also by the adjudicators. 

As a result, in anything but the most straightforward of cases, an issue often arises around whether the question has been properly answered or whether certain rules apply in particular ways or in particular unusual circumstances.

When facing these kinds of unknowns, developers of EB-5 regional centers and EB-5 projects are often in the position of putting their best foot forward and hoping for the best when it comes to the adjudication of their I-924 application (or the project plan itself).  In these circumstances some project or regional center founders might find themselves in a dilemma in terms of whether to submit their business plans as "hypothetical" or as "actual”/"exemplar" plans.  The reason for the dilemma is that a hypothetical plan requires less detail to be approved but if one can have their plan approved as an exemplar plan then they can benefit from deference to this approval when their investors submit their I-526 petitions.

When unsure, there is the possibility of trying to get the maximum benefit of an exemplar approval without losing time should USCIS determine that there is insufficient information to approve the plan as an actual/exemplar.  The way to go about this is to make a written request when the project is being submitted that the plan be adjudicated as an actual/exemplar, but if this is not possible to adjudicate the plan as a hypothetical.

In most cases, this will not hold up the process and allow the entrepreneur to move ahead with the project as quickly as possible should they not be able to get actual/exemplar approval right away.  Saving the step of a re-submission can also save some of the costs involved in doing so.

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Phil Cohen is the founder and President of Strategic Element, a company that focuses on developing regional centers, EB-5 business plans, economic impact reports, feasibility studies and custom 'direct' EB-5 projects for its clients (www.strategicelementconsulting.com). 

 

 

Download Your Free Paper:  9 Things to Know  Before Going Down  The EB-5 Road

Tags: EB-5 center I-924, EB5 Regional center, EB-5 Project, EB-5 explained, EB-5 investors, I-526, applications, EB-5 regional centers, I-924, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center

Building, Buying or 'Renting' an EB-5 Regional Center: Which is Best?

Posted by Phil Cohen on Thu, Sep 10, 2015 @ 07:14 AM

starting an eb-5 regional centerWhen looking to start an EB-5 regional center one can launch a new regional center from scratch, make a deal to use an existing one or alternatively if the stars are aligned, one can look to purchase an existing regional center (likely one that is inactive).

The risks of starting a new regional center from scratch generally include the time and expense of doing so.  However, if starting a new regional center then the regional center's founder is assured of a clean slate and of having a regional center that exactly suits their needs.

On the other hand, if one wants to buy an already-existing regional center, one may do so if the right opportunity is available.  The right opportunity should generally mean that the regional center in question does not have a tarnished reputation, that they are approved for the industries in which the project would like to operate and that the regional center is approved for the appropriate geographic area of focus.  It is worth noting that the recent policy memo issued by USCIS now states that geographic area can be amended at the I-526 stage (when the investor submits their petition), although this means that investors will be left uncertain as to whether this might actually happen until their application is adjudicated and the details of this policy change remain unclear. Another important note regarding buying a regional center is that while the entity itself can be purchased, a formal amendment would be required to allow the new owners to operate the regional center in question.

If one wants to start an EB-5 regional center by purchasing an already-existing entity, they should look first for the right territory (or a regional center that borders on the territory to which they would like to expand).  One way that this can be done is to research approved EB-5 regional centers on the USCIS website.  The website will indicate in what state that EB-5 regional center is operating.

Alternatively, to determine the specific geographic area and the industries of focus, one approach is to make contact with the regional center itself.  As a first step, one might explore the prospective regional center's website (if there is one) to see if they have posted their initial approval letter, which will outline the geographic area of focus and the approved industries. In the event that any changes to geographic area of focus or approved industries would be required in advance of submitting any I-526s, the regional center would need to file an amendment application with USCIS.  Filing an amendment may be a little simpler than filing for a new regional center, although the time it takes USCIS to approve an amendment may be just as long as filing for the regional center in the first place.

If a prospective EB-5 regional center has been identified, the next step would be to contact the regional center to discuss with them how active they are and whether they might be interested in selling the entity.

The biggest challenge overall in purchasing a regional center is assessing the reputation of the regional center itself and whether they have had any issues in relation to a bad history with investors or a past reputation that was somehow negative.  If one has the resources to do this, purchasing a pre-existing regional center may be a viable alternative that can save potentially months of time that it might otherwise take to develop and file a properly composed EB-5 regional center I-924 application.

In another blog article I discuss the notion of using an existing regional center as a sponsor of a project, sometimes called 'renting' a regional center.

 

 

 

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Phil Cohen is the founder and President of Strategic Element, a company that focuses on developing regional centers, EB-5 business plans, economic impact reports, feasibility studies and custom 'direct' EB-5 projects for its clients (www.strategicelementconsulting.com). 

 

 

 

Download Your Free Paper:  9 Things to Know  Before Going Down  The EB-5 Road

Tags: amendment application, EB-5 center I-924, EB-5 Regional Center Application Cost, EB5 Regional center, regional center EB5, EB-5 explained, EB-5 investors, USCIS, EB-5 regional centers, EB-5 Regional center processing times, I-924, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center, What is EB-5?, EB5

See our Latest Article in EB5Investors Magazine

Posted by Phil Cohen on Mon, Aug 10, 2015 @ 07:10 AM

See our latest EB-5 article in EB5Investors magazine.  The article discusses tips on avoiding and dealing with RFEs: www.eb5investors.com.

 

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Phil Cohen is the founder and President of Strategic Element, a company that focuses on developing regional centers, EB-5 business plans, economic impact reports, feasibility studies and custom 'direct' EB-5 projects for its clients (www.strategicelementconsulting.com). 

Tags: amendment application, EB-5 investors, I-526, applications, I-924, EB-5, EB-5 Business plan

The Importance of Feasibility Studies for EB-5 Projects

Posted by Phil Cohen on Tue, Jul 07, 2015 @ 02:44 PM

Feasibility studies are becoming more and more commonplace in the EB-5 world to prove the feasibility and plausibility of a given EB-5 regional center project.  This isEB5 regional center application resized 600 especially true for larger projects but also for projects where feasibility studies are common, such as in the hotel business, but it is becoming more common for almost any EB-5 project.

When things become common in EB-5, the community often starts to treat them as (essentially) expected by USCIS in order to be safe. Indeed, when it comes to increasing the professionalism of what is being presented for an EB-5 project, USCIS seems to follow suit as often as not. Indeed, some recent RFEs have asked for formal feasibility studies.

Using a feasibility study developed by a reputable source is the best form of market, competitive and overall plausibility analysis for the project in question, minimizing any reason for USCIS to respond with an RFE for these particular points. In our business we consider it a best practice and strongly recommend that our clients make the investment in these analysis reports where it is reasonable to do so.

Always seek to maximize your odds of success the first time when it comes to starting an EB-5 regional center and/or project application.  Feasibility studies can help to save processing time and money in the long run and are adding an extra layer of safety for those looking to get project approvals before the upcoming September 30, 2015 sunset (and expected renewal) date for the EB-5 program, and looking to stay ahead of the possibility of needing to comply with proposed changes to the program upon renewal that would result from the Grassley-Leahy bill, should it be passed in its current form.  Of course, the added overall benefit is providing an extra element of credibility to your investors.

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Phil Cohen is the founder and President of Strategic Element, a company that focuses on developing regional centers, EB-5 business plans, economic impact reports, feasibility studies and custom 'direct' EB-5 projects for its clients (www.strategicelementconsulting.com). 

Download Your Free Paper:  9 Things to Know  Before Going Down  The EB-5 Road

Tags: EB-5 center I-924, EB-5 Regional Center Application Cost, EB5 Regional center, regional center EB5, EB-5 Team, regional center EB-5, hotel, EB-5 explained, EB-5 Regional center processing times, I-924, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center, What is EB-5?

Guest Expenditures in EB-5: A Double-edged Sword

Posted by Phil Cohen on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 @ 06:55 AM

On the February 26, 2014 stakeholder’s call EB-5 Investmentwith USCIS they clarified when indirect job creation could be attributed to guest expenditures.  This is good news primarily because guest expenditures were never allowed to be used before.  More specifically, USCIS stated that guest expenditures could be counted when a project:

  • is serving an unmet demand in its area
  • is providing a differentiated product (i.e. a
    product that is not otherwise available in the area) targeted to a specific
    market segment
  • is being developed in response to
    (and presumably to serve traffic resulting from) a new development in the community

On the surface, this appeared to be good news for the EB-5 community, as guest expenditures can have a significant impact on indirect job creation figures.

The Downside

There is a downside, however.  As many have documented in the case of tenant
occupancy, it often proved to be very difficult to know exactly how USCIS would interpret various attempts to meet the standards, given that they are not very specific.  With approval times as long as they are today, the unknown is whether or not USCIS would accept given justifications on a case-by-case basis. Since guest expenditures could arguably have an impact on job creation and therefore the amount of money that an EB-5 project could raise from EB-5 investors, this unknown could have an impact on the capital stack and project timing if there is a delay or considerable back-and-forth in dealing with USCIS.  

To the extent that a project can afford the time or can otherwise be flexible in terms of their capital stack, attempting to use guest expenditures can have a significant upside.  Most, however, would find that it would be very challenging to have to change an anticipated capital stack according to whether or not the use of guest expenditures would be allowed.

Over time, it is anticipated that more clarity will come both from USCIS in terms of policy memoranda and from the EB-5 community as we see what is accepted and what is not and the  reasons for those decisions.  In the meantime, however, many have seen significant pushback from USCIS when they have attempted to use guest expenditure.

Investors would also do well to try to recognize when guest expenditures are part of the plan, especially in a case where a hypothetical plan was submitted.  Until there is more clarity on what will be acceptable in the eyes of USCIS, guest expenditures can add some additional potential risk or delay in relation to the investor's approval at the I-526 stage.

 

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Phil Cohen is the founder and President of Strategic Element, a company that focuses on developing regional centers, EB-5 business plans, economic impact reports, feasibility studies and custom 'direct' EB-5 projects for its clients (www.strategicelementconsulting.com). 

Tags: EB-5 center I-924, capital raise, EB-5 Regional Center Application Cost, EB5 capital, EB-5 investors, applications, USCIS, tenant occupancy, I-924, EB-5, EB-5 Regional Center, job creation

EB-5 Processing Times Changing Again

Posted by Phil Cohen on Wed, Jan 28, 2015 @ 07:59 AM

EB-5 Processing timesIt has been just 7 weeks since the December 5th USCIS Stakeholder call and processing times are on the move again.  It is interesting to note that as of January 20th, the posted processing times on the USCIS website have improved (just barely) for I-526 processing, and have increased significantly for both I-924 and I-829 processing.

Here are the latest statistics:

  • I-526 processing: 13.8 months, down from the 14.3 months announced on the call
  • I-829 processing: 10.5 months, up considerably from the 6.8 months announced on the call
  • I-924 processing: 10.3 months, up from the 8.5 months announced on the call

Overall the increase in processing times does not bode well for the industry.  On the bright side, however, those who are already marketing to investors or who are launching ‘direct’ projects are seeing a slight improvement of about 2 weeks in processing time, which is obviously helpful in terms of getting money on the door to move projects forward.

USCIS wants to improve these times and we hope that they will, but for those starting EB-5 projects, they would be well advised to plan for the worst and expect these times to get longer before they start improving.  Bridge financing or later project starts are the best ways to plan for these delays.  And remember that bridge financing is a great thing when it comes to claiming indirect job creation if investment dollars were used as the economic model input.  If that financing is to be replaced by EB-5 money and is already being deployed, it’s like creating jobs before the investors are fully signed up.

We hope to be bringing better news next time around!

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Phil Cohen is the founder and President of Strategic Element, a company that focuses on developing regional centers, EB-5 business plans, economic impact reports, feasibility studies and custom 'direct' EB-5 projects for its clients (www.strategicelementconsulting.com). 

 

Tags: EB-5 center I-924, EB5 capital, I-829, I-526, USCIS, EB-5 regional centers, I-924, EB-5

Good News From USCIS Regarding EB-5 RFE Analysis (and Prevention)

Posted by Phil Cohen on Wed, Jan 14, 2015 @ 07:10 AM

analysis resized 600Good news! On the USCIS call engagement of December 5th, 2014, USCIS indicated that they will try and analyze EB-5 project and regional center RFE trends in order to narrow down some of the “pain points” and educate the community on those issues.

When this initiative is carried out we think this will have the preventative effect of reducing the number of RFEs and will enhance the EB-5 program overall, including clarity regarding the development of Business Plans, beyond the somewhat dated (and not always relevant) Matter of Ho guidance. This will give additional comfort to EB-5 investors and the EB-5 community overall as they start on the development of EB-5 initiatives and business plans.

 

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Phil Cohen is the founder and President of Strategic Element, a company that focuses on developing regional centers, EB-5 business plans, economic impact reports, feasibility studies and custom 'direct' EB-5 projects for its clients (www.strategicelementconsulting.com). 

 

Tags: EB-5 Project, EB-5 investors, I-526, USCIS, EB-5 regional centers, I-924, EB-5, EB-5 Business plan

Unofficial Dec. 5 USCIS EB-5 Stakeholder Call Transcript Available

Posted by Phil Cohen on Tue, Dec 16, 2014 @ 12:17 PM

eb 5 stakeholders call resized 600USCIS December 5th, 2014 Stakeholder Call Unofficial Transcript Notes

From Strategic Element, your source for EB-5 Business Plans

 

Please Note:

  • Strategic Element does not make any representation or warranties about the accuracy of this transcription or any of the statements or claims represented therein.
  • Strategic Element does not have permission to represent any of the names of any of the participants in the call so aside from USCIS employees, the names are not mentioned in the transcript that follows.  If you were one of the attendees who asked a question represented herein and you would like it attributed to you, please contact us at [email protected].  We will only include names and company names at your request.
  • Strategic Element did not include questions that were not answered or sufficiently addressed by USCIS on the call, and omitted any irrelevant comments.
  • Strategic Element attempted to transcribe the call as closely as possible to what was said by each speaker, including grammatical inaccuracies, but some comments, statements and/or questions were not audible.

 

Mariela Melero: I want to thank every single one of you for joining us today; I want to thank those you that are here but also those that are joining us telephonically. My name is Mariela Melero  and I am the Associate Director of USCIS Customer Service and Public Engagement. Our engagement today, my distinguished colleagues and friends from the immigrant investor program office, Nicholas Colucci who is the Chief of the Immigrant Investor Program Office and Julia Harrison, who is the Deputy Chief of the Immigrant Investor Program Office. In addition, we are extremely honored to have with us today USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez who will be addressing us shortly.

 

Mariela Melero went on to state that the members of the media who were joining them in the room or over the phone could contact the USCIS at 202-272-1200 for additional information.

 

I would also like to take just one minute to go over today’s agenda. The first thing that we are going to have is the opportunity, as I just mentioned a second ago, to hear from our  Director. Following the Director’s remarks, we will hear from both Nick and Julia, who will highlight various EB-5 program updates and several upcoming initiatives. After their presentations, we will move fairly quickly into a question and answer session with them and with some of our SMEs that are here as well to allow amole time to address every single one of your questions. Now we will turn the session over to our Director Leon Rodriguez.

 

Leon Rodriguez:

 

Good afternoon, it’s great to see everybody. This afternoon was supposed to be my introduction to you and your introduction to me. What has been very interesting just about the last ten minutes is that in all the stakeholder gatherings that I’ve had since becoming USCIS’s Director five months ago, this is the one in which I knew the most people. So as I worked the room when I first walked in I actually had a number of prior interactions, dealings, relationships with so many of you in this room and one in particular [INAUDIBLE] my days as the County Solicitor Montgomery County Marilyn really reminded me of a critical theme for the discussion we are going to have today and really for my attitudes and perspectives of the EB-5 program.

 

When I was County Solicitor, a big part of our role was supporting the County Office of Economic Development, supporting the County Executive as he travelled all over the world to stimulate foreign investment in Montgomery County, from China, from Korea, from Israel, from all over really seeking those business relationships with other parts of the world and they have formed in me the seeds of a belief that this is a program that is very critical to the economic development of our communities because it can mean investment, it can mean jobs if you look at the EB-5 program just in the last year talking about 5.5 billion dollars in potential investment in our communities; so I really have the desire to not merely be an operator of the EB-5 program, not merely a manager of the EB-5 program but really to be an enthusiast of the EB-5 program, to really champion the potential that it represents for our communities in the United States, subject of course to the fact that we have to do our jobs with respect to national security, with respect to the integrity of the program. So my commitment to you is to find that appropriate balance in the program between making sure that we realize the full potential of this program with full intent that the Congress had when it passed this program, but really managing it in the most efficient and appropriate way that we can with respect to the program.

 

Now one of the things that I really want to accomplish this afternoon, unfortunately I am not going to be able to stay here for the entire time, is really take the advantage of sitting in this environment to hear the kinds of things that we are going to talk about, the kinds of concerns that you may be raising; I look forward to a de-briefing after because I think it’s you who are really going to present to us the critical perspectives on how this program can run best, how it can run better.

 

I do think that the decision that we made to bring the program here in Washington, its process by the way not a complete process just yet, represents the right way to treat this critical program and so I’m gratified to see that our goals to further staff up the program, that those goals are moving closer and closer to  fruition; I actually had the opportunity to be a little cheeky with one of you and to say well what should I talk about and you said well how about you talk about that fourteen month wait and that’s why it’s critical to point out that we are still building the program, we are still getting it up its full level of staffing and so really hopeful that once we reach that full level of staffing that those waits will become a thing of the past. We know that that’s among the many issues that we need to work on – that’s a critical one that we do need to work on. So I look to hearing feedback, exactly like that feedback, because it gives us the opportunity to do better; it gives me the opportunity to as the new Director to really immerse myself in this really critical program.

 

By the way, I would take a close look at the president’s executive action; there are a couple of things in there – I think the business visa stuff is stuff that you were following all along but there are a couple of entrepreneur programs and investor programs that I think are going to be important to your community; so I would commend you attention to those programs as well and that signals my moment to be quiet and start listening. So I just want to thank you all for being here today and I look forward to a long and fruitful relationship. Thank you.

 

[Nicholas Colucci] :

 

Thank you Director. Good afternoon everybody; it’s really nice to see you all here in person. We’ve done three of these now and they’ve all been a few of sitting in a speaker room talking  to 500-600 people  so it’s nice to get some audience reaction. The 50 or so of you in this room are joined by about 500 individuals on the phone line; it includes are colleagues within IPO as well as the administrative appeals office and other colleagues across the agency.

 

Before we begin, I’d like to introduce just a few members of the IPO staff they are going to join me today in the stakeholder engagement; you met Julia, the Deputy Chief of the program. We have our three division chiefs here as well [INAUDIBLE NAME]  and Lori Melton are here. They are division chiefs over the adjudicators and then John Lion is our chief of the economists or leads the economist group.

 

I’m going to start today by looking at fiscal year fourteen which just by way of background for us ran October 1st, 2013 to September 30th of 2014. I’m sure you will all agree that it was a particularly noteworthy year for the EB-5 program, just with respect to the administration of the program to the program side some of the things that the Director talked about in terms of building the program and getting staffing together. We have excelled in our new space; we moved about a month and a half ago and it’s much more conducive to sort of our work flow needs, as well as our file storage needs; we’re happy to have that. I’m also happy to inform you that as of September 30th, all of the forms have now been transitioned to the immigrant investor program office. As you will recall, the 829 was being worked at the California service center that is since been transitioned.

 

You know one of the things that was critical throughout the year was, as the Director mentioned, was really building our staff and we were able to really recruit train and hire, not necessarily in that order, but recruit, hire and train really capable and motivated staff. I can’t speak enough of their talents to adjudicate these applications and petitions. At the end of the fiscal year 14’, we had 83 individuals on board with the program and that’s specific to IPO. With respect to our fraud detection and national security officers who support the program, thirteen of them were on board at the end of fiscal year 14’, and with respect to chief council we had eleven attorneys on board; again these groups provide direct support to the program. Today IPO stands at 94 strong and we are working to bring on board ten employees on board in the next few weeks and we do enjoy that same level of support that I’ve talked about from chief council and FDNS.

 

Now to turn to the program itself, as you know, the program just experienced really unprecedented growth in fiscal year 14’. The number of approved regional centers at the end of the fiscal year neared 600. This is an increase of nearly 230 from the end of fiscal year 13’; so a significant increase year over year. We received nearly 11,000 immigrant investor petitions throughout the fiscal year. These ranged a great number of projects and a wide variety of industries; things from huge infrastructure projects, commercial construction, mining operations, the entertainment industry; these types of projects really do run the gamut of the American economy.

 

Just another interesting statistic, the 11,000 petitions that we received, equalled greater than one quarter of the petitions that we’ve received since the program began in 1990. So again just  a remarkable year; and as a result, I know as you are all aware, for the first time the program used an allocation of approximately 10,000 visas which became unavailable as we closed out the fiscal year. As you also know, those visas are now available once again. One thing I want to mention about the fiscal year 14’, is we undertook a fairly comprehensive review of the regional center population to determine continued eligibility to the review of  the I-924 As that were submitted by the all of the active regional centers at the end of fiscal year 13’. As a result of this review, we terminated seven regional centers for failing to file the I-924A. We also issued 28 notices of intent to terminate to regional centers that no longer served to promote economic growth. We’re currently the reviewing the responses to some of those and we’ll take any appropriate final actions in the coming months. While we are on the topic of the 924A, some of you mayors have received on Wednesday an alert that went out just reminding those regional centers that were active and had an active designation at the end of fiscal year 14’, that the I-924A is due on Dec 29th. So please try to get those in by that day if you haven’t already. And then finally on the 924A, in preparation of this engagement we received a number of questions and more of the questions, actually more of the comments, asked us to revise the 924A we organize it and just to let you know the 924, the regional center application and the I-924A are currently open for public comment. We have made revisions to both of those forms. Any event you don’t know; if you have any suggestions on how we can improve the forms please do visit the [INAUDIBLE]  register and leave a comment. For those of you in the room we have the site on a slide in the room; for those of you on the telephone, we’re going to provide that after the call.

 

Before we begin a look at 15’, I just want to take a few more minutes to again look at the growth of the program in 14’. As I mentioned, we received, again 11,000 petitions. We also received, and as the Director mentioned, that represents nearly 5.5 billion dollars of potential investment in the United States economy. We also received 270 924s either applications or amendments to regional centers and more 2500 petitions to remove conditions. Let me just go over those again; I know those of you on the phone are probably writing things down – Nearly 11,000 petitions, 270 applications or amendments to regional centers and more than 2500 petitions to remove conditions.

 

Just to give you an idea of the year over year growth in each of those form charts, form fiscal year 13’ to 14’, that’s a 72% growth in the I-526, again greater than 70%. For the I-924, it’s a  34% growth and then finally 829 106%. We do a number of briefings on the EB-5 program and one of the things we emphasize is the growth of the program and I think one of the most telling statistic is the one that we use when we compare what we have now compared to just 2007 which was just a short time ago. In 2007 we had eleven active regional centers. We received fewer than 800 immigrant investor petitions, the 526s and received fewer than 200 of the 829s. So again that just speaks to the explosive growth of the program.

 

Just to talk a little bit about, very quickly about the processing time and I’ll address it in a few minutes as well. As the Director said, our 526 processing time stands at 14.3 months at the end of the fiscal year. On the 829s we’re at 6.8 months and then finally for the 924 8.5 months and those processing times are available on our website.

 

Now to look at fiscal year 15’, one of the things we did this year as a staff is we put together an operational plan that is going to help guide our work, measure our progress because as you know what gets measured, gets done and then finally keep our collective eye on the ball; we don’t want to get distracted by shiny objects; so, we want to make sure we have this plan to guide our work. We wanted to do this so that we can communicate to all of our stakeholders within the agency, the department, members of congress and all of you some of the things that are important to us and we’re trying to get down in fiscal year 15’. Two of our priorities are internally focused: maintaining a strong infrastructure and assuring that we continue to develop our workforce and I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing them today; I would know however that with respect to both of those, we want to continue to attract, retain and develop top talent and this has become increasingly important as the complexity and the size of the projects we’re seeing continue to increase. In terms of what I’ll call the initiatives a little bit more operational in nature, we’re going to focus on three primary areas: improving customer service and outreach, providing high quality services and strengthening program integrity. I’m going to spend a few minutes discussing a component or two under each one of these areas.

 

For customer service and outreach we’re going to continue to hold quarterly stakeholder engagements and provide timely responses to the 1000s of inquiries we receive each year. Just by way of background, we set up a customer service branch April of this year and that branch has responded to about 5000 inquiries in that time; so that just speaks to the number of inquiries that the program receives. You know one of the benefits of processing times going down, that number is going to go down as well too. We are going to expand the number of engagements and Julia is going to talk a little bit about some of those in a few minutes; however, one of the new [INAUDIBLE], we’re going do is going to have IPO personnel to travel out to the field to get to know some of our federal and local partners, help them better understand the program which is absolutely critical with a program of this size and scope and then also to establish those relationships.

 

While we are in the area, we do plan to hold outreach events; so, we’ll make everyone aware when we do that. To move to high quality services, this is processing times, we’re going to try to get those forms in processing times while maintaining the high level of quality in all of our adjudications and communications. It’s going to be challenging, I mean honestly, with the processing time for the 526 of 14 months, we’ve got our work ahead of us but we’re going to make every effort to achieve the goal. We just came off of a month where we challenged the entire office, including me, we wanted to get a 1000 actions done in the month of November and we finished the month with a 1048; so, we actually hit that goal and we’re excited about it.

 

Just in terms of the staff that we have working the petitions and applications, we currently have 40 non-supervised re-adjudicators who work with staff, we have four who work the forms and applications, we have four more who are going to be coming on board and we have seventeen non-supervised re-Economists. We had our last group of adjudicators come on between the middle of September and the middle of October and I’m happy to report they’ve already completed training and done mentoring and they’re actively contributing to the program in a huge way so we’re very pleased with the progress of that group and the progress of the direction that we’re going and we expect to see processing times on the 526 come down in the near future.

 

One of the other things with respect to providing high quality services is to issue well-timed guidance and one example of that is guidance on the area of retrogression. We’re certainly aware of the impact that visa retrogression may have on the EB-5 program and we’re working internally to prepare policy guidance on several related issues. We did receive, prior to this engagement, a number of questions on retrogression and we’re going to respond to those later in the session.

 

And finally the last thing I want to talk about in terms of our three operational goals is further strengthen the program integrity in the coming year. As you know program integrity is something that is vital to all of us. For us it continues to be a top priority to collaborate with those law enforcement and regulatory organizations to help prevent fraud and develop new ways to further enhance confidence in the program.

 

In the year ahead, we plan to expand site visits both domestically and abroad to validate supporting documentation, we expect to expand our regional center to comply interviews, that’s the review of 924A, bringing in new commercial and government data sets to assist. Our FDNS team, fraud detection and national security team, is going to continue to expand in size and receive additional training on combating money laundering, fraud and international banking crime to enhance their knowledge and capabilities. They have acquired new software tools to assist them in building cases and they’re going to continue to build their tool box. You know, as you know, maintaining program integrity is not something just that we can do; we have to all work together. You’re going to be in a position to encounter incidences of fraud, whether it’s through prospective partner, potential investor or just something you see on the internet. I urge you to contact us and let us know so that we can work with our partners to investigate the activity.

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