On March 24, 2015, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report critical of former Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director and current DHS Assistant Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ handling of the EB5 immigrant investor visa program entitled “Investigation into Employee Complaints about Management of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ EB-5 Program. ”
One would be forgiven for thinking that a great problem with the EB5 program was revealed that needed immediate attention, from some politician press releases and reports from certain news services that seem to have only read these releases and not the 97 page report.
Not true. Here is what the report concludes:
Mr. Mayorkas’ actions in these matters created a perception within the EB-5 program that certain individuals had special access and would receive special consideration. It also lowered the morale of those involved.
No finding of special access or special consideration, only “created a perception” of this to some USCIS staff who reported that “lowered the morale of those involved.” I can already predict how John Oliver of Last Week Tonight will lampoon the government for these revelations.
To put this into context, former Director Mayorkas led the USCIS in 2013 when the DHS OIG issued an earlier report recommending that the agency and Congress make a number of changes to the way the EB5 program was handled. That report is available at the DHS OIG web site.
Mr. Mayorkas led the implementation of those changes, which resulted in the creation of the Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO) and major changes to the USCIS employees responsible for administering the program, including hiring new staff trained in securities law, fraud detection, and economics, and relocation of the office from California to Washington, which resulted in additional staff changes. Further, he brought in Nicholas Colucci, then Associate Director at FinCEN – the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which is the anti-money laundering regulator for US financial institutions – to serve as IPO Chief instead of promoting from within.
That feathers were ruffled for a small group of 15 miffed USCIS employees comes as no surprise. As the President of the American Immigration Lawyers said in response to the report:
But when have you ever heard of a large organization in which everyone wholeheartedly embraced changes to the way things have “always been done”? Mr. Mayorkas was responsible for leading an agency with some 15,000 employees in 200 offices across the world. The EB-5 program was just one of dozens of programs led by Mayorkas, with many of them troubled by some of the problems that have plagued EB-5. All too often its decisions failed to meet the “fundamental threshold for rational decisionmaking,” in the words of one federal judge overruling a decision denying a visa petition.
The EB5 program creates jobs for American workers, most often in areas targeted for rates of unemployment 150 percent or more above the national average. For every 10 fulltime-equivalent jobs for American citizens and lawful residents created, an EB5 immigrant makes a minimum $500,000 investment and sometimes more than twice that amount.
USCIS processing of EB-5 cases is slow, very slow. Slower than any other immigrant visa petition handled by the agency. While the USCIS processes most petitions within four to five months and even offers a 15-day premium processing service for many, EB-5 petitions on the average languish for three times as long or longer before an officer is assigned and begins work. And that is just the first step of the multiyear process to obtain permanent resident status, with an immigrant’s invested funds committed to and at risk in the American investment during the entire period, often five years. It is this slow agency processing that jeopardizes the EB-5 program more than anything else. Leadership to improve the speed at which USCIS staff work should be encouraged even if it also lowers morale.
Congressional action is needed. The pilot program portion of the EB-5 program expires September 30, 2015, as it has every three years since enactment. Every three years, Congress waits until the last minute and then votes to renew the program for another three years, sometimes taking action only after the program expires. Every three years this creates uncertainty for the American workers whose jobs are created by the EB-5 program, the American businesses that rely on the EB-5 immigrant investors for financing, and the immigrant investors themselves who rely on the EB-5 program to create a new home for their families in the United States. Congress needs to act quickly to renew the program and not jeopardize this important tool for American job creation.
The full text of the report is available at the DHS OIG web site.