DHS OIG Report on EB-5 Regional Center Program Stirs Controversy
The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released a controversial new report on the EB-5 regional center program that includes four recommendations.
OIG report highlights. As background, Congress enacted the employment-based fifth preference (EB-5) green card category in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy through direct job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. Congress added a regional center pilot program to the EB-5 category in 1992 to pool investor money in a defined industry and geographic area to create both direct and indirect jobs.
An EB-5 investor must invest $500,000 if his or her investment is in a high unemployment area or a rural area. Otherwise the investor must invest $1 million. Each foreign investor must create or preserve at least 10 full-time jobs for qualifying U.S. workers within 2 years.
The OIG report notes several conditions that prevent U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from administering and managing the EB-5 regional center program effectively. First, the laws and regulations governing the program do not give USCIS authority to deny or terminate a regional center's participation based on fraud or national security concerns; the program extends beyond the current USCIS mission. Second, USCIS is unable to demonstrate the benefits of foreign investment in the U.S. economy.
Additionally, the report notes, USCIS has difficulty ensuring the integrity of the regional center program. USCIS does not always ensure that regional centers meet all program eligibility requirements, and USCIS officials differently interpret and apply regulations and policies. Also, USCIS did not always document its decisions and responses to inquiries, making the program vulnerable to perceptions about internal and external influences.
As a result, the report states, USCIS is limited in its ability to prevent fraud and national security threats and cannot demonstrate that the program is improving the U.S. economy and creating jobs for U.S. citizens, as intended by Congress.
OIG recommends that USCIS: (1) update and clarify its regulations; (2) develop memoranda of understanding with the Departments of Commerce and Labor and the Securities and Exchange Commission to provide expertise and involvement in the adjudication of applications and petitions for the EB-5 regional center program; (3) conduct comprehensive reviews to determine how EB-5 funds have actually stimulated growth in the U.S. economy in accordance with the intent of the program; and (4) establish quality assurance steps to promote program integrity and ensure that regional centers comply with regulatory requirements.
Reaction. IIUSA, the industry trade association that represents over 130 EB-5 regional centers that serve over 40 states and territories and account for over 95% of the capital flowing through the EB-5 regional center program, said it was "puzzled" by the OIG's findings and conclusions. IIUSA said that many of the reforms the OIG identified as necessary were already underway, and that USCIS had refuted other criticisms in its response to the report.
For example, IIUSA noted that USCIS has created a new Immigrant Investor Program Office staffed by trained economists, experts in business and immigration law, and fraud and national security specialists, now led by a former director of the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. USCIS plans for all EB-5 related adjudications to be relocated to this office over the next six months. IIUSA also noted that USCIS has clarified its guidance for adjudicators in a comprehensive EB-5 policy memorandum and has strengthened interagency relationships.
IIUSA said these and other rebuttals in the USCIS response "should raise significant questions about the credibility of the report," which was "further undermined by the recent resignation of [Charles Edwards, DHS's Acting Inspector General], who himself was under investigation."
The OIG report notes that USCIS agreed with three of the four OIG recommendations. Details of the OIG's analysis and USCIS's response are included in the report, "United States Citizenship and Immigration Services' Employment-Based Fifth Preference (EB-5) Regional Center Program," OIG-14-19.
IIUSA's STATEMENT IN RESPONSE TO THE REPORT
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