The EB-5 Program provides that the immigrant investor will file an initial petition and supporting documentation to be classified as eligible to apply for an EB-5 visa through USCIS’s adjustment of status process within the United States or through the Department of State’s visa application process abroad. Upon adjustment of status or admission to the United States, the immigrant investor is a conditional lawful permanent resident. INA § 216A(a). The EB-5 Program further provides that if, two years after obtaining conditional permanent resident status, the immigrant investor has sustained the investment, created or can be expected to create within a reasonable period of time ten full-time jobs to qualifying employees, and is otherwise conforming to the EB-5 Program’s requirements, the conditions generally will be removed and the immigrant investor will be an unconditional lawful permanent resident. INA § 216A(d)(1); 8 C.F.R. § 216.6(c).
The Sequence of Individual Investor Filings
An immigrant investor seeking admission into the United States as a lawful permanent resident will proceed in the following sequence:
The Form I-526 Petition
For an immigrant investor who is investing in a new commercial enterprise that is not part of a regional center, the immigrant investor will file a Form I-526 that, together with the supporting evidence, demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that the immigrant investor has invested, or is actively in the process of investing, lawfully obtained capital in a new commercial enterprise in the United States that will create full- time positions for not fewer than ten qualifying direct employees.
For an immigrant investor who is investing in a new commercial enterprise that is part of a regional center:
The entity seeking designation as a regional center will file a Form I-924 that, together with the supporting evidence, demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that the requirements for a regional center have been met. The individuals who establish the regional center can be, but need not be, the immigrant investors themselves; and,
Once USCIS designates the entity as a regional center, each immigrant investor will file a Form I-526 that, together with the supporting evidence, demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that the immigrant investor has invested, or is actively in the process of investing, lawfully obtained capital in a new commercial enterprise in the United States that will create directly or indirectly full-time positions for not fewer than ten qualifying employees.
The Form I-829 Petition
Within ninety days prior to the two-year anniversary of the date on which the immigrant investor obtained conditional lawful permanent resident status, the immigrant investor will file a Form I-829 to remove the conditions. The Form I-829 petition to remove conditions must be accompanied by the following evidence:
Evidence that the immigrant investor invested or was actively in the process of investing the required capital and sustained this action throughout the period of the immigrant investor’s residence in the United States. The immigrant investor can make this showing if he or she has, in good faith, substantially met the capital investment requirement and continuously maintained his or her capital investment over the two years of conditional residence. At this stage the immigrant investor need not have invested all of the required capital, but must have substantially met that requirement. The evidence may include, but is not limited to, an audited financial statement or other probative evidence such as bank statements, invoices, receipts, contracts, business licenses, Federal or State income tax returns, and Federal or State quarterly tax statements; and,
Evidence that the commercial enterprise created or can be expected to create, within a reasonable time, ten full-time jobs for qualifying employees. In the case of a troubled business, the immigrant investor must submit evidence that the commercial enterprise maintained the number of existing employees at no less than the pre-investment level for the period following his or her admission as a conditional permanent resident. At least ten jobs must be preserved or created per immigrant investor. The evidence may include, but is not limited to, payroll records, relevant tax documents, and Forms I-9.
See 8 C.F.R. § 216.6(a)(4)(ii-iv).
It is also important to note that the EB-5 Program allows an immigrant investor to become a lawful permanent resident, without conditions, if the immigrant investor has established a new commercial enterprise, substantially met the capital requirement, and can be expected to create within a reasonable time the required number of jobs. All of the goals of capital investment and job creation need not have been fully realized before the conditions on the immigrant investor’s status have been removed. Rather, the regulations require the submission of documentary evidence that establishes that it is more likely than not that the investor is in “substantial” compliance with the capital requirements and that the jobs will be created “within a reasonable time.”
The “within a reasonable time” requirement permits a degree of flexibility to account for the realities and unpredictability of starting a business venture, but it is not an open-ended allowance. The regulations require that the business plan submitted with Form I-526 establish a likelihood of job creation “within the next two years,” 8 C.F.R. § 204.6(j)(4)(i)(B), demonstrating an expectation that EB-5 projects will generally create jobs within such a timeframe. Whether a lengthier timeframe for job creation presented in a Form I-829 is “reasonable” is to be decided based on the totality of the circumstances presented, and USCIS has latitude under the law to request additional evidence concerning those circumstances. Because the law contemplates two years as the baseline expected period in which job creation will take place, jobs that will be created within a year of the two-year anniversary of the alien’s admission as a conditional permanent resident or adjustment to conditional permanent resident may generally be considered to be created within a reasonable period of time. Jobs projected to be created beyond that time horizon usually will not be considered to be created within a reasonable time, unless extreme circumstances, such as force majeure, are presented.
Regional Center Amendments
Because businesses strategies constantly evolve, with new opportunities identified and existing plans improved, the instructions to Form I-924 provide that a regional center may amend a previously-approved designation. The Form I-924 provides a list of acceptable amendments, to include changes to organizational structure or administration, capital investment projects (including changes in the economic analysis and underlying business plan used to estimate job creation for previously-approved investment opportunities), and an affiliated commercial enterprise’s organizational structure, capital investment instruments or offering memoranda.
Such formal amendments to the regional center designation, however, are not required when a regional center changes its industries of focus, its geographic boundaries, its business plans, or its economic methodologies. A regional center may elect to pursue an amendment if it seeks certainty in advance that such changes will be permissible to USCIS before they are adjudicated at the I-526 stage, but the regional center is not required to do so. Of course, all regional centers “must provide updated information to demonstrate the center is continuing to promote economic growth, improved regional productivity, job creation, or increased domestic capital investment in the approved geographic area . . . on an annual basis,” 8 C.F.R. § 204.6(m)(6), through the filing of their annual Form I-924A.
Deference to Previous Agency Determination
Distinct EB-5 eligibility requirements must be met at each stage of the EB-5 immigration process. Where USCIS has evaluated and approved certain aspects of an EB-5 investment, that favorable determination should generally be given deference at a subsequent stage in the EB-5 process. This policy of deference is an important part of ensuring predictability for EB-5 investors and commercial enterprises (and the persons they employ), and also conserves scarce agency resources, which should not ordinarily be used to duplicate previous adjudicative efforts.
As a general matter, USCIS will not reexamine determinations made earlier in the EB-5 process, and the earlier determinations will be presumed to have been properly decided. Where USCIS has previously concluded that an economic methodology satisfies the requirement of being a “reasonable methodology” to project future job creation as applied to the facts of a particular project, USCIS will continue to afford deference to this determination for all related adjudications, so long as the related adjudication is directly linked to the specific project for which the economic methodology was previously approved. For example, if USCIS approves a Form I-924 or Form I-526 presenting a Matter of Ho compliant business plan and a specific economic methodology, USCIS will defer to the finding that the methodology was reasonable in subsequent adjudications of Forms I-526 presenting the same related facts and methodology. However, USCIS will still conduct a de novo review of each prospective immigrant investor’s lawful source of funds and other individualized eligibility criteria.
Conversely, a previously favorable decision may not be relied upon in later proceedings where, for example, the underlying facts upon which a favorable decision was made have materially changed, there is evidence of fraud or misrepresentation in the record of proceeding, or the previously favorable decision is determined to be legally deficient. A change in fact is material if the changed circumstances would have a natural tendency to influence or are predictably capable of affecting the decision. See Kungys v. United States, 485 U.S. 759, 770-72 (1988) (defining materiality in the context of denaturalization). Where a new filing involves a different project from a previously-approved filing, or the same project but with material changes to the project plan, deference will not be afforded to the previous adjudication because the agency is being presented with the given set of facts for the first time.
Since prior determinations will be presumed to have been properly decided, a prior favorable determination will not be considered legally deficient for purposes of according deference unless the prior determination involved an objective mistake of fact or an objective mistake of law evidencing ineligibility for the benefit sought, but excluding those subjective evaluations related to evaluating eligibility. Unless there is reason to believe that a prior adjudication involved an objective mistake of fact or law, USCIS should not reexamine determinations made earlier in the EB-5 process. Absent a material change in facts, fraud, or willful misrepresentation, USCIS should not re-adjudicate prior USCIS determinations that are subjective, such as whether the business plan is comprehensive and credible or whether an economic methodology estimating job creation is reasonable.
The process of establishing a new business and creating jobs depends on a wide array of variables over which an investor or the creator of a new business may not have any control. The very best of business plans may be thrown off, for example, because of a sudden lack of supply in required merchandise, an unexpected hurricane that devastates an area in which the new business was to be built, or a change in the market that the business is intended to serve.
The effect of changed business plans on a regional center or an individual investor’s immigration status may differ depending on when the change is made relative to the alien investor’s status in the United States.
Investors Who Have Not Obtained Conditional Lawful Permanent Resident Status
It is well-established that in visa petition proceedings, a petitioner must establish eligibility at the time of filing and that a petition cannot be approved if, after filing, the petitioner becomes eligible under a new set of facts or circumstances. See, e.g., Matter of Izummi, 22 I. & N. Dec. at 176 (“If counsel had wished to test the validity of the newest plan, which is materially different from the original plan, he should have withdrawn the instant petition and advised the petitioner to file a new Form I-526.”). In addition, the petitioner must continue to be eligible for classification at the time of adjudication of the petition. 8 C.F.R. § 103.2(b)(1).
Thus, consistent with Matter of Izummi, if there are material changes to a Form I-526 at any time after filing, the petition cannot be approved. Under these circumstances, if, at the time of adjudication, the petitioner is asserting eligibility under a materially different set of facts that did not exist when the petition was filed, he or she must file a new Form I-526 petition. For example, if a petitioner files a Form I-526 petition purporting to be associated with a particular project within the scope of an approved regional center but, subsequent to filing, it is determined that the proceeds of the investment will be directed to a job-creating entity in an entirely different project, the petition may not be approved.
A deficient Form I-526 petition may not be cured by subsequent changes to the business plan or factual changes made to address any other deficiency that materially alter the factual basis on which the petition was filed. The only way to perfect material changes under these circumstances is for the immigrant investor to file a new Form I-526 petition to correspond to the changed plans.
Similarly, if, after the approval of a Form I-526 petition but before an alien investor has been admitted to the United States or adjusted his or her status pursuant to that petition, there are material changes to the business plan by which the alien intends to comply with the EB-5 requirements, the alien investor would need to file a new Form I-526 petition. Such material changes would constitute good cause to revoke the approved petition and would result in the denial of admission or an application for adjustment of status.
Investors Who Have Obtained Conditional Lawful Permanent Resident Status
Historically, USCIS has required a direct connection between the business plan the investor provides with the Form I-526 and the subsequent removal of conditions. USCIS would not approve a Form I-829 petition if the investor had made an investment and created jobs in the United States if the jobs were not created according to the plan presented in the Form I-526. While that position is a permissible construction of the governing statute, USCIS also notes that the statute does not require that direct connection. In order to provide flexibility to meet the realities of the business world, USCIS will permit an alien who has been admitted to the United States on a conditional basis to remove those conditions when circumstances have changed. An individual investor can, at the prescribed time, proceed with his or her Form I-829 petition to remove conditions and present documentary evidence demonstrating that, notwithstanding the business plan contained in the Form I-526, the requirements for the removal of conditions have been satisfied. Pursuant to this policy, USCIS will no longer deny petitions to remove conditions solely based on failure to adhere to the plan contained in the Form I-526 or to pursue business opportunities within an industry category previously approved for the regional center.
It is important to note that a Form I-526 must be filed in good faith and with full intention to follow the plan outlined in that petition. If the alien investor does not demonstrate that he or she filed the Form I-526 in good faith, USCIS may conclude that the investment in the commercial enterprise was made as a means of evading the immigration laws. Under these circumstances, USCIS may terminate the alien investor’s conditional status as required by 8 U.S.C. § 1186b(b)(1)(A).
Furthermore, nothing in this change in policy relieves an alien investor from the requirements for removal of the conditions as set out in 8 U.S.C. § 1186b(d)(1) and 8 C.F.R. § 216.6(a)(4). Thus, even in the event of a change in course, a petitioner must always be able to demonstrate (1) that the required funds were placed “at risk” throughout the period of the petitioner’s residence in the United States, and (2) that the required amount of capital was made available to the business or businesses most closely responsible for creating the employment; (3) that this “at risk” investment was “sustained throughout” the period of the applicant’s residence in the United States; and (4) that the investor created (or maintained, if applicable), or can be expected to create within a reasonable period of time, the requisite number of jobs. Accordingly, if an alien investor fails to meet any of these requirements, he or she would not be eligible for removal of conditions.
While changed circumstances after the investor has been admitted in conditional lawful permanent resident status may not require the filing of an amended Form I-526 petition in order for the investor to proceed with and obtain an approval of a Form I-829 petition, changed circumstances which are material may prevent deference from being accorded to the prior determination and a more extensive review will need to be conducted at the Form I-829 stage. For example, in the case of a petition affiliated with a regional center, the petitioner will only receive deference to a prior determination of indirect job creation if the new business plan falls within the scope of the regional center (as defined by either the initial approval or by subsequent amendment to the regional center) with which the petitioner is affiliated. So if an alien was admitted to the United States based on a petition related to a regional center that was only approved for certain projects related to the food service industry, if the proceeds of the alien’s investment were subsequently redirected to an alternate project within the job-creating entity, that project would have to be within the food service industry to continue to receive deference to the prior determination of the indirect job creation of the regional center program.5 Similarly, if a change in plan required the liquidation of an investment and reallocation of that investment into either another job-creating entity or new commercial enterprise, the petition may not comply with the requirements to invest and sustain the investment throughout the period of the alien’s residence in the United States. 8 U.S.C. § 1186b(d)(1)(A)(ii); 8 C.F.R. §§ 216.6(a)(4)(iii), (c)(1)(iii).
However, there may be advantages to closely adhering to the business plan described in the Form I-526. If the alien investor follows the business plan described in the Form I-526, USCIS will not revisit certain aspects of the business plan, including issues related to the economic analysis supporting job creation. Thus, during review of the Form I-829, USCIS will generally rely on the previous adjudication if the petitioner claims to have fulfilled the business plan that accompanied the Form I-526 petition. This is consistent with the general policy mandating USCIS deference to previous determinations set forth above in section IV.C.
To improve processing efficiencies and predictability in subsequent filings (i.e. application of deference), many regional centers may choose to amend the Form I-924 approval to reflect job creation in additional industries not previously reviewed at the time of project approval, as well as the resulting change in economic analysis and job creation estimates. Such amendments, however, are not required in order for individual investors to proceed with filing Forms I-526 or Forms I-829 based on the additional jobs created, or to be created, in additional industries.
USCIS will develop a mechanism for the regional center or the immigrant investor to notify USCIS when substantive material changes need to be communicated. Although USCIS will no longer deny petitions solely as a result of a departure from the business plan described in the Form I-526, the certainty afforded by adherence to a previously approved business plan may be eroded as a regional center project departs from that plan. Therefore, if the immigrant investor is seeking to have his or her conditions removed based on a business plan not consistent with the approved Form I-526, the alien investor may need to provide evidence to demonstrate the element of job creation or any other requirement for removal of conditions that is called into question by the changed plan.
Similarly, while the adjudication of Form I-829 petitions will be determined by the facts of an individual case, USCIS may need to revisit issues previously adjudicated in the Form I-526, such as the economic analysis underlying the new job creation in cases where the changes could affect the previously decided issues. For example, if the investment proceeds were diverted from a job- creating entity in one industry to another, and the applicable multipliers changed, USCIS would need to verify that the change did not affect the job creation estimates. Similarly, if the number of investors on a given project changed dramatically, or if certain assumptions or benchmarks made in the economic assessment were not satisfied, USCIS may need to revisit prior determinations to ensure that the requirements for removal of conditions have been met.
USCIS recognizes the fluidity of the business world and therefore allows for material changes to a petitioner’s business plan made after the petitioner has obtained conditional lawful permanent resident status. However, immigrant investors, and the regional centers with whom they associate, should understand that availing themselves of this flexibility does decrease the degree of predictability they will enjoy if they instead adhere to the initial plan that is presented to and approved by USCIS.
It is important to note that at this preliminary Form I-526 filing stage, the immigrant investor must demonstrate his or her commitment to invest the capital but need not establish that the required capital already has been invested; it is sufficient if the immigrant investor demonstrates that he or she is actively in the process of investing the required capital. However, evidence of a mere intent to invest or of prospective investment arrangements entailing no present commitment will not suffice. 8 C.F.R. § 204.6(j)(2); see Matter of Ho, 22 I&N Dec. at 210. Similarly, at this preliminary stage the immigrant investor need not establish that the required jobs already have been created; it is sufficient if the immigrant investor demonstrates in a business plan that it is more likely than not that the required jobs will be created. 8 C.F.R. § 204.6(j); 8 C.F.R. § 204.6(m).