January 2014 Newsletter
In This Issue
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, available here. IIUSA's statement in response to the report is available here.
OSC Reiterates That Employers May Not Institute a Hiring Preference for U.S. Citizens Unless Required To Do So
In response to a query, Alberto Ruisanchez, Acting Deputy Special Counsel of the Department of Justice's Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC), reiterated that employers may not institute a hiring preference for U.S. citizens unless required to do so to comply with a law, regulation, executive order, or government contract. Individuals protected from citizenship status discrimination include U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees, and asylees.
Mr. Ruisanchez said the OSC encourages employers considering a restriction on hiring based on citizenship status to ensure that it is properly restricting the position. Not to do so is to risk the imposition of sanctions, penalty fines, reporting requirements, and back pay.
Mr. Ruisanchez noted that the OSC cannot give an advisory opinion based on any particular set of facts. The query was from Gretta Rowold, Executive Director of Secure Research Operations for the University of Oklahoma's Office of Legal Counsel. She told the OSC that the university negotiates sponsored research agreements with non-university parties and periodically is asked to restrict participants to U.S. citizens only, and that the organizations sponsoring the research in some cases are unwilling or unable to provide justification for the requirement other than stating that the organization does sensitive work, or has a U.S. government customer who wouldn't like it if non-U.S. citizens were involved in their projects. She asked the OSC what exposure the university might have under the law, and what type of justification or documentation is appropriate to protect the university against liability.
The OSC's response letter, sent on November 20, 2013, is available here.
OSC Clarifies I-9 Verification for Refugees, Asylees
In response to a query, Seema Nanda, Deputy Special Counsel of the Department of Justice's Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC), clarified the application of documentation requirements related to Form I-9 work authorization verification for refugees and asylees. Eileen Scofield of Alston & Byrd asked what steps employers should take when an asylee or refugee worker presents for initial I-9 verification purposes a Form I-766, employment authorization document (EAD), that subsequently expires, considering the fact that asylees and refugees have unrestricted work authorization.
Ms. Nanda noted that when completing the I-9, a worker must select a box in Section 1 indicating his or her status. The selection applicable to "refugees and asylees—alien authorized to work" has a field that requests "expiration date, if applicable." The I-9 instructions provide that refugees or asylees may write "N/A" in the space provided for the expiration date in Section 1. After employees complete Section 1, they must present documents evidencing identity and employment eligibility for the employer to complete Section 2. USCIS guidance provides that refugee and asylee workers are not required to present an EAD for Section 2 to complete the I-9. They may choose to present other documents, such as a driver's license (List B) and unrestricted Social Security card (List C), to satisfy the I-9 requirements. The I-9 instructions further provide that reverification of a worker's employment authorization does not apply to refugees and asylees "unless they chose to present evidence of employment authorization in Section 2 that contains an expiration date and requires reverification, such as Form 1-766, Employment Authorization Document." Thus, Ms. Nanda said, an employer that reverifies the employment authorization of an asylee or refugee who originally presented an EAD upon the EAD's expiration is following USCIS guidance. OSC therefore would be "unlikely to find a violation of the anti-discrimination provision unless the employer somehow acted in a discriminatory manner based on national origin or citizenship status," Ms. Nanda said.
Ms. Scofield also asked about refugee and asylee workers who are unable to present a new unexpired EAD by the date of expiration of their originally presented EAD. Ms. Nanda responded that for reverification, an employee may present unexpired documentation from either List A or List C showing he or she is still authorized to work. Employers cannot require the employee to present a List A document. Thus, she noted that a refugee or asylee who originally presented an EAD could, for example, present an unrestricted Social Security card at reverification. Furthermore, the receipt rule would allow a worker to present a receipt for a lost, stolen, or misplaced document for reverification purposes. To the extent an employer requires an employee to present a specific document, such as an unexpired EAD, for reverification purposes, it may violate the anti-discrimination provision's prohibition against document abuse, Ms. Nanda warned.
The OSC's response letter, which was sent on September 25, 2013, is available here.
SSA Updates Operations Manual Re Same-Sex Marriages in Foreign Jurisdictions
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has added a new section to its Program Operations Manual System (POMS) providing instructions for obtaining legal opinions on the validity of foreign same-sex marriages in light of the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor. The new POMS instructions include policy, process, and procedures for processing same-sex marriage cases.
The SSA noted that under Windsor, the agency is no longer prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriages for purposes of determining benefits. Consequently, all claims filed on or after June 26, 2013, or that were pending final determination at the time of that decision are subject to Windsor instructions. The SSA said it is working with the Department of Justice to interpret the decision.
The new POMS instructions are available at:
The decision in United States v. Windsor is available here.
Transportation Letters for Lawful Permanent Residents with Lost, Stolen, Mutilated or Expired Green Cards
Transportation letters for applicants who are temporarily in the United Kingdom may be applied for on-line. You will be required to attend an interview at the American Embassy in London. Appointments are scheduled on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:30am.
Transportation letters may only be issued to Permanent Residents who are returning to the United States after an absence of less than one year. You will be required to provide evidence that you have been outside the United States for less than one year. This would normally be the airline tickets or boarding card indicating your last departure from the United States. You will also be required to submit confirmed airline tickets (E-tickets) for your trip to return to the United States
Careful planning is important as the Transportation Letter is only valid for travel to the US during its 30 day validity period.
New Publications and Items of Interest
EOIR launches Facebook page. The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has opened a Facebook account to assist the agency in providing interested parties with information about news, events, and announcements through a second social media channel. EOIR's website, will continue to be the agency's primary source of information online. Receive EOIR updates by liking EOIR on Facebook and by continuing to follow @DOJ_EOIR on Twitter.
ABIL on Twitter. The Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers is now available on Twitter: @ABILImmigration. Recent ABIL member blogs are available here.
Government Agency Links
Follow these links to access current processing times of the USCIS Service Centers and the Department of Labor, or the Department of State's latest Visa Bulletin with the most recent cut-off dates for visa numbers:
Hodkinson Law Group News