By statute, the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman submits an Annual Report to Congress by June 30 of each year. The Ombudsman’s Annual Report must provide a summary of the most pervasive and serious problems encountered by individuals and employers applying for immigration benefits with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The Annual Report also reviews past recommendations to improve USCIS programs and services.
Ombudsman Report & Mention of the EB-5 Program
USCIS’s efforts to address gaps in policy and improve operations in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor program are noteworthy. Shortly before publication of our 2013 Annual Report, USCIS issued comprehensive new policy guidance. The agency also relocated its adjudications unit to Washington, D.C.; hired a new program office lead, adjudicators, and economists; and re-started stakeholder engagements. The result is a transparent and rejuvenated investment and job creation program, with a focus on customer service and integrity.
The Immigrant Investor program has presented USCIS with significant challenges due to many variables, including the complexity of projects, the financial arrangements with investors, and the attribution of job creation to the investment. In April 2013, USCIS relocated adjudications to Washington, D.C. and issued new guidance addressing several longstanding stakeholder concerns. While stakeholders continued to raise concerns with adjudication delays, the Ombudsman received fewer requests for case assistance (61 requests) than in the 2013 reporting period (441 requests). The new adjudications unit and updated policy guidance usher in a new era for this increasingly popular investment and job-creating program.
In January 2014, the Ombudsman held separate meetings with EB-5 stakeholders and USCIS IPO leadership. Stakeholders reported lengthy processing times in EB-5 product lines, and raised concerns regarding lack of information sharing and engagement between the agency and stakeholders. Stakeholders stated that USCIS adjudicators appeared to be implementing new guidance from the May 2013 EB-5 Policy Memorandum, including deference to prior adjudications involving the same regional center project. Ombudsman Odom communicated this feedback directly to responsible EB-5 program ofﬁcials, including the new IPO Director.
Shortly after these meetings, on January 26, 2014, the IPO held a national teleconference. USCIS updated stakeholders on the transition of EB-5 adjudications from the CSC to the Washington, D.C.-based IPO, and noted that, due to the transition, processing times will likely temporarily increase throughout the remainder of FY 2014, as the IPO on-boards and trains approximately 100 new adjudicators, economists, and other staff. Adjudication of Form I-829 will remain in California for the remainder of 2014. Program leaders expressed determination that when the IPO is fully operational, USCIS will reduce processing times, and improve the predictability and consistency of EB-5 adjudications. Additionally, USCIS announced that it will redouble efforts to simultaneously enhance program integrity as it seeks to improve program efﬁciency.