By: Mahsa Aliaskari & Dawn M. Lurie, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, 05/28/2013
The latest EB-5 stakeholder meeting, held in Washington D.C. focused on the integration of the I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur into the Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) program. During the May 23rd meeting, the USCIS discussed the logistics for integrating Form I-526 into ELIS and solicited feedback regarding managing access to the document library, uploading and storing documents and overall expectations from the program. USCIS launched the first phase of this electronic immigration system about one year ago. Starting with transitioning the USCIS Immigrant fee and simpler forms to ELIS, the Service is now planning to add more complex filings to the account based system.
What was discussed at the meeting?
At points the discussion turned technical but the focus of the stakeholder meeting was to have USCIS management describe the benefits of the streamlined process, which includes allowing multiple USCIS personnel to concurrently review and edit the same document, improve efficiency in submissions, and well as the ease of communication with the investor (think uploading/downloading receipts, RFEs responses etc.). The particulars of the process were illustrated by walking attendees through the process of a Regional Center creating an ELIS account, uploading I-924 related documents and then sharing them with multiple investors. The investor, his attorney, or BIA accredited representative are then able to access an online document library. The major benefits produced by allowing multiple investors in the same project to utilize previously submitted project-specific documentation include reducing the reliance on paper, reducing the need for paper files and physical filing space, making the I-526 filing a perfect candidate to pilot the ELIS program.
With attorneys, regional center representatives and other stakeholders attending the meeting in person, the Service solicited feedback designed to assist USCIS developers in understanding how the program’s features and intended uses as well as limitations will impact the use of the online system and its success. Whether or not the option will lead to reducing redundancy, allowing for more consistent review of projects, and an overall improvement on the efficiency of the EB-5 program will depend on the online format user experience.
What is the document library is and what it is not.
The Service is to be congratulated on taking action based on feedback and concerns expressed when the move to ELIS for EB-5 filings was first announced at the end of March. The system is being designed to allow both Regional Centers and individual investors to use the ELIS system in different capacities for EB-5 filings. In an important clarification Dan Renaud, the Acting Chief of the new EB-5 program office in D.C., noted that ELIS is not intended to be a case management system for Regional Centers or attorneys, but rather a document library. In other words, the online I-526 ELIS document library should not be looked at as a replacement vehicle for regional centers to share project offerings with existing or prospective investors, nor should it be considered a system to track its investor’s filings. These are processes that the Regional Center and a new commercial enterprise must structure and maintain outside of the ELIS system.
We witnessed a welcomed information exchange with the USCIS.
The exchange with stakeholders went on to confirm that the Immigration Service is going to great lengths to understand exactly what type of online organization and process flow will work for these very complex filings. Accordingly, based on this discussion, we expect to see ongoing development and improvement based on user feedback and experience as the process is implemented. Such improvements will be readily welcomed by a contingency of stakeholders that has grown frustrated and stymied by the current state of the program.