by Ashley Sanislo Casey, Director of Education & Professional Development, IIUSA
In previous editions of the Regional Center Business Journal, I have written about IIUSA’s efforts of submitting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the federal government, mainly U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), for information and data related to the EB-5 Program. This data is critical to curating and updating the information IIUSA provides to its members, which is distilled through analytical reports produced by our own internal data scientist, Lee Li. Not only do our members find these reports interesting to read, but many find the information crucial to their marketing and business plans as it sheds light on EB-5 trends that are otherwise inaccessible.
If you have read any of my previous articles or have made FOIA requests yourself over the last five or so years, then you know the process is frustratingly slow, disjointed, and often fruitless. When I first joined IIUSA in 2014, we often would receive helpful, relatively well-organized responses through FOIA requests within only a few weeks of making the request. As time passed, the turnaround time has more or less come to a grinding halt. Most requests sit in the “pending” pile for years and when we do receive a response, they tend to be heavily redacted, omitting the crucial information we were seeking in the first place.
A majority of our requests are what we call our regular requests – ones that we ask for the same data on a recurring basis (monthly, quarterly, or yearly). Because of the regular recurrence of these requests since I have been with IIUSA , we know that they used to provide this information not just in a much faster manner, but also in a more complete data set. The shift in both the processing time to fulfill the request and the completeness of the information we receive is confounding and burdensome, to say the least.
An added level of incongruity is fostered by the fact that there is no central place to update contact information with USCIS. IIUSA has moved offices a few times over the last several years and when our address moves, any FOIA response to a request made while at the previous address will be sent to the address on the request. With request processing taking years, we have found many times that responses are lost in the mail, and we are unable to let USCIS know to send all future responses to a new address.