Originally published in the May 2023 Regional Center Business Journal
USCIS Regional Center Site Visits
The passage of the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022 (“RIA”) brought about many changes to the EB-5 program. Several of these changes renewed and enhanced the focus on reporting, program compliance, and transparency. The RIA also established the EB-5 Integrity Fund to provide USCIS with the resources needed to conduct more frequent and consistent regional center and project audits, amongst several other goals. However, USCIS conducting in-person audits of regional centers and their sponsored projects is not new. These initiatives have existed for many years, but in 2018 USCIS commenced the process of conducting formal, in-person, compliance reviews. In this article, CMB Regional Centers and EB5 Capital will offer their firsthand experience with these audits. CMB Regional Centers will share their insights from one of the earliest USCIS compliance reviews focused on its CMB Export, LLC regional center. EB5 Capital will share their recent experience with respect to project site visits associated with I-829 adjudications.
Regional Center Audits: Preparation, Preparation, Preparation.
Even today, very few regional center operators have experienced an in-person regional center compliance review from USCIS. What’s more, until a regional center operator receives a formal Notice of a USCIS Compliance Review outlining specific requests, it is hard to anticipate the parameters. But preparation for a USCIS audit does not begin with the receipt of the notice; it truly begins when a company files its Application for Regional Center Designation, previously the form I-924 and now the form I-956. With each application, even pre-RIA, an aspiring regional center was required to outline and describe its organizational structure, operating procedures, and regional center administration. These requirements have now been enhanced under the RIA. The compliance review creates an opportunity for USCIS to confirm, in-person that each regional center is practicing what they have promised.
Receiving any notice from USCIS can be intimidating when you are given a very short window to prepare or respond. In August of 2018, CMB received a notice stating that USCIS representatives would be visiting our office in two weeks and provided a data collection list of items to have available for their review. Naturally, and as we would recommend, our first call was to our immigration counsel to inform them of the notice, request that they advise on our preparation, and be present during the visit. It was also incumbent upon our team to clear our schedules and make ourselves available for the planned two-day visit regardless of any prior commitments. Being prepared and making the process smooth for USCIS is imperative, not only to maintain your regional center’s designation but, most importantly, to help maintain and ensure a successful immigration path for your investors.
Under the direction of Pat and Noreen Hogan, our team developed a plan to present information to USCIS above and beyond their written requests. Although the compliance review was focused on our CMB Export, LLC regional center alone, we believed it was necessary to outline the history of CMB’s 15 designated regional center designations. In part, this background information allowed us to note that by auditing the practices of one of the CMB Regional Centers, USCIS was actually auditing the practices of all our regional centers. For those companies with multiple regional center designations, this also highlights the importance of maintaining consistency in applications by which each regional center is established. With little understanding of what additional information could be sought by USCIS, our best course of action was to rely upon our own best practices.
Upon the arrival of the two USCIS field officers, we welcomed them to our office and introduced them to our staff, and toured them through our building, meeting team representatives from various departments along the way. We settled into our conference room, where we began several presentations, taking most of the first day’s visit. Throughout our presentations, the USCIS field officers were engaged, took notes, and asked great questions. It was clear that this was a new concept for the field officers and somewhat of a learning experience that would guide their questions in future compliance reviews of other regional centers.