19 Oct Former Grassley Staffer Selected to Head USCIS
What does this bode for EB-5 and H1B visas?
Proponents of the EB-5 industry bristled as on October 5, 2017; Lee Francis Cissna was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services by a 55-43 margin. What makes this appointment so significant for EB-5 Stakeholders is Cissna’s history. In a career spanning over twenty years, Mr. Cissna has established himself as an expert on immigration in Washington. Prior to this role, Cissna served as Director of Immigration Policy in the Office of Policy in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as well as in USCIS’s Office of the Chief Counsel. More notably, he has worked for Senator Grassley on immigration issues since 2015. During his tenure there, he helped draft the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2015, a bill that would have required employers to try to recruit American workers before hiring H-1B visa holders. As the Trump Administration has made it publicly known that it wants to place greater scrutiny on the H-1B program, one can expect that Cissna will lead efforts from USCIS to propose and implement reforms that will curtail it. Interestingly, Cissna is not the only former Grassley staffer appointed to a position in USCIS. Kathy Neubel Kovarik, who has also served in his office, is currently chief of the USCIS Office of Policy and Strategy. In a series of tweets in March, Senator Grassley declared that Kovarik was “a real expert on fixing H-1B [sic]”
On the EB-5 front, Cissna also assisted with the American Job Creation and Investment Promotion Reform Act of 2015 during his time at Senator Grassley’s office – a bill that proposed a comprehensive overhaul of the EB-5 program. Additionally, during his Senate Confirmation Hearing, Cissna stated that he was committed to finalizing the proposed EB-5 rules initially released under the Obama Administration in January of this year.
“On January 13, 2017, the Obama Administration proposed rules to improve federal oversight of the EB-5 program and curb some of the worst abuses within it. These proposed rules will soon be finalized and implemented by USCIS. However, as The Washington Post and others have reported, large real estate developers – including those with ties to Jared Kushner’s family business – actively oppose these rules. This raises the concern that USCIS could face pressure from the White House to dilute or alter the proposed rules. On May 24, 2017, during your nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, you committed to finalizing and implementing the proposed EB-5 rules. If confirmed as Director of USCIS, will you stand by that commitment, regardless of any external political pressure to do otherwise?”
Response: “If confirmed, I commit to finalizing the proposed EB-5 rules according to the process set forth in the Administrative Procedure Act and related DHS and OMB guidance.”
With Cissna now officially confirmed as USCIS Director, we can expect that the agency will be taking a more proactive role in shaping both H1B and EB-5 immigration reform in the months to come.