Special Report Update for April 6th 2020 – Episode 108
On this Special Report Update, Mona, Rebecca and Mark discuss the CARES Act, how USCIS is easing requirements during the global pandemic and Mona’s predictions for the future of the EB-5 Program. Listen in to hear the most recent updates on COVID-19 and its impact on immigration in the US.
Can the CARES Act Assist EB-5 Projects?
- The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was passed by Congress on March 22nd to assist businesses with payroll and rent by utilizing a $2 trillion stimulus package. The package includes Paycheck Protection and Emergency Grants, among others.
- Can these funds be used by EB-5 projects? The short answer: Probably. After a thorough reading of the Act, we did not see any evidence that would exempt EB-5 projects from using stimulus funds as long as they are procured correctly
USCIS Relaxing Requirements in the Midst of COVID-19
- While USCIS has temporarily suspended in-person services at field offices, officers are still at work. The Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO) are continuing to adjudicate I-526 and I-829 forms as well as I-485 adjustment of status applications
- All offices are rescheduling in-person appointments. Consulates around the globe have suspended routine immigrant and nonimmigrant services as of March 20, 2020 but are still providing “mission-critical” services.
- Travel to the US based on EB-5 investment is not being considered critical, but for those already in the US, adjustments of status are allowed to proceed.
- As of April 1, USCIS ended Chart B. This mostly affects investors from China because all other countries are current under Chart A, including India.
- Some embassies are not currently accepting any immigrant or nonimmigrant visa applications, such as Barbados, while others are capable of accepting filings online and thus will continue to accept applications (such as London). However, those sending in applications should still expect processing delays.
Responses to Requests for Evidence (RFE) and Notices of Intent to Deny (NOID)
- USCIS is allowing responses to any issued RFEs or NOIDs dated between March 1 and May 1, 2020 to be submitted 60 days after the due date. USCIS also recently included Notices of Intent to Revoke (NOIR) and Notices of Intent to Terminate (NOIT) in this exception.
- However, this is frankly an oversight. USCIS should be making its considerations on a case-by-case basis, as this leniency overlooks countries that have been impacted by COVID-19 earlier than the US, such as India and China. Individuals in these countries have been wholly unable to access and acquire requested documents from agencies and offices closed during the pandemic’s sweep across the initially-affected countries.
- USCIS is also providing leniency for its original signature requirement by allowing electronic signatures for the duration of the emergency. It is important to note that USCIS may still request the original signature copy in the future.
ESTA Visa Waiver Program Extensions
- The ESTA Visa Waiver Program enables citizens or nationals of participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa, as long as they are able to meet a list of requirements, including a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel.
- No extensions are allowed unless one meets the requirements of a Satisfactory Departure, which allows extensions in the event of an emergency situation in which the traveler cannot depart the US prior to the required departure date. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is currently granting 30-day extensions for those whose stay expires in 14 days or less.
- If you arrived in JFK or LaGuardia, you may contact them directly, otherwise you must request the extension in person.
EB-5 Program as an Economic Stimulant in the Wake of COVID-19
- EB-5 was added to a stimulus package in 2008, particularly the Regional Center Program, which encouraged and eased the restraints for developers to acquire EB-5 investment capital. It is not inconceivable that such an addition would be appropriate at this time.
- However, the Executive Director for Federation for American Immigration Reform (Bob Dane) noted that half of EB-5 investors are from China and there are concerns about new Chinese investors in the wake of the COVID-19 virus, which may have been first introduced in China (though there are contradicting reports on this).
- There have also been concerns voiced over the possibility of misuse and fraud. The EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act (S. 2540) is intended to combat these concerns, though before it can be passed, come alterations may be required.
- Though Lindsey Graham denied the inclusion of EB-5 language in the past or any future relief packages, Mona postulates that it is likely to be included in the third or fourth package.