第一篇 | 两篇文章,看懂移民局应对排期的就业创造和投资维持政策

8月10日,USCIS(移民局)发布了政策备忘录,PM-602-0121的草案,并寻求公众意见。该备忘录名为:针对EB-5申请的I-526和I-829表格之创造就业要求和持续投资的指导意见,名称很复杂,说简单了,就是应对排期造成的中国投资者申请绿卡流程延长,而带来的就业创造和投资维持的政策。明天就是该草案征求意见的截止日了,EB5Sir找来两篇业内律师就此的专业分析文章,今天一并发表,供朋友们参考阅读。

美国移民

第一篇,是AAEB5区域中心的Julia Park律师的文章,即本篇(涉及面窄,但深入浅出,有滋有味);

第二篇,业内朋友Vanessa转来的Peng & Weber律所的文章(涉及面广,全面解释了该备忘录草案)。

移民局备忘录草案澄清中国排期背景下如何在五年后处置EB-5资金

2015年8月10日,美国移民局自2013年5月30日备忘录发布以来首次发布重大EB-5政策备忘录草案。经过两年多的时间,EB-5业内人士一直翘首等待美国移民局对不断变化的EB-5 格局发布新的指导,并且美国移民局从今年年初就曾许诺会发布新的政策指导备忘录。对移民局政策指导的迫切需要的主要驱动因素为今年年初美国国务院对中国EB-5投资者的有条件绿卡申请设立了截止日期(又可理解为排期)。排期的出现不可避免的影响到当前EB-5就业计算的结构,资金如何被投放到项目当中,以及最终给投资者返还问题。

新的备忘录草案主要讨论了三个议题:

1. 在提交I-526申请时,就业需要在什么时候被创造出来

2. 由于中国投资者排期改变了既有的移民/投资时间表,应该如何满足维持投资要求?

3. 重大变更什么时候可以发生,什么时候不可以.

本文主要针对第二个议题——维持投资要求(即资金重新部署问题)——进行阐述。

维持投资要求正如许多政府项目一样,EB-5 项目是一个技术性和法规驱动的项目。要遵循其繁琐同时不断改变的规定,参与者必须谨慎的处理。

在这些规定中,有一项为1) 投资者资金必须做“有风险”的投资;并且2) 在投资者有条件居住期间,必须“自始至终维持”投资是“有风险”的。

问题归根结底是以往从递交I-526投资移民申请开始EB-5程序到递交I-829条件移除申请只需要三年半到四年的时间,而I-829的批准只需等待不到一年的时间。大多数贷款模式的EB-5项目都是五年投资期限。因此,以往移民流程基本在五年范围内完成,在有条件居住期间“自始至终维持”投资从来不是一个问题。

移民/投资时间流程

以下是投资移民的一个可视化描述。图中上半部分涉及EB-5移民流程,下半部分是为了获得EB-5签证所做的投资的投资流程。

投资流程

但由于中国签证排期和I-526申请在美国移民局的积压改变了整个格局。

投资流程

从图B上可以看出,实际上有两股力量在这里同时起作用。首先,中国签证排期在投资者I-526批准到领事馆处理程序中间增加了一年左右的时间,同时,也导致领事处理时间增长(任何EB-5移民律师都会告诉您现在等美国签证中心的信件等到望眼欲穿)。其次,目前市场上绝大多数项目的监管协议里都有提前放款的条款,也就是说相比之前投资款在I-526批准后才进入项目,现在的投资款进入项目比原来提前了约一年。

换句话说,按目前的投资流程,EB-5投资者在绿卡尚未获批之前资金就随时可能被返还。因此,新的备忘录中的维持资金指导部分的内容即是为了应对区域中心在这个时间段里应当如何运作的问题,请参考图B中星号部分。

所有EB-5利益相关者都知道维持资金迟早将成为一个棘手的问题,所以一直以来都向移民局询问这个问题的答案:如果在投资者I-829申请批准前JCE(创造就业企业)就将5年期贷款偿还给NCE(新商业企业),NCE应当如何处置被偿还的投资款?

这里打个岔为EB-5初学者做一个简单的解释。NCE(新商业企业)是一个由区域中心管理、由EB-5投资者注入股权投资的实体。区域中心需要将投入到NCE的资金作为贷款发放给开发商的项目实体,这个项目实体又被称为JCE(创造就业企业)。简单地说,在贷款模式的EB-5项目中,NCE是贷款人/区域中心,而JCE则为借款人/开发商。(该术语出自指导EB-5项目的法规用语)(回复“投资模式”查看EB-5不同投资模式结构图解)。

EB-5公寓项目

抛出一个有趣的背景,其实这个问题早在中国签证排期开始前就已经在公寓开发EB-5项目中被提出和讨论过。有意思的是,新政策备忘录草案使得EB-5公寓项目更加容易。原因是公寓开发项目的周期传统上就比其他项目(例如酒店或混合使用型项目)短,因此一直存在上图标星号的时间段中EB-5资金应该如何处置的问题,而不是直到现在才像其他所有的项目一样都有资金再配置这个问题。以往通常在酒店项目中,要求开发商将EB-5资金一直放在JCE里并不是问题,因为酒店项目通常需要几年的时间才能达到稳定经营,在此之后开发商才可以进行再融资或出售(届时EB-5贷款会用再融资或出售的所得来偿付)。

但是,在公寓开发项目里,项目的时间流程往往要求开发商在5年贷款到期日以前就出售建成的公寓,而在这之前移民局并不愿意讲明在这种情况下区域中心应该怎么办,所以以前要设计一个安全的公寓项目十分困难。尽管如此,之前仍有做起来的公寓EB-5项目,而当公寓销售期临近时,一部分代理公寓EB-5项目的律师曾极力试图让移民局回答这个问题:假如JCE/借款人已经将所借贷款偿还给NCE/贷款人,并且NCE并未将资金返还给EB-5投资者,那么在这种情况下EB-5投资者的资金是否还将会被移民局解释为是“有风险”并且足够“持续”风险。

设想一下,EB-5投资者将资金投入到NCE里,最终是由NCE将这笔资金在发放到JCE的。因此,这个观点是有一定道理的:只要资金一直放在NCE中(即最开始的投资实体),即使开发商(JCE)将贷款偿还给区域中心(NCE),投资金额从技术上讲仍是被“维持”的。

但是之前美国移民局一直拒绝直接回答这个问题,只是承诺会根据个案不同的细节而审理个案。但是现在,移民局出台的指南在回答本文所讨论的问题的同时,使得公寓项目更容易设计成功。

美国移民局的官方立场

现在中国签证排期使得移民及投资流程时间不匹配成了整个行业所要面对的问题,因此移民局不得不对这个问题树立政策指导:投资者得资金是否一定要被‘重新部署’,还是可以一直放在NCE中,即可被认定为“自始至终维持”资金。

现在,我们终于有了一个答案:根据新颁布的指导备忘录草案,即使JCE在I-829前将投资金额返还给NCE,NCE不能够只将投资金额放在“银行账户或托管账户中”,投资金额必须被重新部署到“有风险”的商业活动中。(备忘录草案将EB-5语境中‘有风险’定义为“有损失的风险或收益的机会”——解释这个定义本身就足以一篇文章了,因此我们在此不做过多阐述)。

有一个问题的答案目前尚不明朗(虽然这绝非唯一一个答案不明朗的问题):维持资金的要求到底何时才算结束。在备忘录草案发布后的四天后,美国移民局在利益相关者的季度电话会议上的确暗示投资者的I-829一旦递交,对维持投资的要求就停止了。但是当有人试图确认移民局这一观点并在电话会议上问道“是否一旦I-829申请提交,投资者不需要等待获批资金就可以马上被返还”的时候,移民局的态度便含糊不清。(I-829的审批过程大约需要一年多的时间,所以这时间上的差别绝非微不足道)。当然,为了尽量规避法律中的不确定性,除非移民局明确澄清这一观点,否则律师很可能会提醒投资者资金会在I-829获批后才能返还给投资人。

权衡利弊:等待对政策指导的解释

无论如何,移民局现在的立场已经迫使区域中心不得不权衡左右做出一个微妙的平衡:一方面既要保障EB-5投资者的资金在重新部署时能够达到最安全的方式,同时还要确保资金不能过于安全,否则美国移民局很可能因为资金没有在有条件居住期间处于足够的“风险”中而被拒绝。

我们期待能够看到移民局将会在2015年9月8号征求意见期之后的最终版政策备忘录会中做出何种说明或改变。

作者: Julia Yong-hee Park,翻译: Emily Zhu, Bonnie Cao,来源微信公众号:aaeb5usa。

EB-5 Investment Sustainment Requirement

USCIS Attempts to Clarify the Investment Sustainment Requirement in New EB-5 Policy Memo Draft

Julia Yong-hee Park

On August 10, 2015 the USCIS issued a draft of its first major EB-5 policy memorandum since the May 30, 2013 Memo. As it has been over two years since then, the EB-5 industry has been eagerly waiting for new guidance which addressed the changing landscape of EB-5 and the USCIS has been promising one since the beginning of the year. This dire need for guidance has been driven by the fact that the Chinese EB-5 cut-off dates were established earlier this year (a/k/a Retrogression). Inevitably, Chinese Visa Retrogression will impact the current structure of how EB-5 jobs are counted, funds are deployed into projects and eventually returned to the investors.

Three topics were discussed in the Draft Memo:

* When do jobs have to be created for “purposes of I-526 filing”.
* How can investments be sustained now that Chinese Visa Retrogression is distorting the established Immigration/Investment Timeline.
* When can Material Change happen and when can it not.

In this article, I seek to address the second topic of Investment Sustainment requirements (a/k/a the Redeployment issue.)

The Investment Sustainment Requirement

The EB-5 Program, like many government programs, is a technical, rule driven program that requires careful navigation because there are a lot of rules, but also because these rules keep changing! Among these rules is one that says 1) the investor’s funds must be placed “at risk” and 2) that this “at risk” investment be “sustained throughout” the period of the investor’s conditional residency.

The fundamental issue is this: It used to take 3.5 to 4 years after an EB-5 investor started the EB-5 process by filing an I-526 Immigrant Investor Petition until the I-829 Removal of Condition Petition could be filed and the I-829 petitions would take under a year to get approved. And most loan-based EB-5 projects had 5-year investment terms. As a result, the immigration process was basically done before the 5 year mark so the requirement that the investment be “sustained throughout” the conditional residency period was never really an issue.

The Immigration/Investment Timeline

Here is a visual depiction of that timeline. The top portion pertains to the EB-5 process and the bottom portion illustrates the underlying investment made for purposes of obtaining the EB-5 visa.

But Chinese Visa Retrogression and the increased backlog of I-526 petitions at the USCIS has changed the landscape.

As you can see from the second timeline, there are actually two forces at play here. First, Chinese Visa Retrogression has added a year or so between when the investor’s I-526 is approved and when Consular Processing starts. It has also made the Consular Processing timeline longer. (NVC letters are taking forever to arrive as any immigration attorney who does EB-5 petitions can tell you). Second is that most projects on the market today have early-release provisions in their escrow agreements so the investor funds are placed into projects a year earlier than the old system under which investor funds were not released until I-526 approvals.

In other words, EB-5 investments will be ready to be returned to the investors under the Investment Process timeline even when EB-5s investors have not yet obtained their permanent greencards under the Immigration Process timeline. So the Investment Sustainment guidance in the new memo is addressing what Regional Centers are supposed to do during the period in the second timeline indicated with a star.

EB-5 stakeholders all knew this was going to be a problem sooner or later and have been requesting guidance on what the NCE is supposed to do with the money when the JCE repays the 5 year loan to the NCE before investors’ I-829s are approved.

A brief detour for EB-5 beginners. The NCE (New Commercial Enterprise) is the company that is managed by the Regional Center into which EB-5 investors invest equity. The Regional Center then takes the funds invested into the NCE and loans it out to the developer’s project entity which is called the JCE (Job Creating Enterprise). Simply put, in a loan model EB-5 project, the NCE is the Lender/Regional Center and the JCE is the Borrower/Developer. The terminology comes from the statutes that govern the EB-5 program.

Condominium EB-5 Projects

An interesting aside is that this issue had actually been discussed prior to Chinese Visa Retrogression in the context of condominium development EB-5 projects. This is because condominium development project cycles are traditionally shorter than, say, hotels or mixed used projects. In a typical hotel deal, requiring the developer to keep EB-5 funds in the JCE was not an issue because it usually takes a few years for the hotel to be stabilized before the developer can either refinance the project or sell it (at which time the EB-5 Loan would be paid off as part of either the refinancing or the sale).

However, in condo deals, the project timeline would often require developers to sell the property prior to the 5-year loan maturity date and many Regional Centers shied away from condo development EB-5 deals because of this very reason. But some condo deals did get off the ground and as the time for these condos to actually be sold came near, a handful of attorneys who were representing condo development EB-5 projects valiantly tried to get the USCIS to answer the question of whether the EB-5 investors’ funds would still considered to be “at risk” and sufficiently “sustained”, if the JCE/Borrower repaid the NCE/Lender and the NCE didn’t distribute the funds back to the EB-5 investors.

If you think about it, the EB-5 investors made the EB-5 investment into the NCE and it was the NCE that deployed that investment into the JCE. So there is validity to the argument that as long as the investor funds are kept in the NCE (which was the original investment vehicle), even if the developer (JCE) repays the Regional Center (NCE), the investment has technically been “sustained”.

The USCIS, however, refused to be pinned down on the issue and would only say they would review the facts of the deal on a case-by-case basis. (Which is terribly unhelpful if you are a transactional EB-5 attorney trying to put a deal together.)

The USCIS’s Official Position

However, now that the Chinese Visa Retrogression has made the timing mismatch an industry-wide problem, the USCIS has been forced to establish guidance on the issue of whether investor funds need to be “redeployed” or can be held onto by the NCE in order for it to be considered “sustained throughout”.

And now, we have an answer: according to the draft of the new guidance memo, even if the JCE returns the funds to the NCE prior to the I-829, the NCE can’t just hold on to the funds in a “bank account or escrow account” and the funds must be redeployed into an “at-risk” activity. (The draft memo defines “at-risk” in the context of EB-5 as meaning that the capital must have a “risk of loss and a chance for gain” – which could be a topic of a standalone article so let’s leave it at that for now.)

One thing (though by no means the only thing) that is unclear is when does the sustainment period end. The USCIS did imply on the Quarterly Stakeholder’s call held four days after the draft memo was released, that the sustainment period ends once the I-829 is filed. But when someone tried to pin them down by asking, “So the investors can be repaid once the I-829 is filed and we don’t have to wait for approval?”, they waffled. (The I-829 approval process takes more than a year these days so this is not an insignificant difference.) And of course lawyers abhor uncertainty so unless the USCIS clarifies this point they will most likely advise clients to not pay back the investor until the I-829 is approved.
Balancing Act: Waiting for Guidance on the Guidance

In any case, this position of the USCIS is now forcing Regional Centers to engage in a delicate balancing act between ensuring that EB-5 investors funds are redeployed in the safest way possible while at the same time making sure it is not too safe that the USCIS rejects it by saying the funds were not “at risk” throughout the conditional residency period.

It will be interesting to see what clarification or changes, if any, the USCIS will make in the final policy memorandum after the September 8, 2015 comment period is over.

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