立法难产 vs. 谋士建言 | EB-5移民热点

6月4日,参议院抛出的EB-5立法改革案,迟迟没有定论,原因无他,争议太大,主要的焦点,集中在:TEA(目标就业区)的定义、就业计算和祖父化条款(就是哪些项目或者投资者个人能继续符合法案改革前的条款:最低投资额等),至今,离9月30日,EB-5区域中心计划到期只有12天的时间了,尚未能达成一致意见。

美国移民

今天,来看下钟岚发来的Ronald Klasko律师就此争议焦点的建设性建议,希望这些声音能传到国会山,尽快解决法案悬而未决造成的业内犹豫彷徨乃至恐慌的局面。本文有业内朋友Dora义务翻译,特此感谢。

一些解决EB-5立法争议问题的想法

现在已经是9月中旬,以下事实似乎是毋庸置疑的:

* 除非国会授权延期,否则区域中心EB-5计划将在10月1日失效(至少是暂时的);

* 在国会或政府参与决策或处于领导地位的人中,没人希望EB-5计划失效;

* 几乎每个在决策位置的人,在该计划延期之前,都想要项目做出一些改变;

* 在参议院和众议院关键人员中,都对几乎所有提议中的变革有共识;

* 参议院提案1501(Grassley-Leahy提案)未获进展;

* 目前在众议院或参议院,尚未推出新的提案,时间显然接近耗尽(见第一点)。

计划的延期将以增加投资金额为前提,并会包含许多在Grassley-Leahy法案中提出的“完整性”或“透明度”的条款,似乎已有共识。这不是问题。

需要改变TEA的定义,这也几乎成为共识。问题是,对于如何改变,大家没有共识——事实上,在这方面存在很严重的哲学或政治差异。在Grassley-Leahy提议案中,城乡分裂是如此明显,是导致该提案停滞不前的重要原因,并且仍处在争议中。无论是好是坏,决策者想要限制州政府或者是开发商对TEA “弄虚作假”的能力。

一些决策者想给投资者提供激励措施,促使他们投资在农村地区的项目;其次,基础设施项目。然而,其他决策者认为,在城市地区的项目,使来自高失业率地区的工人在项目上工作,从而创造更多的就业机会,即使这个项目,实际的地理位置上,位于一个更富裕或更低失业率的地区。

要解决问题的僵局,可能需要一些不同的看待问题的方式,并且越快发生越好。这有一个处理高失业率TEA的想法。现行制度和建议的立法变化关注的焦点都在项目所在地的人口普查区。问题是——这没任何意义。如果EB-5项目是关于就业创造的,如果我们的目标是为投资者投资到一个将在高失业率地区创造就业的项目提供激励的话,应该关注的问题是工人来自哪里而不是项目所在地在哪里?我认为,答案是显而易见的。一个项目中的工人很少住在项目所在地的普查区。相反,他们来自于项目附近的通勤距离。(顺便说一下,这是最近《华尔街日报》在其头版文章中所忽略的。)所以,目标应该是确定正常通勤模式(上下班),并提出一个更加客观的系统,而不被现行制度的反对者称之为“弄虚作假”。
EB5Sir注:上周华尔街日报,头版头条质问EB-5,以纽约的项目举例,为何建在纽约市中心的项目能符合TEA要求。

好消息是,我们的工作已经完成,我们不需要从头发明。在美国劳工部的规章中,有一个概念叫“预期就业区域(area of intended employment)”,几十年来,被用于裁定EB-2,EB-3类别移民的劳工证申请。为什么不直接将EB-2和EB-3的常规做法应用于EB-5呢?

我就此询问了8个最有经验的EB-5经济学家。他们评估了“预期就业区域”在劳工部规定中的定义,一致同意,这是一个合理的——或者甚至是对EB-5中TEA的理想定义。

所以,值得研究该定义,以及经济学家的反馈。

在劳工部规定中“预期就业区域”定义如下:

“预期就业区域,是指劳工证的寻求工作机会(工地地址)正常通勤距离内的地理区域。没有严格的距离规定,只要是能构成正常或正常上下班通勤距离的区域都可以是预期就业区域,因为在不同的地区,可能有广泛不同的实际情况(如:平均通勤时间,到达工作现场的阻碍,或区域交通网络的质量)。如果希望就业的地点是在一个大都市统计区(MSA)内,包括多个MSA,MSA内任何地方都被认为是在正常的通勤距离的预期就业区域。在识别正常上下班的地区时,MSA的边界不受控制,一个MSA以外的位置,也可能在内部位置的正常上下班的距离内(如:MSA的边界附近)。”

所有的EB-5经济学家都认为这个定义是可行的,合理的和可操作的,因为它考虑了工人们实际上是从哪里来的,以及这些地区的失业率。要符合这个定义,只要普查区或其他政治细分区域位于MSA(大都市统计区)内,对其数量(最大或最小)就没有限制。(如果项目靠近MSA的边界附近,则可能会有一个限制)。

经济学家指出,这一定义适合劳工部劳工统计局(Bureau of labor Statistics)所定义的“劳动力市场区域”。要利用(基于通勤模式的)MSA定义,必须认识到通勤距离不是全美统一的,而是随着不同的区域/地区而不同。这个定义只有当所有组合的人口普查区都处在项目MSA内时,才会允许将人口普查区组合。这也是与美国行政管理和预算局在确定MSAs还有CSAs(综合统计区域)时所采用的系统一致的。

对于为什么要用“预期就业区域”,结合农村地区,成为TEA难题的解决方案,我没有听到任何争论。它将限制城市中,对于gerrymandering(选区划分组合)的应用,将允许大多数城市项目,进一步证明工人是从高失业率地区上下班,同时它是一个系统,已经在移民判决中成功地使用了许多年。关键在于,它必须是一个客观的标准,不被任意裁量,可以使用人口普查区的组合,只要它们在预期就业区域内。

现在目前重要的是,就是要避免在9月30日之前,依据参议院一致同意规则和众议院暂停规则,而批准推出的共识法案。

然而,在祖父化条款和生效日期的,实际和法律问题上,也同样还是有争议的。这实际上是一个非常棘手的问题。参议院提案1501提出的祖父化所有项目,只要项目在新法案生效日期之前,提交预审批申请(预期为范本申请)。这个豁免将至少适用于投资金额和TEA的定义。但是,参议院的提案并没有祖父化在等待I-526申请审批的投资者。这两个决定被证明是相互冲突的,仍然是正试图起草新提案的众议院和参议院领导人的争论主题。

对投资者采用溯往原则在实践中是一个特别困难的问题。各方面都有争议。对我来说,如果投资者没有祖父化,最明显的问题是,对于投资者来说,这显然是不公平的,并很有可能受到无尽的诉讼。在很多情况下,投资者的钱已经用于该项目,项目可能已经开始建设并创造了就业。如果投资者现在被告知,他们等待审批的申请——许多已经等待了一年多,将因为USCIS对他们的申请审批的延迟和法案的修改,而不再符合要求,那么EB-5计划能继续存在的基础将不复存在。这将是一个悲剧。

然而,问题的另一面是,阻止或至少推迟,包含祖父化的投资者。问题在于,据报道大约有15000位投资人,在等待I-526申请审批。因为EB-5配额只允许每年3000-3500位投资者(其余为投资者的家庭成员),这意味着国会现在实施的任何变化,(包括最低投资金额的变化)可能在5年内或者更长时间内不能实施。一些决策者的态度,对此而言,不是太有利。
EB5Sir注:这里指,如果现在递案的所有投资者都可以按照老的法案执行,那新法案出台后,真正能影响的投资者也是5年后才获批签证的那些投资者了。

那么如何解决这个难题呢?真的是没有简单的答案。然而,以下是我试图想出有创意的解决方案的尝试。

拿回未使用的签证配额的问题已讨论多年。(EB5Sir注:这里是指,近些年由于1万张的EB-5签证年度配额不够用,而之前每年的配额都没有用完,所以一直有呼声将以前年份未用完的签证拿回来继续用。)
直到现在,国会还没有准备好将此写进法案。然而,没有其他签证类型像EB-5签证一样,国会分配的配额一直是远远超过所使用的数量,直至最近的一两年,现在签证数量都远远达不到足以满足需求。如果立法一次性将未使用过的EB-5签证数量拿回来,可能足以满足新的立法下适用于祖父化的投资者?这将允许国会将新的投资金额适用于所有在新法生效日期之后递交I-526申请的投资者,而对在新法神效日期之前进行诚信投资的投资者没有任何负面影响。

我肯定会对这些想法的任何评论感兴趣,并且,我鼓励这个博客的任何读者使用这些想法进行宣传工作。

原文作者:Ronald Klasko,来源:blog.klaskolaw.com。

Some Ideas for Resolving the Controversial Issues in the EB-5 Legislation
September 16th, 2015 by H. Ronald Klasko

Here we are in the middle of September, and the following facts appear to be indisputable:

Unless Congress passes an extension, the regional center EB-5 program will lapse (at least temporarily) on October 1;

Nobody involved in a decision-making or leadership position in Congress or the Administration wants the program to lapse;

Virtually everybody in a decision-making position wants some changes to the program before there is an extension;

There is agreement on almost all of the suggested changes among key players in the Senate and House;

Senate Bill 1501 (the Grassley-Leahy Bill) is not moving forward;

No new bill has yet been introduced in the House or Senate, and time is clearly running out (see first bullet point).

There appears to be consensus that a program extension will be premised upon an increase in the investment amount and inclusion of many of the “integrity” or “transparency” provisions contained in the Grassley-Leahy Bill. That’s not the problem.

There is also mostly consensus on the need for a change in how TEAs are defined. The problem is that there is no consensus – and in fact serious philosophical or ideological differences – surrounding what the changes should look like. The rural-urban divisions that were so apparent in the Grassley-Leahy Bill, and that played a major role in that Bill not moving forward, remain in dispute. For better or worse, the key players want to limit the ability of states or developers to “gerrymander” TEAs. Some of the key players want to provide incentives for investors to invest in projects in rural areas and, secondarily, infrastructure projects. However, other key players believe that projects in urban areas create more jobs from workers coming from high unemployment areas to work in the project, even if the project is physically located in a more affluent or lower unemployment area.

Some different way of looking at the issue may be necessary to dislodge the logjam, and it better happen quickly. Here’s an idea for dealing with high unemployment TEAs. Both the present system and the suggested legislative changes focus on the census tract where the project is located. There is one problem with that – it makes no sense. If the EB-5 program is about job creation, and if the goal is to provide an incentive for investors to invest in projects that will create employment in high unemployment areas, shouldn’t the issue be where the workers are coming from rather than where the project is located? To my way of thinking, the answer is clear. Workers in a project rarely live in the census tract where the project happens to be located. Rather, they commute from nearby distances. (By the way, this is the point that The Wall Street Journal missed in its recent front page article.) So it would seem that the goal would be to determine what the normal commuting patterns are and come up with a system that is more objective and not subject to what opponents of the present system term “gerrymandering.”

Well, there’s good news. The job has already been done for us, and we don’t have to invent the wheel. There is a concept called “area of intended employment” that exists in the U.S. Department of Labor regulations and that has been used in adjudicating labor certification applications for immigrants in the EB-2 and EB-3 categories for decades. Why not just adapt the EB-2 and EB-3 regulatory language to EB-5?

I asked that question to eight of the most experienced EB-5 economists. They reviewed the definition of “area of intended employment” in the Department of Labor regulations and uniformly agreed that it would be a reasonable – or even ideal – definition for TEAs in the EB-5 context.

So it’s worth examining what that definition is and what the economists had to say.

“Area of intended employment” is defined in the Department of Labor regulations as follows:

“Area of intended employment means the geographic area within normal commuting distance of the place (worksite address) of the job opportunity for which the certification is sought. There is no rigid measure of distance that constitutes a normal commuting distance or normal commuting area, because there may be widely varying factual circumstances among different areas (e.g., average commuting times, barriers to reaching the worksite, or quality of the regional transportation network). If the place of intended employment is within a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), including a multiple MSA, any place within the MSA is deemed to be within normal commuting distance of the place of intended employment. The borders of MSAs are not controlling in the identification of the normal commuting area; a location outside of an MSA may be within normal commuting distance of a location that is inside (e.g., near the border of) the MSA.”

All of the EB-5 economists who commented believe that this definition is feasible, logical and workable since it takes into account where the workers actually come from and the unemployment rates in those areas. Consistent with the definition, there would be no limit (maximum or minimum) on the number of census tracts or other political subdivisions as long as all are within the MSA (metropolitan statistical area). (If the project is near the border of an MSA, there could be a limit.)

The economists noted that this definition fits within the definition of a “labor market area” as defined by the DOL Bureau of Labor Statistics. By utilizing MSA definitions (which are set based on commuting patterns), there is a recognition that commuting distances are not uniform across the United States, but vary by area/region. This definition would allow for census tract combinations only if all tracts used in the combination are within the MSA of the project. This would also be consistent with the system used by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in determining MSAs and CSAs (combined statistical areas).

I have not heard any argument as to why “area of intended employment,” combined with rural areas, would not be a solution to the TEA conundrum. It would place some limit on urban gerrymandering, it would allow for most urban projects to move forward upon proof that the workers commute from high unemployment areas and it is a system that has been used successfully for many years in immigration adjudications. The keys are that it would have to be an objective standard, not subject to discretion, and that combinations of census tracts could be used as long as they are within the area of intended employment.

That appears to be the sole philosophical or ideological issue that is preventing the introduction of a consensus Bill that could be approved under the suspension rules in the House and the unanimous consent rules in the Senate before September 30.

However, there is also the practical and legal issue of effective dates and grandfathering. This is actually a very thorny issue. Senate Bill 1501 proposed to grandfather all projects that filed for advance approval (presumably an exemplar petition) before the effective date of the new law. This grandfathering would apply at least to investment amount and TEA determination. However, the Senate Bill did not grandfather investors with pending I-526 petitions. Both of these decisions proved to be controversial and both are still the subject of debate among the leaders in the House and Senate who are trying to craft a bill.

The issue of grandfathering investors is a particularly difficult one. There are good arguments on all sides. To me, the clearest issue is that it would be manifestly unfair to investors, and very probably subject to endless litigation, if investors are not grandfathered. In many cases, the investors’ money has already been used in the project, the project may have been built and the jobs have been created. It would be hard to fathom how the EB-5 program could continue to exist if investors were now told that their pending petitions – many pending more than a year – no longer qualify because of a combination of a delay in USCIS adjudication of their petitions and a change in the law. This would be a travesty.

However, there is a flip side that is preventing – or at least delaying – inclusion of the language grandfathering the investors. The issue is that there are reportedly approximately 15,000 pending I-526 petitions. Since the EB-5 quota only allows for 3,000 to 3,500 investors annually (the rest are family members), that would mean that any of the changes that Congress now implements (including changes in the minimum investment amount) might not apply for five years or more. Some of the key players in the debate are not copacetic with that result.

So how to deal with this conundrum? There really is no easy answer. However, here’s my attempt at trying to come up with a creative solution.

The issue of recapture of unused visa numbers has been discussed for years. Until now, Congress has not been prepared to enact legislation to accomplish this result. However, there is no visa category quite like EB-5 where Congress allocated far more numbers than were ever used until the last year or two, and now the numbers are nowhere near sufficient to accommodate the demand. How about if the legislation provided for a one-time recapture of unused EB-5 visa numbers sufficient only to accommodate the investors who would be grandfathered under the new legislation? This would allow Congress to have the new investment amount apply to all investors who file I-526 petitions after the effective date of the new law without negatively impacting investors who invested in good faith prior to the effective date.

I will certainly be interested in any comments to these ideas; and, of course, any reader of this blog is encouraged to use any of these ideas in their ongoing advocacy efforts.

I will look forward to updating many of you who will be attending our EB-5 seminar on September 17.

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