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Is the USCIS intentionally holding up EB-5 investor visas?

An alternative energy investment firm has just filed suit against the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The investment firm brokers investments for international investors who would like to provide capital for U.S. projects in exchange for EB-5 immigrant visas. The broker claims that the agency has failed to provide key project approvals that underpin the investors' visa plans.

The story involves a solar energy plant in Riverside County. 200 international investors have contributed $100 million in funding for the plant. The EB-5 visa program provides immigrant visas, which allow for transition to lawful permanent residence, in exchange for certain investments made in the United States. Investors must provide at least $500,000 to an approved project that will create or maintain at least 10 permanent, full-time jobs for American workers in a designated economic zone.

The first part of the process with the USCIS is the submission of an I-924 application, which provides details about all aspects of the proposed project. Only once the project itself is approved can investors obtain their EB-5 visas.

The investment broker, California Energy Investment Center, LLC, submitted an I-924 Application for the solar energy plant in August 2015. The USCIS reviewed this application for fully 16 months before sending an initial notice that it intended to deny approval for the project. Attached was a list of objections.

According to a federal lawsuit filed by the broker on behalf of the investors, the group responded to the USCIS's intent to deny by addressing all of the agency's objections to the agency's apparent satisfaction. Seven months later, however, the USCIS sent the group a second notice with additional objections.

The group also addressed the new objections. When no further action toward approving the project occurred, the group contacted an internal ombudsman. Still, the USCIS failed to move forward with the project approval.

The group was put off and put off again. They were told that there had been increases in processing times and the agency was attempting to address them. According to the agency's website, however, it is now processing applications filed in November 2015 -- and the group's application was filed in August.

Now, the power plant has actually been completed and is selling energy. Far more than the requisite number of jobs have been created.

According to the lawsuit, under the federal Administrative Procedures Act, 180 days is considered a reasonable turnaround time for the application. The USCIS has taken more than two years to review this project.

Is the delay completely innocent? Does it have to do with objections to a renewable energy project? Or has the agency decided not to process EB-5 investor visas in a timely fashion?

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