GAO testimony on improvements for the EB-5 program

In February 2016, a House committee heard testimony on needed improvements to the EB-5 immigrant investor program. Rebecca Gambler, a Director of the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) Homeland Security and Justice Team, testified before the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on the Judiciary on actions which USCIS has taken and plans it has to take to improve the assessment of fraud risks in the EB-5 visa program.

The Employment-Based Fifth Preference Immigrant Investor Program, known as the EB-5 program, and administered by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), permits immigrant investors who meet certain requirements to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the United States. To be eligible, an immigrant entrepreneur can directly invest $1 million in a business that will create 10 or more jobs, or invest half that amount in an area that is rural or has high unemployment while creating 10 or more jobs. Alternatively, immigrant entrepreneurs can invest in a project through specially set up and approved EB-5 Regional Centers with the same investment amount break points, but where the entrepreneur can be credited with indirect creation of 10 or more jobs.

USCIS had previously conducted multi-agency EB-5 fraud risk assessments in fiscal year 2012 and again 2015 as one-time efforts. While USCIS acknowledged the constantly evolving nature of new fraud schemes, it lacked plans to conduct future risks assessments. GAO recommended regular future fraud assessments be done and USCIS agreed. In February 2016, USCIS agreed to develop such plans by the end of this fiscal year.

According to Gambler’s testimony, while USCIS has increased the size and expertise of its workforce to assess job creation, USCIS still needs to develop a strategy to enhance its information collection, and a methodology to analyze information submitted on program forms to better evaluate the actual number of jobs created and to determine whether the investment amount was appropriate. The GAO recommended that USCIS track and verify data to confirm total investment and jobs created and DHS agreed to implement this recommendation by the end of fiscal year 2017.