EB5 Investors Magazine | Page 52

A N A L Y Z I N G B I L L S . 1 5 0 1 TEA Definition in the Leahy-Grassley Proposal Would Severely Hinder Potential EB-5 Projects by Michael Kester Introduced to the U.S. Senate on June 3, 2015, Bill S. 1501 would reauthorize the EB-5 Regional Center Program for five more years while making many other significant changes to the existing program. Co-sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the bill represents a bipartisan attempt to renew and revise the program. While the bill does adequately address some concerns about the program, several aspects are unclear and controversial. One of the many changes included in the proposed bill is limiting a high unemployment Targeted Employment Area (TEA) to a single census tract1—a severe detraction from current policy that is over-limiting and that would likely prove detrimental to the program. In S. 1501, the definition of a high unemployment area would be changed to mean “an area, using the most recent census data available, consisting of a census tract that has an unemployment rate that is at least 150 percent of the national average unemployment rate.”2 This limiting policy could severely hinder many potential projects and investments, which would otherwise have positive impacts on the labor force in areas of high unemployment. 50 Current Policy Related to TEA Boundaries Currently, USCIS defers to each individual state on the certification of TEA shape and boundaries, which allows the unique needs of different areas to be addressed. States, metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), counties, cities, and census block groups are all currently eligible as general boundaries for high unemployment TEAs. Census tracts and block groups are allowed to be combined, as long as they are contiguous, in the creation of high-unemployment TEAs; the state authorities determine how and if the combination of these subareas may be certified. The May 30th Policy Memo from USCIS clearly gives authority to the states on this matter, stating that, “[c]onsistent with the regulations, USCIS defers to state determinations of the appropriate boundaries of a geographic or political subdivision that constitutes the targeted employment area.”3 This authority equips states with the flexibility necessary to address their respective needs. However, some have grown concerned with the flexibility the states have been afforded. Critics of the EB-5 program’s current TEA policy believe this flexibility has lead to “gerrymandering,” and some believe that a limit on the number of tracts for high unemployment areas would prevent such “exploitation.” As such, the idea of an arbitrary across-the-board limit on the number of contiguous census tracts allowed in the construction of a TEA gained traction over the past few months; in April, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson proposed such a limit in his letter to Senators Grassley and Leahy.4 EB5 INVESTORS MAGAZINE