2017 has been an interesting, dynamic year for Miller Mayer as well as the world of U.S. immigration, with the Trump administration’s frequent changes in policy and Executive Orders, as well as the continuing lack of long-term reauthorization of the EB-5 program keeping everyone on their toes.
The Executive Orders that have affected immigration the most are “Buy American and Hire American” and the travel ban. The “Buy American and Hire American” Executive Order was signed on April 18, 2017, seeking to create higher wages and employment rates for U.S. workers and to protect their economic interests through the rigorous enforcement of immigration laws. In particular, President Trump called for reform to the H-1B specialty occupation visa program, in order to ensure that visas are only awarded to the most highly skilled beneficiaries. In a federal notice on December 14, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security proposed that certain H-4 spouses of H-1B non-immigrants should no longer be eligible for employment authorization. Miller Mayer has been keeping apprised of all announcements and has continued to support our H1-B petitioning companies, beneficiaries and spouses during this turbulent year.
President Trump issued his first Executive Order entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” more commonly known as the travel ban, at the end of January, 2017. This order lowered refugee admission and restricted the entry of citizens from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen), and swiftly became the subject of numerous legal challenges. Iraq was later removed from the list of countries in the second Executive Order, which superseded the first and which Trump himself called a “watered down, politically correct version,” though it was still met with legal challenges. At the end of September, by signing Presidential Proclamation 9645, President Trump further modified the travel ban to remove Sudan and to include Chad, North Korea and Venezuela, and it was once again struck down by federal district courts. However, on December 4, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the temporary injunctions placed on certain aspects of the travel ban, allowing it to go into effect while legal challenges continue.
Miller Mayer has been quick to react to the effects of the travel ban and its changes throughout the year, providing our clients and the wider community with information and advice. In order to respond to student concerns regarding the executive orders, immigration attorneys Steve Yale-Loehr and Dave Wilks both spoke at Cornell University and Sandra Bruno spoke at Ithaca College. Students at the Johnson School of Management were also able to attend a session held by Rosie Mayer and Jane Zhang on immigration options and visas after graduation. In addition, Miller Mayer has hosted several free public webinars in relation to Trump’s immigration changes, including a Spanish-language webinar on developments in immigration law and a Chinese/English webinar, featuring immigration attorney Xiayue Yin, on EB-5 program reform.
As a preeminent authority in EB-5 with an ever-growing practice, Miller Mayer has been closely following developments relating to the regional center program. EB-5 practice manager and partner Carolyn Lee became Chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)’s national EB-5 Committee for the second time, having previously served as chair from 2012-2013. In her leadership role, Carolyn has continued to advocate for workable changes recognizing the EB-5 regional center program’s contributions and has been integrally involved in commenting on EB-5 legislation and advising industry stakeholders on the meaning and impact of various legislative proposals.
Of these challenging times in EB-5, Carolyn notes: “We can emphasize the positive — to highlight all the good the EB-5 Program has done and can do. Ultimately, we need long-term EB-5 reauthorization to put life back into the Program.”
On January 13, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security published a notice of proposed rulemaking, which was available for public comment until April 11, 2017. Among the proposals were priority date retention for subsequent petitions, revisions to the TEA designation process, and, most notably, increases to the minimum investment amounts for TEAs and non-TEAs, from $500,000 to $1.3 million and $1 million to $1.8 million respectively. Throughout this year, a variety of EB-5-related bills have been released, ranging from those that propose to continue the EB-5 Regional Center program and to raise the investment amounts, such as the Fitzpatrick bill, to the RAISE Act at the other end of the spectrum, which suggests that the program be eliminated in its entirety and replaced with a points-based system. Legislators and industry leaders alike continue to negotiate on changes to the Regional Center program, though agreement has yet to be reached.
By passing several Continuing Resolutions throughout the year, Congress voted to extend the EB-5 Regional Center program first to April 28, then to September 30, then to December 8, and now to December 22, 2017. This marks the seventh temporary extension since the first EB-5 program sunset date on September 30, 2015, with each potential expiration date sparking a flurry of activity as investors rush to file their cases before the deadline. Though progress is evidently being made towards EB-5 reform and long-term reauthorization, the future of EB-5 is still far from certain.
In spite of this context of uncertainty, the EB-5 investor visa continues to be in demand, though such popularity has its pitfalls. According to the annual report issued by the Department of State, as of November 1, 2017, the EB-5 visa application backlog is nearly 23% longer than the same time last year, with over 30,000 applicants on the waiting list, 88% of whom are China-mainland born. However, the good news is that in 2017, for the first time since 2009, more EB-5 petitions were adjudicated than were received, which should help to shrink the backlog.
This year, Miller Mayer traveled all over the world speaking about EB-5 at numerous conferences and expositions as part of our commitment to new markets and as a pre-eminent authority in EB-5. In March, immigration attorney Nick Hinrichsen was in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, speaking at the EB-5 Investors Magazine delegation, before speaking at the magazine’s Beijing EB-5 Investment Immigration Expo in May, events for which we were platinum sponsors. In October, immigration attorney Kristal Ozmun traveled to India to speak at the EB-5 Investors Magazine Investment Immigration Expo in Mumbai, then was joined by Adam Schaye at the Residency and Citizenship Expo in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in November.
As a leader in the EB-5 China market, our new Shanghai office has been instrumental over the last year in helping us serve our client base in Asia and maintain close ties with our partners there. We also ensured there was a large Miller Mayer presence at the multi-city 2017 Invest in America Summit from May 6-14, for which five of our attorneys traveled to multiple cities across China to share their expertise and knowledge of the U.S. immigration investment program.
Back in the U.S., Miller Mayer has spoken at various conferences on both EB-5 and general immigration law throughout the year. Notably, in August, Dave Wilks and Rosanne Mayer spoke about non-immigrant visas at the AILA Fundamentals Conference in Denver, while Carolyn Lee and Kristal Ozmun spoke at both the Invest In the USA 7th Annual EB-5 Industry Forum in Miami in October and the 2017 AILA EB-5 Investors Summit in Las Vegas in December.
Meanwhile, two years in, we have settled comfortably into our new, expanded space on the Commons in downtown Ithaca meant to accommodate our growing practice better, and remain thoroughly committed to our local community. We also welcomed three new attorneys to our practice: corporate attorneys Nate Cook and Paul Lee, and immigration attorney Dave Wilks. Nate is an attorney of counsel whose practice focuses on business, finance, real estate, and intellectual property law. Paul is an attorney of counsel in our Business Services group, engaging in corporate law and regulatory compliance with an emphasis in the banking, energy, technology, manufacturing and food & drug industries. Dave is an associate in our Immigration practice group, focusing primarily on employment-based immigration.
Finally, Miller Mayer is thrilled to have been voted one of the “Best Places to Work” in central New York in 2017, ranking third in the category of businesses with 51 to 150 employees. Miller Mayer received high scores for creating a positive culture and satisfying work environment based on clear vision and values, effective management, engagement, teamwork and camaraderie. Jim Miller, name partner and founding member of the firm, said, “I feel truly blessed to be a part of an amazing firm that has worked hard for over 30 years to deliver exceptional legal services to clients not only locally, but also regionally and internationally. We are committed to being active in the local community and maintaining a strong presence in downtown Ithaca. Our success is due in large part to the dedication and loyalty of our staff and their recognition that we are all part of a team effort.”
We look forward to another busy and exciting year ahead!