USCIS: No Green Card for Jello Shots

By David North on August 18, 2014

Often in these blogs, we write about USCIS abusing its discretionary powers, about alien investors getting cheated in EB-5 (immigrant investor) cases, and about those investments being in real estate deals.

Late last month a decision made by an arm of USCIS put a reverse spin on all three of those patterns:

  • USCIS decided the case exactly as it should;
  • It was the alien, not some American middleman, who was at fault; and
  • Instead of a proposed real estate investment, we have one in a bizarre food (?) product.

Here's the story, as condensed from one of those heavily-redacted decisions of the USCIS's appeals unit, the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO).

A nameless Venezuelan male, who apparently had worked for a software firm named Ittaca, made what he called a $500,000 investment in a company that was planning to produce vodka-infused gelatin cubes ("Jello shots"). As a result he wanted a conditional green card.

USCIS said no, and AAO agreed, on the grounds that:

  • He could not prove that he secured the money legally,
  • He could not prove that the investment would produce 10 jobs, and
  • He could he show that the investment was a continuing one.

What I found particularly interesting were AAO's examinations of the alien's financial records. He said, for example, that he had received a $135,000 dividend check in 2012, but AAO noted that his Venezuelan income tax, also filed with his application, did not include any mention of receiving that sum in that year. Moral of the story: Pay your taxes! (Also read your application carefully before you submit it.)

AAO also noted that the rules required that if you are going to submit supporting documents in another language, you must also include a full translation produced by a certified translator. The alien in this case submitted summary translations of the documents in Spanish. Moral: Read the regulations!

The applicant also failed to file adequate job-creation plans, and the records showed a partial repayment of funds; he lost on all these counts — and USCIS did the right thing.

What the decision did not get into is the tricky process of making Jello shots. My wife looked it up on the Internet and found that a delicate balance is needed in the mixing process. The boiling water must be hot enough to melt the gelatin, but the combination of hot water and cold vodka must remain cool enough so that the vodka does not vaporize; it has a boiling point below that of water. What would a Jello shot be sans alcohol?

Incidentally, one of the points of reading AAO decisions is that they show the USCIS mind at work. Unless a denial is appealed, the thought process of approvals and denials is hidden in secrecy.

Changing Style, not Substance. I have noted in the past that AAO has a strange sense of privacy that is shown in its published decisions. Not only is the alien's name never mentioned, neither are the names of his or her lawyer, nor that of the decision-maker. Many corporate and geographic names are obliterated as well.

Apparently early last year, AAO decided to do something to soften the image of its heavy-handed redaction process. While in the past redactions showed up in ominous, solid black blocks, since January 2013, the same deletions are now shown in a pale green that appears as a dove grey if printed on a black-and-white printer. Same silly policy but different graphics!

The instant decision has a cover page that looks, in part, like this:

This is what the earlier decisions looked like:

I am grateful to Joe Whalen, an EB-5 consultant, for pointing out this decision to me.