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Sadeghzadeh v. United States Citizenship & Immigration Services

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 20, 2018





         Plaintiff Batool Sadeghzadeh, an Iranian national, appeals from the denial of her immigrant investor visa application by Defendant United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“Defendant” or “USCIS”).[1] Plaintiff contends that she submitted ample evidence to show that she qualifies for such a visa based on her investment in a new commercial enterprise in the United States. Finding no violation in USCIS's decision, the court grants Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and denies Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.


         A. Factual Background

         1.The Initial Denial of Plaintiff's EB-5 Application

         Foreign nationals who invest a substantial amount of capital in the United States, upon meeting certain qualifications, may receive a priority visa known as an “EB-5” or “immigrant investor” visa. See 8 U.S.C. § 1153(b)(5). The EB-5 program requires that an applicant invest at least $500, 000 in a new or troubled commercial enterprise, see Id. § 1153(b)(5)(A)(i), (C); 8 C.F.R. § 204.6(f)-(g), (j), and that the investment create at least ten jobs for U.S. workers, see 8 U.S.C. § 1153(b)(5)(A)(ii). Applicants must complete the appropriate application, a Form I-526, and provide documentation establishing their eligibility for the EB-5 visa, including the source of the invested funds. See 8 C.F.R. § 204.6(a), (j). As one would expect, funds acquired through unlawful means cannot be put towards securing an EB-5 visa. See Id. § 204.6(j) (providing that the applicant must have “invested, or [be] actively in the process of investing lawfully obtained capital”).

         Plaintiff Batool Sadeghzadeh, an Iranian national, seeks an EB-5 visa. On January 24, 2014, she submitted her Form I-526, claiming eligibility based on her investment of $500, 000[2] in a real estate development in Seattle, Washington, known as the “255 South Kin[g] Street Limited Partnership” in August 2013.[3] See Administrative R., ECF No. 23 [hereinafter AR], at 1-7, 978. Plaintiff represented that she financed her investment through the sale of gold coins, rental income from an apartment that she owned with her husband in Iran, and her husband's income. See AR 8. Among the records submitted with her application was a “Selling Invoice” dated August 12, 2013, which documented the sale of the gold coins. See AR 8; see also AR 73 (“Selling Invoice”). The Selling Invoice indicated that Plaintiff had sold “1000 gold coins-2007, ” at the price of “1, 100, 000/- Toomans” each, for a total sale of “1, 100, 000, 000/- Toomans.” AR 73. Toomans, or “tomans, ” are a form of Iranian currency. The bottom of the Selling Invoice, however, stated that the total sale was for “1, 100, 000, 000/- (one billion and one hundred million rials)”-a different unit of Iranian currency. AR 73 (emphasis added).

         Plaintiff represented that she “completed” the investment in the King Street Partnership “by sending the funds via wire transfer.” AR 7. But as Plaintiff acknowledged, she did not directly wire the money from her bank to the development; rather, the funds were wired from entities in Dubai. See AR 7, 59-62. To verify that the wired funds were indeed hers, Plaintiff included with her application two letters confirming transfers “on behalf of Ms. Batool Sadeghzadeh” to “American Life INC, ” see AR 59-62, an entity associated with the King Street Partnership. The first letter, dated August 26, 2013, was from “RFH General Trading LLC”[4] and reported the transfer of “500, 000 USD.” See AR 59. Affixed to that letter was a stamp identifying as a mailing address a P.O. Box in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. See AR 59-60. A different P.O. Box appeared on the letterhead itself, however. AR 59-60. Additionally, in lieu of a name, the first letter closed with: “Sincerely yours, Authorized Signatory.” AR 59-60. The second letter was from “Gloria Amy General Trading LLC” and bore the same P.O. Box number stamped on RFH General Trading's letter. AR 61. This letter, which also closed with “Authorized Signatory, ” represented that Gloria Trading had transferred “39, 060 USD” to the bank account of “American Life INC” on behalf of Plaintiff. AR 61.

         Defendant formally requested additional information from Plaintiff on July 28, 2016. See AR 775-81 (“Request for Evidence”). As relevant here, Defendant asked for information that would “verify the lawful path of the capital investment, ” including records showing “the path of the invested funds from Petitioner into the [development].” AR 778 (emphasis added). The request stated that Plaintiff's submission, thus far, was inadequate because it lacked “explanation or supporting documentation . . . to show Petitioner transferred funds from her personal banking account(s) to RFH General T[ra]ding . . . or Gloria Amy General Trading.” AR 779. Defendant also asked for the foreign-language versions of certain records that were in English, in accordance with a regulation requiring the submission of original foreign language documents and translations. See AR 779-80. Plaintiff responded to the inquiry with additional evidence, including an affidavit and a letter from her attorney. See Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 17 [hereinafter Pl.'s Mot.], at 2; AR 917-18 (listing Plaintiff's additional evidence).

         Defendant, acting through the office of its Immigrant Investor Program, nonetheless denied Plaintiff's application on December 8, 2016. See AR 914-21. The decision identified numerous deficiencies in Plaintiff's application. First, it concluded that Plaintiff had not demonstrated that she had invested the necessary amount of capital, because she had not provided sufficient documentation showing how she had transferred her money to the investment. See AR 917-18. Although Plaintiff had provided a wire transfer record from RFH General Trading, Defendant stated this record was “insufficient to demonstrate by a preponderance of evidence that Petitioner invested $500, 000” in the commercial development. AR 918. The decision also identified “inconsistent and contradictory information” regarding the two wiring companies in Dubai, and rejected Plaintiff's affidavit as resolving Defendant's questions on this point, because there was no “independent objective evidence” to support her representations. See AR 918-19. Second, Defendant concluded that Plaintiff had not sufficiently demonstrated that the source of her funds was lawful, in part because of conflicting representations as to the date on which the sale of the gold coins occurred. See AR 920. In an affidavit, Plaintiff had indicated that the sale took place on “August 7, 2016, ” yet the invoice that she supplied-which Plaintiff stated was prepared days after the sale-was dated “12 Aug 2013.” Id. The denial also concluded that Plaintiff had not provided the original, foreign-language versions of certain documents. AR 918, 920.

         2. The Administrative Appeals Office's Denial of Plaintiff's EB-5 Application

         Plaintiff voluntarily appealed her decision to Defendant's Administrative Appeals Office (“AAO”), but fared no better in this second review. See AR 977. The AAO denied her appeal in a decision dated July 18, 2017. See AR 977-80. As relevant here, the AAO agreed with Plaintiff on two points: (1) that certain documents in English that she had submitted were original documents and therefore foreign-language originals were not required, and (2) that she had “resolved” the discrepancy as to the date of the sale of the gold coins, which took place on August 7, 2013. See AR 978-79. The AAO nevertheless denied Plaintiff's appeal because: (1) Plaintiff had failed to “document[ ] the complete path of funds” as required by In re Izummi, 22 I. & N. Dec. 169 (BIA 1998); and (2) the invoice for the gold coins contained an “inconsistency” regarding “the amount the [Plaintiff] received for the sale of the coins.” AR 979.

         As to the first reason, the AAO found that the records supplied did not trace Plaintiff's funds from her bank account in Iran to the limited liability companies in Dubai, nor did it explain those companies' “ownership and lawful business activities.” AR 980. In addition, the AAO noted that a wire transfer record that Plaintiff represented as a document showing the movement of her funds stated that the transaction was for “BUYING GOODS.” AR 980; see also AR 899-900. The AAO acknowledged Plaintiff's explanation regarding the difficulties attendant to providing the requested documentation, namely, that it was not possible to directly wire funds from Iran to the United States in 2013, and that the person Plaintiff had used to conduct the transfer refused to provide a written statement explaining how the money was moved to ...

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