Since Thanksgiving 2016, I’ve been asked by friends and family members – people who have only a vague understanding of my job – how the Trump administration will impact things at Masterplans. As a lifelong pessimist, my knee-jerk reaction has been, “Well, his policies won’t help me sell business plans.”
But in truth I’ve said this off the cuff, without much evidence. After all, the travel ban and border wall had to be just lofty promises from the campaign trail, right? And even if they came to pass, roadblocks like those wouldn’t deter moneyed, business-savvy visa seekers from coming to the States legally via USCIS petitions…would it? And even if some people were turned off, surely the president’s love affair with EB-5 financing and fancy urban developments could breathe life into investment-based immigration, yeah? Maybe…maybe not.
To talk shop for a second, there are several ways we market to new clients. Two of the best are cost-per-click (CPC) ads and referrals from past clients and partners. The latter is mainly a numbers game, inasmuch as I have a fixed network of friendly, talented attorneys who entrust their clients to Masterplans for business plan development. So if those law offices themselves are seeing fewer E-2, L-1A, and EB-5 candidates asking for counsel on their filings, then in turn I receive fewer inquiries for business plans.
By this measure, the needle hasn’t moved much. What’s more telling since Tuesday, November 8, is how wary our web-based leads have become. By and large, these are info-gatherers who haven’t hired an attorney, but are instead testing the waters – and finding them not warm enough under the current administration.
These are real emails I’ve received in the 6 months after the election--I only changed the names:
Hi Mr. Dean,
My wife and I have decided instead to look into other markets. There is too much uncertainty in USA. This is not personal. If plans change, I will write again.
Instead of EB-5, I wonder, do you deal with clients interested in residency and citizenship investment into Malta?
Sorry for not getting back to you, but in fact my company has cancelled for now the L1 application, due to the uncertain future on Trump’s decisions on immigration. We will most probably decide to expand our business either to Central America or to Canada. If something changes, I’ll contact you again.
I’ve saved other emails, but, well, the current President’s Twitter feed would be a livelier read – and that’s true no matter how your politics lean. But from my seat, what isn’t #fakenews is this: At a minimum, the stark contrast between the Obama administration and the current administration’s policies is giving would-be immigrants pause. Is the fabled “Land of Opportunity” still the best bet for me? Do I want to start my business in a place where so many fear outside interests, or might even think I’m “stealing” an American job? Could another developed nation offer me a similar path to citizenship, with less risk that political turmoil suddenly undermines all my hard work?
For many would-be L-1A or E-2 holders, these are legitimate concerns.
In the end, 2017 may prove to be a blip on the radar at USCIS; perhaps we see only a temporary downturn in an otherwise steady, year-over-year rise in applications and approvals. But first, Trump’s administration needs to provide more clarity on its goals for these visa programs. From there, maybe the uncertainty and fear I sense overseas can be turned into opportunity?
Because honestly, now may be the perfect time to make the leap – attorneys have more bandwidth for new casework, and presumably the CIS adjudicators have smaller stacks of paperwork in front of them. Plus, you've got to figure that any plan forecasting legitimate job creation potential would be viewed favorably. For the sake of all of us who make a living helping E and L visa hopefuls, I sincerely hope my knee-jerk answer to friends and family proves gloomier than the real forecast.
William Dean is Masterplans' VP of Immigration.