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Masterplans Named 'Top 5 Business Plan Writer' (for the 5th Time!)

Masterplans named Top 5 Business Plan Writer & an interview with William Dean, VP of Immigration

For the fifth time, EB-5 Investors Magazine named Masterplans a “Top 5 Business Plan Writer.”

While this is an honor for everyone on our team, we thought we’d interview our VP of Immigration, William Dean, who founded and has led the Masterplans immigration program for over a decade.

How did you become an expert in immigration business plans?

I often wonder this myself; it’s a very niche specialty. All through college, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I was majoring in English at Brown, which meant reading, writing and answering the question, “what are you going to do with that degree?” every Thanksgiving.

My first job after college was as a paralegal for two trials against the U.S. government. The main attorney I assisted was old school and had never typed a thing, not even on a typewriter, so the job involved lots of dictation, faxing, and ballpoint pens. The case had nothing to do with immigration, but it dragged on for years, and it was great exposure both to the daily demands placed on attorneys, and to bureaucracy at its worst. Both things soured me on law school.

When that position ended (we won, by the way), a Brown alum introduced me to the CEO at Masterplans, and I got hired as a business plan writer. I knew virtually nothing about business, but I understood how to write compelling content for a brief that a government official was going to read, and I’d learned how to anticipate a lawyer’s needs. I didn’t know it at the time, but those random skills would come in handy later.

From 2005-2008 I learned the ropes at Masterplans working as a writer, editor, and project manager; by 2009 I was only assigned complex plans (which we then called special projects). One of those challenging plans was to establish a new regional center in Florida, so I went online and tried to educate myself about what USCIS expected. Turns out that was a fateful project, because A) they got the I-924 approved in 2010 using the plan I developed for them, and B) that success inspired me to study the other immigration categories where an applicant needs a business plan.

As the company grew, I started networking with attorneys to get investor visa referrals instead of waiting for web leads, and eventually we had enough volume to turn the immigration work into its own division of the company.

It’s funny to look back on, but I doubt I would even know what a business plan is if I hadn’t been feeding a septuagenarian’s handwritten notes about a road construction lawsuit into a fax machine 20 years ago. Instead, I’d be an attorney – with more prestige, I imagine, but also more debt, and less time for my family.

How do you work with applicants and your teammates at Masterplans help maximize the chances of approval?

I’m glad you asked this because the EB-5 Investors award is really a team award. I suspect this is true for the winners in every category (shout-out to all the immigration paralegals out there, working behind the scenes), but Masterplans has always been a team-based planning service – clients aren’t hiring me, they’re hiring a project manager, a writer, a researcher, and a finance expert.

My role is to learn where a case stands and how a business operates; to read through an applicant’s notes, website, or working draft to explain what they should focus on to increase their chances.

If someone has already applied and been denied or issued an RFE (not at all uncommon on NIW or L-1A petitions), I study whatever USCIS decided and try to explain how best to address the adjudicator’s concerns.

Once we’ve been retained, I monitor the project’s progress, checking my colleagues’ notes and questions to see if I can help. Sometimes I’ll ask the client’s attorney a specific question to help guide our work, but typically the argument to be made is clear-cut, and we have very capable project managers who work directly with referring counsel.

I don’t always get to learn the outcome of a case, but any time I receive a call or an email about an approval, I post it to our message board with kudos to the team members involved. I bring up recent successes whenever we all meet in person, too.

I like a lot of things about this job, but there’s nothing as satisfying as getting to celebrate visa approvals with my teammates.

 

What does a typical day look like for you?

I saw a joke on Twitter where someone said something like, “every job that isn’t blue collar is just emails” and it made me chuckle because I’m not sure they’re wrong?

While I have a couple Zoom or Google Meet conferences scheduled every day, it’s not unusual for me to get a client signed up for our help entirely over email. Some people aren’t comfortable speaking English, some clients are 12 time zones away, and lots are too busy and just want someone else to handle all this (“my lawyer says you guys are the best; where do I sign?”). So, it’s a lot of email, whether from attorneys, developers, or immigrants. I review RFEs, read through people’s own business plan drafts and give feedback, and explain how hiring a professional plan writer can save an applicant time and help strengthen their case.

I also listen to immigration webinars, update spreadsheets, and scroll through my lawyer-heavy LinkedIn feed in search of insightful posts and comments. And I do most of this from the comfort of my remodeled basement – Masterplans has a great office in Northwest Portland, but I rarely bus over there unless we have a company meeting.

Working from home means I get to pick my kids up from school, walk our old dog around the block, and fold laundry between calls.

Some workers hate how remote work invades their personal domain, but for me “WFH” created an instant work/life balance – I don’t mind answering an email at 10 p.m. or taking a call on Saturday because I get to enjoy complete flexibility all week long. I went downtown to the office every day for years, but I don’t miss it.

As for EB-5, have you seen these projects come roaring back like people expected once the program was reauthorized earlier this year?

The landscape still feels unsettled to me. Obviously, it’s helpful that we finally have fixed parameters about investment levels and TEAs, and it’s nice to have long-term stability in the program, but I continue to get more inquiries from individual investors (mainly E-2 visa seekers) than regional center operators or businesspeople seeking EB-5 capital.

And there’s still some confusion about what’s permissible and what’s not. I recently had an attorney here on the west coast – someone well established, but perhaps not prolific with I-526s – introduce his client who needed EB-5 investment for her factory. They’d lined up three Vietnamese investors and “just needed the business plan,” but hadn’t considered that the project probably wouldn’t fly as a pooled direct under the new rules adopted in March.

What changes did you observe in the immigration space during 2022, as a result of the pandemic or the economy?

It’s been a weird year. I think there’s a palpable sense that things aren’t stable. Everyone wants to pretend the pandemic is over, but it’s still a factor in daily life. Meanwhile, inflation has been its own sort of virus. People are feeling the pinch from ordinary household expenditures, so cobbling together $100K or more to launch a new business in the U.S. – never mind $800K+ to pursue an EB-5 green card – that’s no insignificant undertaking.

Add in this fall’s massive corporate layoffs, fears about climate change, the war in Europe, and our growing political divide, and it’s a lot to wrestle with all at once.

But America is resilient, and it still shines like a beacon for lots of foreign nationals.

Despite competition from other visa programs in Europe, the Caribbean, and elsewhere, the U.S. is a top destination for entrepreneurs and investors from overseas. Masterplans is just one lens, but we’ve had more immigration cases this year than in 2021 by almost 20%, which feels surprising given how uncertain things seem day-to-day. Bottom line, things aren’t normal lately, but the USA has staying power.

What do you foresee for 2023? How does the recent election play into this?

It was a relief to see that the midterm election didn’t devolve into chaos. I’m not an optimist, but if Biden can accomplish more of his domestic agenda over the next two years – even if he then gets voted out – that ought to be a net positive for immigrants to this country.

I always feel a bit sheepish answering this question because the sorts of visas that overlap with business plans have an inherent stability, with established treaties in place, and the regional center program cemented through at least 2027.

It’s things like asylum seekers, the children of DACA, and people with no option besides the H-1B lottery where a functional, humanitarian government really matters. With any luck, our political leaders can prioritize immigration in a way that makes 2023 a good year for the people whose lives are touched by these issues.

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