We probably have the Freedom of Information Act to thank for the release of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)’s I-526 and I-829 processing data for the first quarter of FY2019. Thanks to these reports, we get a glimpse into parts of USCIS’s processing strategy that don’t usually see the public light. If you’ve wanted more information on whether different countries have different approval rates, whether different countries incur different processing times, and which countries account for the highest number of I-526 petitions, read on.
FY2019 Q1 was a significant quarter in one particular regard: Sarah Kendall took over as the IPO chief. Her predecessor, Julia Harrison, led the IPO through FY2018, which saw record-high processing volumes. These soon reversed to record lows under Kendall’s leadership.
FY2019 Q1 was the transition quarter, squarely in between FY2018’s highs and FY2019’s lows. This makes it a rather unique quarter that is not necessarily representative of those before and after it. Nonetheless, the data in the report offer fascinating insights into USCIS’s processing techniques.
The EB-5 Processing Times in FY2019 Q1
In the studied quarter, the estimated processing times for I-526 petitions were steady at 20–27 months, while the I-829 estimates ranged from 27–39 months, decreasing slightly each month. USCIS’s estimates skew long, with USCIS explaining that the first number in each estimation range represents the period by which 50% of the respective petitions are adjudicated and second represents the period by which 93% of the petitions have been fully processed.
If the estimates were 100% accurate, 43% of petitions would fall within the estimated range, but in reality, only 20% of I-526 petitions processed during FY2019 Q1 were within the estimate. This was generally a good thing for EB-5 investors, as a whopping 64% were processed more quickly than estimated. An approximate 16% exceeded the higher number of the range.
For I-829 petitions, the actual figures diverged even further from the estimated ranges. A full 79% of the quarter’s I-829 petitions were adjudicated in less than 27.5 months, with 14% taking longer than the second number of each month’s respective estimated range. In the end, only 7% of I-829 petitions were processed within the estimated range, meaning USCIS’s estimates are hardly accurate.
The inaccurate estimates are not necessarily a bad thing, since in general, it has meant the actual processing times are lower than those estimated. USCIS issues approvals faster than denials: In FY2019 Q1, it took on average 17.5 months to receive an I-529 approval and 26 months to receive an I-829 approval.
Processing Differences Among Countries
While the processing data for FY2019 Q1 make it clear that USCIS was not working on a pure first-in-first-out (FIFO) basis, they also do not constitute evidence for a visa availability approach. Typically, Chinese EB-5 investors had to wait the longest in this quarter, with their I-526 adjudications taking approximately two months longer than those from other investors.
Indian EB-5 investors were on the opposite end of the spectrum. As the primary demographic pursuing expedite requests, Indian EB-5 investors had their I-526 petitions adjudicated an average of five months sooner than investors from the rest of the world. Of the I-526 petitions adjudicated within six months, more than four-fifths (83%) belonged to Indian investors.
Indians also accounted for the largest number of I-526 petitions submitted during the first quarter of FY2019, at 31%. Enough Indian investors to account for more than 18 months’ worth of EB-5 visas filed I-526 petitions in FY2019 Q1 alone. Second place went to China, the long-established worldwide champion of EB-5 demand, at 15%. Vietnam came in third with 11%, followed by South Korea with 6%.
The country demographic that filed the most I-829 petitions was China, with an astounding 81% of all I-829 petitions filed and adjudicated. However, I-829 processing figures typically reflect I-526 volumes from a few years prior, so these data are unsurprising.
Extra Tidbits About I-526 and I-829 Processing
- There are two categories for I-526 denials: “fraud” and “others.” Generally, I-526 petitions are denied for “other” reasons, with only one denied due to fraud during the studied quarter.
- The “country” column paints a picture of a disorganized USCIS. For some baffling reason, the data show 20 petitions originating from the Falkland Islands, even though the Department of State recognizes this South Atlantic archipelago as belonging to the United Kingdom. Given that the islands only have a population of a bit more than 2,000, it’s likely that petitioners from elsewhere in the UK were mistakenly recorded as Falkland Islanders. Furthermore, 13 petitioners are mysteriously classified as having originated from an “unknown” country, 8 are from the now nonexistent USSR, and one is somehow from the United States.
- USCIS’s official quarterly report shows 1,808 I-526 petitions being processed, up around 60 petitions from the 1,743 in the unofficial quarterly report studied here.
- USCIS obviously has not been operating on a strictly FIFO basis, since if it had been, the estimated processing range would have been narrower. This is even clearer with the fact that Chinese EB-5 investors are subject to slightly longer wait times than their worldwide counterparts. Finally, UCSIS also takes longer to issue denials than approvals.