I-526 processing times are not consistent. I-526 petitions contain a wide range of information and supplementary documents that differ dramatically from investor to investor, which means not all I-526 petitions are processed in the same amount of time. Typically, however, EB-5 investors can count on waiting one to two years. FY2020 may herald a new era of lower processing times, as the historical average processing time for I-526 petitions has already dropped. A word of caution, though: This does not guarantee that a given investor’s I-526 petition will be adjudicated faster.
An Overview of the I-526 Petition
The I-526 petition is the first petition an EB-5 investor files. In most cases, it closely follows the EB-5 investor’s transfer of his or her EB-5 capital to the designated escrow account of the associated EB-5 project. Processing times vary depending on several factors, including the complexity of the application, the legitimacy of the project, and the investor’s country of origin.
I-526 petitions require numerous accompanying documents and evidence to demonstrate to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that the investment is lucrative for the U.S. economy. Some of the supplementary documents revolve around the EB-5 capital, as investors must demonstrate that they have transferred at least $1.8 million—or $900,000 if the project is in a targeted employment area (TEA)—to the designated account. Additionally, EB-5 investors must show that their EB-5 funds come from lawful sources.
The other major I-526 requirements have to do with the new commercial enterprise (NCE). Investors are required to present documentation proving the ongoing business activities of the NCE, as well as a hiring schedule, business plan, and economic report that uses accepted methodologies to show that the NCE is poised to create the 10 new full-time jobs necessary for a successful EB-5 investment. In addition, investors must include evidence in their I-526 petition that they are involved in the day-to-day management of the NCE, although for those who invest through regional centers, demonstrating one’s position as a limited partner is typically enough.
Upon receiving I-526 approval, an EB-5 investor applying from overseas may contact through the National Visa Center (NVC) to launch an application for an EB-5 visa. Investors already residing in the United States are eligible to submit Form I-485, which allows immigrants to adjust their immigration status. EB-5 investors receive U.S. green cards not only for themselves but also their spouse and unmarried children younger than 21. Initially, the conditional permanent residency lasts for two years, and then the investor files an I-829 petition to remove the conditions.
I-526 Average Processing Times Plummet
The EB-5 process is not a quick one—most EB-5 investors have to wait at least a year to receive I-526 adjudication. Investors awaiting adjudication in FY2018 were particularly unlucky, with the average processing times reaching a peak of 22.2 months. Starting in FY2019, however, the average processing time began to fall, hitting a five-year low in FY2020 at just 12.6 months. Rarely do EB-5 processing times see a 40% drop like this.
The world continues to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in the closure of U.S. consulates around the world. USCIS has closed its offices to the public, but the Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO) is still working hard to adjudicate I-526 petitions. Potentially, the processing times could sink even lower due to the pandemic, since the IPO may now be fairly limited in the activities it can undertake, leaving more time for I-526 petitions.