Both regional centers and EB-5 investors should familiarize themselves with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. At the Check Case Processing Times page, program participants can check estimated processing time ranges for a variety of petitions, including the I-526, I-829, and I-924 petitions.
As of July 31, 2020, USCIS reports processing times on the forms mentioned above as follows:
- I-526: 46 to 74.5 months (3.8 to 6.2 years)
- I-829: 27 to 48.5 months (2.25 to 4 years)
- I-924: 14.5 to 31 months (1.2 to 2.6 years)
Note that a) these are not the only forms that investors can check for an estimated processing time and b) specific estimated times may vary by regional office.
An Investor’s Natural Inclination
Your natural inclination is to assume that when USCIS reports an I-526 processing time range between 46 to 74.5 months, petitions currently in process have been pending for that long. However, that isn’t necessarily true.
In fact, the majority of in-process petitions wind up being addressed outside of the reported time range. These processing times can vary dramatically depending on variety of other factors.
In the last few weeks, for instance, estimated processing times for I-924 forms have dropped by roughly 75 percent, while the other two estimated time frames have increased significantly.
What USCIS Petition Processing Ranges Actually Indicate
The processing time frame indicates something more in line with the delays you can expect, not an average processing time, as you might assume. Here’s how to interpret the low and high number in each range:
- Lower Number: How long it took to process 50 percent of total petitions two months ago
- Higher Number: How long it took to process 93 percent of total petitions two months ago
Without factoring in any inaccuracies, this translates to roughly 43 percent of petitions being processed inside the given time range.
The other 57 percent (in other words, the majority) of EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program petitions? They will more than likely be processed outside the estimated timeframe.
Unfortunately, the best an EB-5 investor can garner from estimated processing time range data is a very broad idea of when a petition could be processed – a few months vs. a few years, in other words.
The Role of the Higher Estimated Processing Time in Case Inquiry Dates
The idea of some EB-5 investors waiting years for the adjudication of a single petition is neither new nor foreign.
Look at I-526 petitions – currently, the estimated processing time is between approximately four and six years due to the non-linear process of adjudication and the recently introduced visa availability approach. Instead of basing adjudication on the date of receipt, USCIS now adjudicates I-526 petitions according to immediate availability of visas for the applicant’s country.
Receipt Date for Case Inquiry
In an attempt to address unreasonable delays, USCIS seems to have added another layer of complication by offering a “receipt date for case inquiry.”
This date signals the day after the deadline USCIS has set to receive adjudication and the first day a petitioner is allowed to inquire about their case (or the status of their petition). USCIS assigns this date based on the higher number of a given estimated time range.
What is perplexing is the fact that only 7 percent of investors who are experiencing these long processing delays are being granted a receipt date for case inquiry. There has been no clarification as to why USCIS has designated this right to only 7 percent of investors.
EB-5 Investors Seeing Erratic Shifts in Receipt Dates for Case Inquiries
If you’re an EB-5 investor who’s keeping an eye on your case inquiry date so you can be ready to submit your status inquiry, then you’ve likely come away confused by erratic movements – both ahead and back – in the date.
Here’s the simple answer to why that happens: Overall case processing times are updated irregularly because they encompass a time range.
Receipt dates for case inquiry, on the other hand, are only based on the upper limit of that assigned time range. This date is also updated daily.
So when the overall petition processing time range shifts, you may see what seems like a sudden and significant jump in your inquiry date.
Additional Discrepancies with Estimated Processing Time Ranges
EB-5 project investors have also called attention to additional discrepancies with the estimated processing times ranges against historical average processing times. Here’s what you need to know about it:
- An estimated processing time range measures only petitions processed over the two months prior to report date.
- Historical average processing times measure all of a particular petition still pending and reflect the average age among them.
For all of these reasons, discrepancies are bound to surface. Besides the varying metrics, also be aware that…
- The estimated processing time range indicates the median average processing time, not the mean.
- When petitions are processed in an unusually quick or slow manner, it automatically skews the data even further – and sometimes in a significant way.
Figures for FY2019 Q1 Support the Non-Linear Movement of Processing
Occasionally, USCIS shares detailed processing data, such as a comprehensive report covering October through December of 2018 (or FY2019 Q1). The report was surprisingly positive!
USCIS had originally provided an estimated processing time range of 20.6 to 26.5 months on I-526 petitions. However, the actual adjudication of the petitions only took 10 to 15 months. Again, this reveals USCIS’s stark tendency for non-linear processing.