How to read USCIS processing time ranges and what it means for investors.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services USCIS is an official government organization of the United States. This is one of the federal agencies that processes immigration and citizenship matters, liaises with immigration courts, contributes to immigration enforcement, and helps codify immigration laws. It is part of the Department of Homeland Security of the United States government.
Both regional center operators and EB-5 investors should familiarize themselves with the processing time ranges on the USCIS secure websites.
Understanding what the United States government processing time ranges actually mean is key to a successful– and less stressful– EB-5 investment process.
Why Is the USCIS Processing Time Important?
The idea of some EB-5 investors waiting years for the adjudication of a single petition is not new. In fact, the majority of in-process EB-5 petitions wind up being addressed outside of the reported time range.
Understanding how to read the processing times helps investors determine what to expect at each stage of the EB-5 process. Estimated processing time range data provide a very broad idea of when a petition could be processed: a few months vs. a few years.
USCIS government information on EB-5 processing can vary dramatically depending on the form, the petitioner’s home country, and a variety of other factors.
The USCIS government organization generally processes petitions based on order of receipt. However, I-526/I-526E petitions are adjudicated according to the immediate availability of visas for the applicant’s country.
It is important to check processing times regularly, as they are updated every six months.
What Are The USCIS Processing Times?
As of December 2022, the citizenship and immigration services reports processing times on the following forms as follows:
- Form I-526/I-526E
- 4.9 years to adjudicate 80% of petitions.
- For Chinese nationals, the processing time is 6.7 years. This country is currently backlogged.
- For Indian nationals, the processing time is 3.9 years to adjudicate 80% of petitions. This country is also backlogged.
- Form I-829
- 4.75 years to adjudicate 80% of petitions.
How Do I Check Case Processing Times With USCIS?
On the Check Case Processing Times page, program participants can check estimated processing time ranges for a variety of petitions, including the I-526/I-526E and I-829 petitions.
These are not the only forms that EB-5 investors can check for an estimated processing time, though they are the most common. Specific estimated times may vary by regional office.
Historic processing times are also available on the USCIS secure websites, showing data going back to FY 2012.
What Do the USCIS Petition Process Times Actually Indicate?
The immigration agency has changed the way it reports petition processing times.
Formerly, the USCIS official government organization reported processing times in a “range”. For instance, in 2020, USCIS reported an I-526 processing time range between 46 to 74.5 months. These two numbers meant:
- Lower Number: How long it took to process 50% of total petitions
- Higher Number: How long it took to process 93% of total petitions
However, the agency has now consolidated its processing time ranges, and now simply lists a single number.
Processing times on the official websites reflect how long it took USCIS to adjudicate 80% of cases over the past six months.
The Role of Case Enquiries
In an attempt to address unreasonable delays, the citizenship and immigration services has started offering a “receipt date for case inquiry.”
The citizenship and immigration services official websites only allows case inquiries if an investor’s adjudication is taking longer than 93% of all adjudications for a given petition. Investors do not need to calculate this number themselves.
To determine if their petition is eligible for inquiry, an EB-5 participant should:
- Go to the citizenship and immigration services processing times page.
- Choose their petition (I-526, I-829, etc.) from the dropdown menu.
- On the following page, click “check your case number”.
- Enter their petition filing receipt number.
An automatic prompt will appear if the investor’s petition is taking longer than 93% of other adjudications, and is thus eligible for inquiry. Further instructions will be provided on how to send an inquiry.
Why EB-5 Investors Are Seeing Erratic Shifts in Receipt Dates For Case Enquiries
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 every six months because they encompass the data from petitions processed in that time.
Receipt dates for case inquiry, on the other hand, are only based on the upper limit of that assigned time range. This date is updated daily, as they indicate a single individual’s petition case.
So when the overall petition processing time range shifts, you may see what seems like a sudden and significant jump in your individual inquiry date.
Additional Challenges 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 this government information:
- An estimated processing time range measures only petitions processed over the six months prior to the report date.
- Historical average processing times measure all instances of a particular petition still pending and reflect the average wait time 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
The citizenship and immigration services periodically shares detailed processing data compiled along with the Department of Homeland Security, such as a comprehensive report covering October through December of 2018 (or FY2019 Q1). The report was surprisingly positive.
The citizenship and immigration services 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 the agency’s stark tendency for non-linear processing.
Investors should not be discouraged by high processing times for USCIS and Department of Homeland Security applications. The EB-5 visa process is still one of the fastest and most reliable ways for investors and their eligible family members to receive U.S. Green Cards.
Investors should understand that, though the number listed can be very high:
- 75% of all petitions were adjudicated in less time than is listed on the gov websites.
- If an investor’s adjudication is taking longer than 93% of other petitions, the citizenship and immigration services provides automated help to file a case inquiry.
- Listed estimated processing times from USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security gov websites are often much higher than what an individual investor may experience.