The estimated processing time ranges published by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are designed to aid EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program investors in gauging wait times for I-526 petition adjudication. The estimated time ranges traditionally included all nationalities of EB-5 investors, regardless of backlogs for specific countries. In August 2020, that changed. USCIS split the I-526 estimated processing time ranges between Chinese investors and all other EB-5 investors.
This shift may, in large part, be due to the sudden sharp increase in the estimated processing time range on I-526 petitions as a whole. Low-end and high-end time ranges nearly doubled. To review, the lower range signals how long it takes for around 50% of EB-5 investors to receive adjudication, and the high-end number represents how long it takes for 93% of investors to have their I-526 petition adjudicated. So, while the estimated processing time range does not necessarily mean the average program investor can expect to experience a significantly longer wait time, the increase does push the date to file a case inquiry out significantly.
So, where did that sharp increase come from? USCIS categorizing Chinese I-526 petitions separately from everyone else sends a clear signal that it is Chinese timelines likely gumming up the wait times for EB-5 investors on the whole. Sure, Chinese demand for the program seems to have diminished a bit in FY2019 and FY2020, but the country still dominates EB-5 demand.
In fact, the backlog for Chinese EB-5 applications remains so large that some investors have already been awaiting adjudication on their I-526 petitions for over five years. To make matters worse, the new visa availability processing approach implemented in April 2020 also lengthens Chinese wait times. The latest change is that new legislation has lumped Hong Kong EB-5 investors in with the Mainland Chinese investor backlog and extended wait times even further.
As of August 25, 2020, the estimated time ranges for China-based EB-5 applications is between 4.5 and 6.25 years, while the rest of the world’s EB-5 investors have an estimated time range of 2.6 to 5 years. This means that the date for case inquiry for Chinese applicants is a year later than for any other investor.
All of these factors have led to a dramatically higher estimated processing time range for Chinese EB-5 investors and have surely played into USCIS’s decision to separate Chinese applicants from the rest.
Ultimately, this separation is good news for all non-Chinese investors in the EB-5 program. With Chinese estimated processing times not factored in, timelines are expected to shrink. In the meantime, EB-5 Chinese investors may need to plan on up to six years before they are granted permission to even file an inquiry about an abnormally long processing time.