The October Visa Bulletin brought welcome news for EB-5 investors. For FY2021, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has nearly doubled the number of available employment-based visas to a whopping 261,500. Available visas in the EB5 investment program, allotted 7.1% of those visas, will double from 9,940 in FY2020 to an all-time high of 18,567 EB-5 visas available in FY2021. A number of factors have brought about this increase.
Unused Visas and Country Caps
Every year, unused family-based visas are reallocated to employment-based visas for the following fiscal year. Because of the pandemic, thousands of family-based visas went unused in FY2020, and as a result, employment-based visas have swelled, with an additional 121,500 available visas for FY2021. This simple change could lower wait times for Chinese EB-5 investors by several years and for Indian investors by at least a year.
The doubling of available EB-5 visas means that the visas available to each country will rise as well. No one country is entitled to more than 7% of the total EB-5 visas available. With 18,567 total EB-5 visas available in FY2021, there will now be roughly 1,300 EB-5 visas available for each country.
Usually, around 4,000 EB-5 visas that go unclaimed worldwide each year, as most countries do not even meet their typical cap of about 700 visas. With the new cap being raised to about 1,300, the number of unused visas is expected to skyrocket. If other countries do not use all 1,300 visas, those unused visas may then go to those with EB-5 investments in the most backlogged countries. This could potentially further alleviate the visa backlog for investors from China and Vietnam.
What to Expect
While the number of visas has doubled, we should not necessarily expect all processing times to double. U.S. consulates and embassies, as well as USCIS, have reduced their operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Consular processing is still required for overseas EB-5 petitioners, and domestic applicants with I-526 approval still need their I-485 adjustment of status application processed by USCIS.
If processing times for U.S. consulates remain slow while USCIS times increase, EB-5 investors overseas may see their wait times disproportionately increase. Applicants who made their EB5 investment while living in the United States would be able file their I-485 for adjustment of status. But if processing times for both consulates and USCIS further slow, many of these newly available EB-5 visas may go unused. These visas would then be reallocated to EB-1, increasing wait times across the board for EB-5.
These are, to be sure, worst-case scenarios and not necessarily to be expected. The announcement by Pfizer of a COVID-19 vaccine gives hope that consular and USCIS processing times may soon return to their typical level of efficiency. In all likelihood, this surge in the number of available EB-5 visas for FY2021 will mean a boon for investors in India, China, and Vietnam, and a very good year for all.