While the EB-5 investment process is one of the most direct routes to U.S. permanent residency, when a foreign national investor commits to participating in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, they aren’t assigned an end date for receiving their conditional permanent resident status. Rather, the investor and included family members become eligible for conditional green cards once the investor’s I-526 petition is approved by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Petition processing times always have the potential for being affected positively and negatively by numerous factors, ranging from temporary shutdowns in the wake of a global pandemic to budget issues inside USCIS.
Form I-526 Historical National Average Processing Times Reach Five-Year Low
In 2020, routine visa services throughout U.S. embassies and consulates around the globe were temporarily suspended after closures, and thousands of EB5 investment candidates were left in limbo. However, the COVID-19 pandemic did yield benefits in certain ways—Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO) staff suddenly had more free time for adjudication of I-526 and I-829 petitions, for instance. But with no way to complete the required visa interview, it was impossible for those awaiting in-person interviews to finish the process for obtaining their U.S. conditional permanent residency status.
Specifically referring to the beneficial effects on I-526 adjudication, the pandemic’s positive impact is evident in USCIS’s publication of historical national average processing times data through the end of August 2020. The average I-526 processing time reflected a five-year low factoring in Q1, Q2, and Q3 of FY2020 at just 14.1 months. FY2019 figures pointed to an average of 19.8 months.
Below the Surface of Seemingly Stellar EB-5 Investment News
This news may seem stellar to new EB-5 investment participants on its surface. However, the EB-5 community has, since the appointment of Sara Kendall as IPO chief, lamented the IPO’s sluggishness, which begs the question of whether a temporary shutdown could really have had such a striking effect. Not to mention a dramatic fall in the overall total adjudicated petitions and a much lower approval-to-denial ratio.
A sift through the data simply does not show the same drop among historical average processing times. On the contrary, some industry professionals wonder whether it’s an indication of IPO electing to prioritize the adjudication of newer petitions and leaving older EB5 investment applicants to circle in a perpetual holding pattern.
Normal Incongruencies with Historical Data
USCIS’s posted estimated processing time range is also incongruent with the updated historical national average processing time. As of November 19, 2020, I-526 estimated processing time ranges are 30–49.5 months for most applicants and 47–76.5 months for Chinese investors. Considering the historical national average processing times typically reflect two-month-old processing averages, discrepancies in the data are normal.
What Is Abnormal About This Situation
Moreover, the way the estimated processing time range is interpreted isn’t as straightforward as it appears. The lower number in a given range actually represents an estimation of how long it has taken for half of the applications to be processed, for instance. That said, when a historical national average processing time dives to less than half of the reported lower figure in an estimated time range, it is only due diligence to question the utility of that estimation.
What EB-5 Investors May Glean
So, while the trend is a positive note in what’s been a rather bleak year among EB5 investment program participants, only time will tell whether these lower processing times will continue. What investors can glean from the data is that the COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps an ideal time to initiate the residency-by-investment process through an EB-5 investment.