Sarah Kendall, Chief of the Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO), led a two-week virtual EB-5 investment industry forum that began on November 10, 2020. The materials presented on the first day are publicly available on the website Invest in the USA as well as on YouTube, or in a PDF. There were several telling insights into the IPO’s process, both for better and for worse.
The IPO reported that they currently have 232 staff members processing EB-5 petitions, down from 245 in March 2020. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) discussed laying off up to 70% of its staff in August 2020, yet thankfully most of the IPO staff are still employed and have been working from home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is welcome news for the EB5 investment community.
However, even before the pandemic, IPO data showed that employee productivity has gone down nearly 72% under Sarah Kendall’s watch. Each IPO employee has been processing an average of just two petitions per month. This is an absurdly low number than cannot be attributed to a staff shortage. The IPO has more than doubled its staff since 2016, yet is processing only a quarter of the number of petitions.
This type of governmental waste is an outrage, not only for those in the EB-5 investment community, but for the waiting families of petitioners as well.
IPO processing times for I-526 petitions reached an all-time high in FY2018 under the leadership of Julia Harrison, Ms. Kendall’s predecessor. However, I-526 processing has since plummeted with Ms. Kendall’s approach as evidenced by the chart above. An average of only 304 1-526 petitions were processed each month in 2020, down from an average of 1,221 per month just two years prior.
Ms. Kendall and the IPO acknowledged this problem with the EB-5 investment process. They attributed the delayed transmission of approved I-526 petitions to the National Visa Center (NVC) to understaffing, a problem they expect to be only temporary.
Conversely, I-829 processing times for EB-5 investors has remained rather steady under both Ms. Harrison and Ms. Kendall, with highs and lows recorded for each. For instance, the number of I-829s processed each month of FY2020 during the global pandemic, averaged just 21 petitions less than the previous high of pre-pandemic FY2017.
The IPO did acknowledge a technical issue with I-829 processing. Some EB-5 investors found their I-829 biometrics appointments scheduled on different days from those of their family. Ms. Kendall attributed this to a bug in their computer system.
The IPO data presented at the November 2020 forum speaks for itself. With I-829 petitions still being processed at normal rates, yet I-526 petitions plunging, it seems Sarah Kendall wants to suppress new interest in the EB5 investment program. But with new vaccines on the horizon, and the EB-5 investment community adjusting to the new realities of her leadership, we may still see increases in productivity for FY2021, especially if the COVID-19 pandemic comes to a swift close.