The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program has helped thousands of foreign nationals permanently relocate to the United States. Although it is considered one of the fastest and easiest ways to obtain permanent resident status, it is not always a speedy process. EB-5 investors often face unusually long wait times during the adjudication process, with some investors from backlogged countries waiting up to five years. While a five-year waiting period is not the norm, it is important for prospective investors to understand that several factors can affect the processing times for I-526 petitions.
I-526 Petition Historical Average Processing Times of FY2020
The year 2020 has been extremely unpredictable due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has affected countries and economies all over the world, and the EB-5 program is no exception. Due to the pandemic, the United States temporarily closed all U.S. embassies and consulates, which left thousands of EB-5 investors unable to complete their visa applications and interviews so that they could receive conditional permanent resident status. One of the upsides to the closures was that the Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO) had more time and manpower to focus on EB-5 petition adjudication since all other services were suspended.
The extra time to focus on EB-5 petitions seems to show some positive results in the I-526 adjudication data. USCIS updated the historical national average processing times of I-526 petitions to include Q1, Q2, and Q3 of FY2020, and the data revealed the lowest average processing time in five years at just 14.1 months. Figures from FY2019 showed an average of 19.8 months, which would appear to mean that processing times have decreased in FY2020.
A Closer Look at the Data
While this appears to be good news for anyone involved with an EB5 investment, the data is not as clear as it may seem. Since Sarah Kendall took over as chief of the IPO, I-526 petition processing volume has nosedived, and I-526 approval has significantly decreased.
This data does not support the significant change in the historical average processing times, which has led some to believe that the IPO is prioritizing the adjudication of newer petitions. While this may result in a lower historical average processing time, it leaves older EB-5 investment participants in a perpetual waiting period.
Incongruencies with Estimated Processing Time Ranges
USCIS also posts estimated processing time ranges for each petition. As of November 19, 2020, the estimated processing times for I-526 petitions are 47–76.5 months for Chinese EB-5 investors and 30–49.5 months for all other EB-5 investors. Although these processing times are incongruent with the historical average, it is important to understand how they are calculated.
The lower number of the range is the time by which 50% of petitions are processed, and the higher number in the range is the time by which 93% of petitions are processed. Therefore, half of I-526 petitions are processed faster than the estimated time range.
Given this, and the fact that the historical national average processing times normally reflect two-month-old averages, it is normal for there to be some variation in the two figures. However, it only makes sense to question the figures when the historical national average processing times is less than half of the lower number in the estimated processing time range.
The lower historical national average processing times is still a positive note for those planning to make an EB5 investment or for those who already have. As the new calendar year approaches, perhaps I-526 processing volume will continue to increase. The COVID-19 pandemic has actually had several positive impacts on the EB-5 program that make it the perfect time for prospective applicants to begin their EB-5 journey.