Right now, there is much in the air regarding the current state of the EB-5 investment industry. As of June 22, 2021, the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California ruled that the EB-5 Final Rule is invalid. This caused the minimum amount of EB5 investment capital for targeted employment area (TEA) projects to decrease from $900,000 to $500,000 (and from $1.8 million to $1 million for non-TEA locations). These newly lowered investment thresholds make the EB-5 investment industry extremely appealing to foreign nationals.
As of June 30, 2021, the regional center program is suspended because the Senate did not pass the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2021. If this bill had been passed, it would have reauthorized the regional center program for an additional three years. Instead, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has stopped processing all I-526 petitions tied to a regional center EB5 investment.
During these uncertain times, USCIS released statistics regarding petition processing between January and March of 2021 (FY2021 Q2). The number of processed I-829 and I-526 petitions remained extremely low, which likely reflects the Immigration Investor Program Office’s (IPO’s) lower overall productivity rates. The lower demand caused by COVID-19 should have resulted in increased productivity. Still, the receipt statistics do display a slight improvement for Form I-829.
How Will the Regional Center Program’s Suspension Affect EB-5 Processing?
Examining the processing data makes it clear that the reauthorization of the regional center program is vital. By late March of 2021, there were more than 13,000 unprocessed I-526 petitions. Since regional center projects were formerly the most popular way to make an EB-5 investment, the program’s suspension has no doubt caused issues for countless investors.
The regional center program’s expiration might be beneficial for direct EB-5 investors and I-829 applicants. Because I-526 petitions associated with regional centers are no longer accepted, adjudicators should be able to work on direct EB5 investment I-526 petitions and I-829 petitions. In fact, the backlog of I-526 petitions could be cleared in the coming months. However, this is all speculation as there is no way of knowing when the reauthorization of the regional center program will occur.
Compared to other statistics from January to March of 2021, the receipt data for Form I-829 is positive. In the first quarter of 2021, 1053 I-829 petitions were received, meaning that an increasing number of EB-5 investors are finishing their conditional permanent residency period and then applying for a U.S. green card. Only 98 I-526 petitions were received during the first quarter of 2021.
Due to the overall uncertainty regarding the regional center program as well as EB5 investment amount minimums, it is hard to predict what future quarters’ trends will look like. However, investors can be confident that the regional center program will be resumed.