United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which oversees the EB5 investment program, has experienced a rather turbulent time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the sharp decrease in visa petition filings during 2020, the agency’s income was drastically reduced. USCIS narrowly avoided having to furlough about 70% of its staff, but it was forced to reduce spending and find ways to increase its revenue. A few months later, on July 30, 2021, Ur Jaddou was confirmed as the new director of USCIS. Jaddou pledged to help USCIS return to solvency and speed up the agency’s notoriously slow visa petition adjudication times—many countries, including Vietnam, India, and China, have experienced long processing backlogs. As of September 2021, China is the only country that is still backlogged.
Unfortunately, the Visa Bulletin for October 2021 reflects no progress toward clearing up the Chinese visa backlog. USCIS still has much work to do to make its adjudication process more efficient and finally bring China to “Current” status. The EB-5 investment industry desperately needs faster visa petition processing.
Chart A, “Final Action Dates for Employment-Based Preference Cases,” shows that the final action date for Chinese EB-5 investors remains at November 22, 2015. This means that the final action date has not advanced since the September 2021 Visa Bulletin. Even though the final action date had moved forward between the June and September 2021 bulletins, it may be that Chinese visa processing will now experience another extended period of stagnancy—before the June 2021 bulletin, the Chinese final action date stayed the same for more than 12 months.
Currently, all EB-5 investors from China who filed their I-526 petitions after November 22, 2015, cannot receive their conditional EB-5 visas. They will have to wait until the final action date catches up with their I-526 priority date (the date they filed Form I-526).
The regional center values are marked as “Unauthorized” because the regional center program expired on June 30, 2021. As of September 20, 2021, the regional center program has not been revalidated.
Chart B, “Dates for Filing of Employment-Based Visa Applications,” shows the date for filing for Chinese EB-5 investors. The date currently stands at December 15, 2015—it has not advanced in over one year despite USCIS’s new directorship and the improvements in the final action date. Therefore, investors who filed Form I-526 after December 15, 2015, cannot apply for their visas even if USCIS has already approved their I-526 petitions.
The October 2021 Visa Bulletin indicates that Chinese EB-5 investors must still exercise extraordinary patience. The EB-5 investment industry would benefit greatly from speedier processing times—USCIS has ample room for improvement in its processing efficiency.