Despite the EB-5 visa’s recent popularity, the EB-5 investment process is known for being slow. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which supervises the EB-5 investment industry, may take years to process Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur. Foreign nationals file Form I-526 after making an EB-5 investment. If USCIS deems that all of its regulations have been followed, it approves Form I-526 and grants the investor a two-year conditional residency.
Toward the end of this period, an investor must submit Form I-829, Petition by Investor to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status. This petition must demonstrate that the EB5 investment created at least 10 full-time jobs and remained in compliance with USCIS regulations. Once Form I-829 is approved, an EB-5 investor is granted permanent resident status.
Because of USCIS’s slow adjudication times, the EB-5 process can take longer than expected. Moreover, EB-5 investors with dependent children may want to complete the process before their children age out and cease to qualify for an EB-5 visa.
EB-5 industry members will be pleased to know that direct EB-5 investors may now be able to obtain their green cards faster than ever, thanks to potentially shorter processing times and the removal of cutoff dates in December 2021.
Potentially Faster Processing Times for Form I-526
As mentioned previously, USCIS typically takes years to process Form I-526. However, the June 2021 expiration of the regional center program may significantly quicken the agency’s processing speeds. Regional center investment was far more popular than direct investment, but USCIS is no longer processing pending I-526 petitions from regional center investors or accepting any such new petitions.
The absence of regional center visa petitions may allow USCIS to focus on processing I-526 petitions from direct investors; more adjudicators may now be available. Interested foreign nationals should note that it is unclear how long the regional center program will remain suspended, and some analysts believe that it could be reauthorized before the end of 2021 or in early 2022. In any case, the window to take advantage of USCIS’s potential for faster processing is temporary.
No Cutoff Dates for Direct EB-5 Investors
Due to EB-5 processing backlogs that started in 2015, EB-5 applicants from China have been subject to cutoff dates, which delay when investors can apply for or receive their conditional EB-5 visas. To the relief of direct EB-5 investors, the December 2021 Visa Bulletin announced that direct EB-5 applicants from all countries would no longer be subject to cutoff dates. This means that all direct investors can now receive their visas as soon as USCIS approves their I-526 petitions. If the regional center program is revalidated, its investors will continue to be subject to cutoff dates.
Chinese nationals interested in the EB-5 program have particularly strong reasons to consider making a direct EB-5 investment: for the first time in six years, Chinese EB-5 investors will not have to wait for their cutoff dates to become current before receiving their conditional green cards.
The expiration of regional center investment and the removal of cutoff dates for direct investors has put direct EB-5 projects in an advantageous position. Foreign nationals who act quickly and make a direct EB5 investment may be able to obtain their U.S. green cards in significantly less time than most other investors. Moreover, the minimum EB-5 investment amounts have been lowered, and the chance to invest in a direct EB-5 project at only $500,000 is also likely to be temporary.