Learn about the expected length of the EB5 process in 2022 and beyond.
In this article we will cover:
- Applying Inside vs. Outside the United States
- Expedited EB-5 Visa Processing
- Other Factors Affecting EB-5 Processing Times
How Long Does It Take to Get an EB-5 Visa?
The length of the EB-5 visa process can vary considerably for each immigrant investor. Since each visa applicant’s situation is different, a variety of factors can either lengthen or shorten wait times.
This article breaks down the average time frames for each step of the EB-5 visa process.
What Factors Impact the Processing Time for an EB-5 Visa?
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) wait times often fluctuate; the agency’s estimated time ranges are updated regularly on the Case Processing Times page. The most significant factors affecting EB-5 visa processing times are the volume of filed I-526 petitions and visa availability.
Only 10,000 EB-5 visas are available each fiscal year, which runs from October 1 to September 30. Additionally, up to 7% of the total number of visas are set aside for each participating country.
Any remaining unclaimed visas are reassigned to countries with higher demand. In recent years, EB-5 visa demand has climbed much higher than supply.
The more people that file I-526 petitions, the more people are eligible for an EB-5 visa.
This creates backlogs and increases wait times because of the limited visa quota. Applicants who file their petitions at the beginning of a surge in demand will have shorter wait times compared to those who file at the end.
It is also worth noting that the type of EB-5 capital investment used should not affect an investor’s processing times. EB-5 applicants can either invest directly or through the regional center program. In the first investment model, funds are injected directly into a U.S. business.
In the regional center program, an economic entity known as a regional center manages and deploys the capital.
Applying Inside vs. Outside the United States
The EB5 timeline is also affected by where an investor is located. Those residing in the United States at the time of applying for an EB-5 visa must take a slightly different route than those outside the country.
Investors inside the United States file Form I-485 to gain conditional permanent resident status. In contrast, EB-5 investors outside the U.S. must file Form DS-260 at the U.S. consulate or embassy in their home countries instead. The processing times for both of these petitions vary.
Because the Department of State (DOS) processes the DS-260 petition, applicants cannot use the USCIS website to estimate processing times.
Applications with more complex details typically take longer. An example would be those with extensive travel history to countries that pose possible national security risks.
Expedited EB-5 Visa Processing
USCIS can grant expedited status to a new commercial enterprise that meets certain criteria, the most common of which is promoting urgent interests of the U.S. government.
For example, an addiction treatment center to combat the opioid epidemic may receive expedited status. This can reduce processing times from years to an average of four to 10 months.
USCIS only grants expedited status to exceptional EB-5 investment projects, regardless of whether they are direct or sponsored by a regional center investments entity.
Due to the shorter processing time, these projects may pose a greater financial and immigration risk for investors—USCIS may be more inclined to deny an incomplete or otherwise lacking visa petition due to the narrower timeframe for processing.
Other Factors Affecting EB-5 Processing Times
As mentioned above, processing times are largely dependent on the volume of petitions being adjudicated and visa availability. However, other variables are also involved.
Petition withdrawals, denials, and investor deaths will lower the total EB-5 visa demand. Conversely, family members joining the process and similar factors will cause an increase. These variables affect estimate fluctuations.
Since a limited number of visas are allocated each fiscal year, countries with high demand can accumulate backlogs. Occasionally, the DOS imposes cutoff dates to limit when investors from backlogged countries can apply for and receive their two-year Green Cards.
If an investor from a backlogged country submits Form I-526 after their cutoff date, they will be ineligible to continue in the EB-5 process. The date on which an investor files Form I-526 is known as the priority date.
Investors from backlogged countries may have to wait for many years until their cutoff date catches up to their priority date.
The monthly Visa Bulletins published by the DOS indicate the cutoff dates for backlogged countries.
Estimated Processing Times for Each Step in the EB-5 Process
The following processing time ranges were taken from the USCIS website in April 2022.
1. Form I-526
EB-5 investors receive a priority date upon submitting Form I-526. The average time range for mainland-born Chinese nationals is 60 to 71.5 months (this country is currently backlogged). All other countries are estimated at 35 to 58.5 months.
2. Form I-485/Form DS-260
Investors living in the United States must file Form I-485 to adjust status. This petition can be filed concurrently with Form I-526, and the estimated processing time depends on which field office or service center adjudicates the form.
Applicants living outside the United States must submit Form DS-260. The estimated processing time for this petition is not available on the USCIS site.
Wait times and backlogs at the national visa center (NVC), USCIS, or individual service centers can delay this process.
After approval of Form I-485 or Form DS-260, an investor receives a conditional Green Card for two years.
3. Form I-829
Form I-829 must be filed within the last 90 days of the two-year conditional Green Card period. The estimated processing time for this form is 44 to 68 months. I-829 petition approval removes the conditions and grants permanent resident status in the United States.
What Are the Waiting Times for an EB-5 Visa in 2022?
The COVID-19 pandemic caused mass shutdowns across the world in 2020, affecting businesses and organizations alike; the EB-5 program was not exempt from these difficulties.
USCIS suspended routine visa services at all U.S. consulates and embassies during the height of the pandemic, meaning that foreign nationals living abroad were unable to apply for visas. Many investors experienced delays due to visa interview cancellations as well.
Fortunately for the EB-5 industry, the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022 was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 15, 2022. Significant changes implemented by this bill will have a lasting impact on processing times for both the direct and regional center investment models.
For instance, USCIS will now prioritize visa petitions from investors in a rural targeted employment area and infrastructure projects. A significant 20% of the total EB-5 visa pool will be reserved for rural targeted employment area investors.
Moreover, before the EB-5 Act of 2022, investors had to wait for I-526 petition approval before filing an I-485 petition.
Now, EB-5 applicants can file I-485 and I-526 petitions simultaneously. This is a great advantage for investors living in the United States under other visa categories, who will now be able to obtain their EB-5 Green Cards much faster.
U.S. Green Cards Are Worth the Wait
From start to finish, an average EB-5 timeline takes several years to complete, and priority date backlogs often form in countries with high visa demand, causing even longer delays.
At the same time, both direct and regional center investors can choose projects with expedited status or targeted employment area designation to shorten the process.
Obtaining permanent U.S. Green Cards will certainly be worth the wait; through the direct investment model and regional centers, the EB-5 program results in job creation and promotes immigration.