The wait times for the adjudication of EB-5 petitions I-526 and I-829 are forecast all the time. These predictions are not set in stone, but it’s still worth taking them into consideration. There are too many factors involved in the calculation for the predictions to be 100% accurate, but the wait time estimates give EB-5 investors a broad overview of how long they will have to wait.
The most influential factor in the length of EB-5 wait times is the number of I-526 petitions filed. Since there are caps on the number of visas USCIS may issue per year, the more EB-5 investors who file an I-526 petition, the larger the backlogs grow. EB-5 investors who submit their application when a new wave of demand is just beginning will be subject to relatively shorter wait times.
An Overview of EB-5 Visas and Wait Times
In each fiscal year (Oct. 1 to Sept. 30), USCIS may issue approximately 10,000 EB-5 visas. On average, each investor applies with two dependents (a spouse or children), who are also granted visas from the 10,000 available, leaving only around 3,300 EB-5 visas available for investors per fiscal year. Furthermore, no one country is supposed to account for more than 7% of the available visas, meaning there are around 700 visas per country available each year (approximately 233 for investors). This is bad news for EB-5 investors from countries like China, India, and Vietnam, where the EB-5 program is far more popular than in countries like Japan, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
There can be a long time between the time an EB-5 investor files an I-526 and the time it is adjudicated. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) rules that for an investor to receive a green card, a visa must be available at both times. The Department of State publishes a monthly Visa Bulletin showing the current cut-off dates. EB-5 investors who filed their I-526 petition before the cut-off date may be granted a visa.
Cut-off dates generally only apply to countries where there is substantially more EB-5 demand than supply, such as China. When large backlogs form, investors from backlogged countries, such as China, may face wait times of up to several years because each year’s allotted visas are granted to applicants who filed petitions in previous years. The cut-off date is subject to fluctuation each month based on factors such as demand, so EB-5 investors are advised to check them every month.
How EB-5 Visa Wait Times Are Predicted
The EB-5 process consists of five main stages, which must be considered in the prediction of EB-5 wait times.
1. I-526 Petition Submission
Investors kick off the EB-5 process by filing the I-526 petition. The date the EB-5 investor files an I-526 becomes his or her priority date. Investors can submit their I-526 petition at any time, regardless of the current visa availability.
2. I-526 Petition Approval
Petitions are processed based on the visa availability of the petitioner’s country. Until recently, they were processed on a first-in-first-out (FIFO) basis, but USCIS has changed its system to better serve EB-5 minority countries. Investors from countries such as China, India, Vietnam, and South Korea may face wait times of several years, but investors from less popular EB-5 countries may only need to wait less than one year.
3. Documentary Qualification
EB-5 investors applying from outside the US via a consulate must become documentarily qualified before they can submit an I-829 petition. They must submit their documents for review by the National Visa Center (NVC), a process that is subject to delays if the EB-5 investor cannot supply the documentation quickly or if USCIS is slow notifying the NVC of the I-526 approval.
EB-5 investors already living in the US can skip this step—they simply need to submit an I-485 adjustment of status application once they receive I-526 approval and there are enough visas available for them and their family.
4. Visa Availability
After EB-5 investors have completed the above three steps, they are ready to apply for conditional lawful permanent residency. They must monitor the monthly Visa Bulletin to see whether they can submit their application each month. Cut-off dates differ depending on the EB-5 investor’s country of origin, with Chinese investors suffering the longest wait times. If the cut-off date for your country simply says “current,” you can submit your application at any time, since the EB-5 demand in your country is low.
5. I-829 Petition Submission
The final step in the EB-5 immigration process is filing Form I-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions in the 90-day period before your conditional permanent resident status expires. Since conditional permanent resident status always lasts two years, regardless of the applicant’s nationality, investors who were stuck in the backlog cannot make up time and file their I-829 petitions early.
Keep the Following in Mind
While the statistics on past and current EB-5 wait times are clear, no one can know what the future will bring. It is possible to calculate a rough estimate of a prospective investor’s expected wait times, but fluctuation in demand or policy changes could elongate or shrink wait times.
The amount of time an EB-5 investor has to wait depends on the number of other investors from the same country with a priority date earlier than him or her. However, not everyone ahead of an investor may be approved, and the deaths of investors or their family members can also result in more available visas. Similarly, an applicant may get married or have more children while waiting, reducing the number of available visas.