One of the most stressful and frustrating parts of the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program is the extremely long processing time of applicants’ petitions. Investors can be left waiting an extremely long amount of time for their petition to be adjudicated. Fortunately, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website allows EB-5 investors to check the estimated processing time range for their I-526, I-829, and I-924 petitions. The Check Case Processing Times page on the website can give investors a general idea of how long the processing time for their application may take. However, it is important to understand what the estimated processing times actually mean.
As of August 6, 2020, the USCIS gives the following estimated processing times:
I-526 petitions: 46 to 74.5 months
I-829 petitions: 27 to 48.5 months
I-924 petitions: 14.5 to 31 months
EB-5 investors are also able to check the estimated processing times for I-485 petitions, but the times differ for each regional office.
Estimated Time Ranges Explained
While these estimated processing times can be helpful tools for EB-5 investors, they are not as straightforward as one might think. Most people assume that a processing time range of 46 to 74.5 months means that USCIS is processing petitions that have been pending for 46 to 74.5 months. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
The lower number of the range is the time by which 50% of petitions have been processed, while the higher number is the time by which 93% of petitions have been processed. This means that only 43% of petitions are processed within the estimated processing time range. However, as to be expected, these date ranges are never 100% accurate. The EB-5 process is extremely complicated, with multiple factors causing delays in processing times. It is also important to note that the estimates are based on data from just two months prior, hindering the overall accuracy of the estimated time ranges.
Receipt Date for Case Inquiry
Due to the messy nature of the adjudication process, investors’ wait times and delays vary greatly. Some investors experience a rather quick adjudication process, while others end up waiting excessively long. Because some investors encounter unreasonably long delays, the USCIS offers a “receipt date for case inquiry.” This is the date by which USCIS must have received a petition before the EB-5 petitioner can send a case inquiry. USCIS uses the higher number of the estimated time range to determine the case inquiry date. It is unfortunate that the case inquiry date is based on the higher limit of the estimated range, when investors whose petition has been pending longer than the lower limit of the range are also experiencing above average wait times.
The receipt date for case inquiry appear to change radically at random times. The date typically moves ahead one day at a time but sometimes can dramatically move forward or backwards inconsistently. The reason for this is simple: the receipt date for case inquiry is automatically updated every day, while the estimated case processing times are updated irregularly. Because the receipt date for case inquiry is determined by the upper limit of the estimated processing time range, it can appear to dramatically jump at random times.
Historical Average Processing Time
When inquiring about processing times, EB-5 investors must understand the difference between the historical average processing time and the estimated case processing time. The historical average processing time measures the average age of petitions that are currently pending. As stated previously, the estimated processing time range measures petitions processed two months prior. The difference between these two processing times is a result of the way they are each measured.
Additionally, the estimated processing time range does not show the mean average processing time but instead the median. The median cannot be skewed by extremely short or long processing times. Because the historical average processing time measures the mean average, it can be skewed by outliers, causing a discrepancy between it and the estimated processing time range.
Estimated Processing Range vs Actual Processing Times
USCIS released a comprehensive report of processing times for October to December 2018 (FY2019 Q1). During this time period, USCIS had estimated that processing times would range from 20.6 to 26.5 months for I-526 petitions. Yet, the majority of petitions were actually processed within 10 to 15 months. This data shows the potential difference that can occur between estimated and actual processing times. The adjudication process can be extremely complex and nonlinear, so investors should understand that USCIS’s estimated case processing time range is a general range of how long it will possibly take to process their petition.