2020 has been a uniquely challenging year for everyone, including those seeking an EB-5 investment. However, there have been some unexpected benefits for EB-5 investors, as evidenced by the latest data from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on I-526 processing times.
Once an EB-5 investor’s I-526 petition is approved, they are eligible for a conditional U.S. immigrant visa, or green card, as are their immediate family. According to USCIS, the national average for I-526 processing times for the first three quarters of FY2020 was just 14.1 months. For comparison, the national average for FY2019 was 19.8 months. These are the lowest processing times for I-526 petitions in five years.
Many factors can influence processing times for I-526 petitions, from budget shortfalls at USCIS to the pandemic-related shutdowns. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. embassies and consulates have temporarily halted most in-person services, including visa interviews to obtain conditional U.S. permanent residency. This has left many with an EB5 investment waiting in limbo. However, it has also allowed those at the Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO) more time to process I-526 petitions, leading to this historic low in average processing times.
USCIS’s listed estimated processing time for I-526 petitions is frequently at odds with the national average in a given fiscal year. FY2020 is no exception. While USCIS data puts national average processing times at 14.1 months, USCIS’s estimated processing time range is posted as 30 to 49.5 months. The first number—30 months—is the estimated time by which 50% of applications are processed, and the second number—49.5 months—is the estimated time by which 93% of applications are processed. The estimated range for I-526 processing is longer for EB-5 investment participants from China at 47 to 76.5 months.
The number of applications processed by the IPO, as well as the ratio of approvals-to-denials, has fallen significantly under the leadership of IPO chief Sarah Kendall. However, this new data on processing times for I-526 petitions is a positive sign. National average processing times are less than half the estimated time range. With processing times this historically low, the COVID-19 pandemic may prove to be the best time to initiate an EB5 investment, and obtain permanent residency in the United States.