Although the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program remains one of the fastest and easiest ways to immigrate into the United States, it is not uncommon for applicants to experience long delays in the process. The I-526 petition adjudication process can be the one of the most time-consuming parts of the EB-5 program. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) publishes estimated processing time ranges to help EB-5 investors gauge how long they might have to wait for their petition to be processed. Until recently, the estimated processing time range incorporated EB-5 investors from all countries, not taking into account countries with large visa backlogs. But as of August 2020, USCIS has created a separate category for the estimated processing time ranges for Chinese EB-5 investors.
This distinction between Chinese EB-5 investors and all other EB-5 investors is likely due to an increase in estimated processing times for I-526 petitions. In August 2020, the estimated processing time range nearly doubled. This does not necessarily mean the average investor will experience longer than usual wait times: investors must understand what the ranges actually indicate. The lower number of the range is the time by which 50% of petitions have been processed, and the higher number in the range is the time by which 93% of petitions have been processed. Investors should be aware that this increase in the estimated range does, however, push the date for case inquiry up, requiring investors to wait much longer to file a case inquiry into their abnormally long adjudication.
The recent change to separate Chinese I-526 processing times from other countries likely means that Chinese EB-5 investors are more likely to experience long wait times during the adjudication process. Historically, China has accounted for the largest demand for EB-5 visas, even though the demand has been decreasing in FY2019 and FY2020.
Because the Chinese EB-5 visa backlog is so large, some Chinese investors end up waiting more than five years for their I-526 petition to be processed. Now that USCIS has implemented a new visa availability approach to I-526 adjudication, Chinese investors can expect even longer wait times. On top of that, Hong Kong EB-5 investors are now grouped together with Mainland Chinese EB-5 investors, increasing the EB-5 backlog as well as wait times. By differentiating between Chinese estimated processing times and everyone else, USCIS can more accurately predict the estimated time ranges.
As of August 25, 2020, the estimated processing time range for Chinese EB-5 investors is 54–75 months. EB-5 investors from all other countries have an estimated time range of 31.5–60 months. This difference in estimated processing times pushes the Chinese date for case inquiry to June 9, 2014, while the date for inquiry is September 6, 2015, for the rest of the world. Currently, Chinese EB-5 investors must wait more than a year longer than the rest of the world to file a case inquiry.
For investors outside of China, this differentiation is highly beneficial. The separation has brought their date for case inquiry closer to the present and allowed them to more accurately gauge their potential wait times. Unfortunately, Chinese investors must wait six years before they can file an inquiry into their unusually long adjudication time.