Like most programs and organizations in the world, the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program has run into difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the closure of its public offices. In conjunction with the myriad of U.S. embassy and consulate closures around the world, this obstacle has caused many foreign nationals with an EB-5 investment to have their U.S. visa process disrupted.
Although USCIS offices have largely reopened, some U.S. embassies and consulates remain closed for routine visa services, curbing the ability of immigrant investors from proceeding with their EB-5 investment visa. Any EB-5 investor in this situation must wait until consulates reopen to continue with their EB-5 visa applications. Although COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out around the world, it is still, in March 2021, too early to make predictions about the reopening of the world, including U.S. embassies and consulates.
USCIS has continued to operate throughout the pandemic, with its agents easily reachable by email or phone. When offices reopened, it was with much precaution, with visitors incurring no penalty for rescheduling their appointment due to sickness, whether COVID-19 or otherwise. Even as the pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe, USCIS officers have continued to adjudicate I-526 and I-829 petitions—and in record time, according to USCIS’s national historical average processing time figure for FY2020.
EB-5 investors also need to worry about not just direct obstacles but also indirect challenges hampering their path to the United States. Although EB-5 investment participants were spared in the Trump administration’s immigration ban throughout 2020, travel bans around the world could effectively block an approved EB-5 investor and their immediate family members from entering the United States. In reaction to the COVID-19 crisis, the United States restricted the entry of foreigners who had spent the last 14 days in particular regions, and other countries have enforced an outbound travel ban on their own citizens. And it gets worse: even if an EB-5 investor is cleared to leave their own country and enter the United States, they may run into issues with layovers in third countries or have difficulty finding a flight. Then, with flights being cancelled left and right, even having a plane ticket is hardly a guarantee of actually entering the United States on the printed date.
A year into the largest global health crisis since the Spanish Flu, the world has begun to adjust and adapt, but many aspects of life, and particularly international life, remain shut down in March 2021. This presents a challenge to foreign nationals with existing EB5 investments in queue for their EB-5 visa but not necessarily to new applicants who launch an EB-5 investment in 2021. Considering that selecting an EB-5 project, gathering the required documentation, filling out the necessary paperwork, and receiving I-526 approval is a lengthy process, getting started during the pandemic can allow investors to, in a way, recover “lost time” and get a head start on a new life in the United States.