The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on bureaucratic processes around the world, and visa petition adjudication by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has felt the strain. Global travel restrictions, closures of embassies and consulates, and restrictions on in-person interviews have led to a significant backlog of EB5 investment visa petitions.
The situation intensified as USCIS’s revenue from application fees plummeted. Ur Jaddou, who became the new USCIS director in July 2021, has stated that she will prioritize solving USCIS’s financial situation and implement measures to address the backlog of visa applications.
Four Priority Tiers for Visa Petitions
The United States Department of State (DOS) has announced a new prioritization system for visa applications. The system prioritizes family reunion visas over work- or business-related applications. The categories are the following:
- Tier One: Intercountry adoption visas for immediate relatives; certain Special Immigrant Visas; cases where an applicant will no longer be eligible because of age restrictions; and other emergency cases
- Tier Two: Fiancé(e) visas; immediate relative visas; and returning resident visas
- Tier Three: Family preference immigrant visas and SE Special Immigrant Visas for certain U.S. government employees
- Tier Four: All other immigrant visas
The hope is that this structured prioritization will make processing visa petitions more straightforward and efficient. Nevertheless, relative and adoption visa petitions will be processed before applications related to the EB-5 investment program.
The Outlook for EB-5 Visa Petitions
The EB-5 investment industry has faced several disruptions since 2020. Notably, the temporary closure of the EB-5 Regional Center Program suspended this popular investment route. This means that EB-5 investors can make only direct investments.
The news that the EB-5 petition backlog is not being prioritized by the DOS may cause some concern. However, since regional center I-526 petitions are no longer being processed by USCIS, it is possible that more adjudicators will be available to process direct EB-5 investment petitions.
Other developments in the EB-5 industry have been positive. For instance, the repeal of the Modernization Rule means that foreign nationals can once again participate in the EB-5 investment program at only $500,000 for targeted employment area (TEA) projects. Qualifying projects outside of TEAs must now receive minimum investments of $1,000,000.
As USCIS has filed an appeal to revalidate the Modernization Rule, it is uncertain how long the current minimum investment amounts will be valid. Foreign nationals interested in making an EB-5 investment should start the process before the regulations change once more.