United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has released statistics about its processing data from the second quarter of 2020 financial year (January 1 to March 31, 2020). Processing rates have increased considerably compared to Q1 FY2020; however, the processing rate remains far lower than it was in previous years.
USCIS also received far fewer petitions than it did in previous years. The marked difference can be ascribed to the implementation of the EB-5 Modernization Rule on November 21, 2019, which doubled investment amounts and led to an application rush in Q1 of FY2020. Additionally, I-924 filings have probably declined because of the processing delays and USCIS’s estimated processing time of 53 to 99 months.
I-526 Petition Statistics for Q2 FY2020
In Q1 of FY2020, USCIS received 4,264 I-526 petitions. This dropped to only 21 in Q2. In Q2, USCIS approved 714 petitions and denied 190, leaving 16,633 pending. While these numbers are an improvement on the first quarter of the year, when 383 petitions were approved, 72 were denied, and 17,468 remained pending, only 904 petitions were processed. This is on par with Q2 FY2019.
I-829 Petition Statistics for Q2 FY2020
While the number of I-829 petitions has also decreased from Q1 to Q2 of FY2020, the decrease as not been as significant, falling from 1,013 to 604. The processing backlog has remained largely steady, decreasing from 10,373 in Q1 to 10,309 in Q2. However, the number of petitions approved increased from 436 to 730, which is the largest number of I-829 petitions approved since Q1 FY2018. USCIS did not include the number of petitions denied in Q1 2020, citing protection of privacy, but in Q2, it denied 57 petitions. Thus, the Q2 denial rate is 7%.
Are the Improved Processing Times a Reason for Optimism?
During the March 2020 EB-5 stakeholder engagement, Sarah Kendall, chief of the Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO), mentioned infrastructure development as one of the reasons for the decrease in the processing of EB-5 petitions in FY2019. She noted that preliminary statistics for February 2020 showed a marked improvement in processing rates, and the Q2 FY2020 EB-5 data seems to support that claim. Nevertheless, the IPO’s productivity remains shockingly low compared to FY2018, despite no significant changes having been made to the staffing levels.
On June 16, 2020, Charles Oppenheim, the chief of the Visa Control and Reporting Division of the U.S. Department of State, participated in an EB-5 webinar hosted by IIUSA. During the webinar, he discussed not only the FY2020 processing statistics but also the way forward, focusing on investors from countries with high application volumes, the possibility of offering additional EB-5 visas in FY2021, and the improved processing output at the IPO. Based on his comments, there might be some reason for optimism, but only the Q3 and Q4 processing will provide a clear view of the situation at the IPO and USCIS.
Additional Factors Influencing EB-5 Petition Processing in FY2020
On March 31, 2020, USCIS changed from a first-in, first-out approach to a visa availability approach for adjudicating I-526 petitions. This change comes at the end of Q2, so it is not reflected in the latest statistics. While it will not affect overall processing output, it will affect processing on a per-country basis.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic that is wreaking havoc worldwide brings its own uncertainties to the EB-5 program. Although the reopening of some U.S. consulates and embassies might mean that USCIS can issue all available EB-5 visas before the end of the financial year on September 30, 2020, only time will tell whether this will be the case.