The EB-5 investment program is popular among foreign nationals for many reasons. For instance, it offers accessible investment thresholds of $500,000 for targeted employment area (TEA) projects and $1,000,000 for non-TEA projects. Moreover, the EB-5 program sets out reasonable criteria regarding job creation, using at-risk funds, and other matters; many other visa-by-investment programs are far less accessible.
However, the EB-5 investment industry has long been plagued by a major issue—slow visa petition processing times. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which oversees the EB-5 program and processes EB-5 visa applications, is known for its sluggish adjudication speeds. USCIS’s processing inefficiency is detrimental to the EB-5 investment industry. EB-5 investors must submit two important petitions to USCIS: Form I-526 and Form I-829. Form I-526 grants investors a two-year conditional residency, while Form I-829 is used to achieve permanent resident status.
Processing data from USCIS’s FY2021 show that adjudication times for Form I-829 are not improving. EB-5 investment stakeholders—including project developers, investors, consultants, and immigration attorneys—may be wondering if USCIS will ever increase its processing efficiency. The remainder of FY2021 is unlikely to bring significant improvements.
I-829 Processing Statistics
From October 2020 to June 2021, USCIS processed 1,733 I-829 petitions. This figure is 37% lower than the total of 2,765 I-829 petitions processed during FY2020. Moreover, the denial rate for Form I-829 during FY2021 Q3 (April to June 2021) increased to 24%.
Perhaps the most worrying figure is that there were 11,160 I-829 petitions waiting to be processed as of the end of FY2021 Q3—this figure has grown by 8% compared to the previous quarter. Due to USCIS’s processing inefficiency, thousands of investors, many of whom undoubtedly complied with all EB5 investment regulations, are unable to move forward with the visa process. Discouraging statistics like these harm the EB-5 program’s image and make it less appealing for foreign nationals. Potential investors may be discouraged from filing Form I-829 and paying USCIS thousands of dollars in processing fees only to have to wait for several years until their petitions are adjudicated.
Will I-829 Adjudication Speed Up?
USCIS will have to allocate more resources to I-829 adjudication if the processing times are to improve. Doing so will be critical for the EB-5 investment industry. Fortunately, recent developments indicate that USCIS could take the necessary measures.
Ur Jaddou was confirmed as the new director of USCIS on July 30, 2021; she has pledged to work toward clearing the visa petition backlogs and improving productivity. Hopefully, Jaddou will make these issues a priority. Moreover, the regional center program expired on June 30, 2021. Since USCIS is no longer processing I-526 petitions associated with regional centers, more employees could potentially be used to address the backlog of existing I-829 petitions.