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How to Estimate EB-5 Visa Wait Times

Visa processing times can be stressful for EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program applicants. The estimated wait times that immigrant investors and their family members face are affected by a wide range of factors, many of which are uncertain. This means that an EB5 visa processing time estimate does not provide any guarantees. Some EB-5 investors will get their visas much more quickly than their estimated wait time, while others may have to wait significantly longer.

Many of these factors are out of the EB-5 investor’s control. Despite this, it is important not to dismiss estimated wait times entirely, as they can provide useful insight for identifying problems with visa availability. There are also some steps that investors can take to help speed up EB-5 visa wait times.

This article explains the different factors that affect EB-5 visa wait times at each stage of the application process, and what immigrant investors can do to help speed up their visa processing time.

How Wait Times Fit into the EB-5 Visa Process

When predicting and interpreting EB-5 visa wait times, it is important to understand the five main steps in the EB-5 application process.

1. File the I-526/I-526E Petition

Once an individual has invested in a U.S. new commercial enterprise (NCE), they can file their I-526 petition, or I-526E petition if they are investing via a regional center (more on this later in the article). Form I-526 or I-526E is a foreign national’s application to join the EB-5 program. It is submitted to and processed by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Immigrant investors can file I-526/I-526E petitions regardless of the current status of visa availability.

When USCIS receives an investor’s I-526/I-526E petition, it issues a priority date indicating when USCIS received their form. This date is important for determining when the investor will be allocated an EB-5 visa.

2. Await Form I-526/I-526E Approval

Although EB-5 investors can file their I-526E petitions at any time, each immigrant petition is processed based on visa availability. A limited number of EB-5 visas are issued each year. If the quota for that year has been reached, then the individual will have to wait at least one extra year for their I-526E petition to be processed. More about how delays like this work will be explained later in this article.

3. Apply for Conditional Permanent Resident Status

Investors living abroad must become documentarily qualified at the National Visa Center (NVC), an agency of the U.S. State Department, once they have received their I-526/I-526E petition approval. This means that the investor is in line for the next available consulate interview appointment.

In order to apply for a conditional Green Card, investors living outside of the United States must submit Form DS-260 and then attend a visa interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country, while those already living in the United States are required to submit Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, to USCIS. Eligible investors inside the U.S. can submit their Form I-485 along with their initial I-526E, known as concurrent filing.

During this step of the process, applicants are served in order of priority date and nationality. The monthly EB-5 Visa Bulletin published by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs shows who can proceed to the final step.

For applicants from countries with high EB-5 visa demand, this is the main point of delay. Those born in countries where EB-5 visa demand exceeds supply can wait years to complete the application process, and the larger the excess demand, the longer the wait. More on how to potentially bypass this issue is explained below.

Once an investor’s DS-260 or I-485 petition is approved, they gain the right to live and work in the U.S. as a conditional permanent resident.

4. Submit I-829 Petition After Two Years

The Green Card holder must submit Form I-829 within the 90 days just before the end of their two-year conditional Green Card period. Investors who had to wait years to get an EB-5 visa due to being from countries with high EB-5 visa demand will be filing the I-829 petition long after other investors who are not from countries with high demand.

Form I-526/I-526E Volumes Are a Critical Factor

The most important factor influencing visa wait times is the volume of I-526/I-526E petitions from an investor’s home country.

If many people file I-526/I-526E petitions, many people will eventually be eligible for visas. This volume of eligible applicants will lead to backlogs and longer wait times due to limited visa quotas. Furthermore, people who file their immigrant petition at the beginning of a surge in demand will experience shorter wait times than those who file at the end of such a surge.

How EB-5 Visa Wait Times Are Determined

Historically, only 10,000 EB-5 visas are available each fiscal year that runs from October 1 to September 30.

EB-5 visas are assigned not only to immigrant investors but also to their eligible family members. This means that each EB-5 visa application will result in at least one visa being allocated, but it could also result in three, four, or even more visas being allocated.

The USCIS statistics on I-526/I-526E petitions relate only to the number of immigrant investors and not to their family members, so these numbers should be multiplied by the estimated number of family members to derive accurate total EB-5 visa demand numbers. Assuming that the average investor uses three visas, we can estimate that roughly 3,300 EB-5 visas are available for investors from around the world each year.

The allocation of EB-5 visas to each country in a given year is subject to various factors, including demand from applicants in those countries and overall immigrant visa availability. EB-5 visas were historically allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, with each country’s applicants competing for visas from the overall pool. As of March 31, 2020, USCIS started to prioritize petitions for investors who already have a visa immediately available to them, or those who are likely to have one soon.

There is also a per-country limit for EB-5 visas, which aims to prevent any one country from dominating the annual visa allocation, thereby ensuring a more equitable distribution of EB-5 program applicants from different countries. The demand for EB-5 visas can vary significantly from one country to the next, so EB-5 visa wait times can vary dramatically depending on an applicant’s home country.

According to USCIS, to adjust status to lawful permanent residence, “an immigrant visa must be available to the applicant both at the time of filing and at the time of adjudication.” In other words, if an investor files for an EB-5 visa and the quota has been reached, then they will have to wait until the following year to obtain a Green Card.

Having to wait for a future round of visas to be issued is known as visa retrogression. Visa retrogression usually happens at the end of the fiscal year as the number of visas issued begins to approach category or country limits.

When the new fiscal year begins on October 1, a new allocation of visas becomes available. At that point, those experiencing retrogression will again be considered for visas.

However, the more EB-5 visa applications there are from a backlogged country, the longer the latest applicants will need to wait. During periods of high demand, some applicants from backlogged countries like China have found themselves waiting almost a decade for an EB-5 visa.

How the U.S. State Department Reports EB-5 Visa Processing Times

Each month, the Department of State publishes a Visa Bulletin which provides updates on visa availability and backlogs. When reading the bulletin, it is useful to understand two key terms:

  • Priority date: As mentioned earlier, this is the date that USCIS received an investor’s I-526/I-526E petition.
  • Cut-off date: This is the last priority date that was assigned a visa for the current year.

Applicants with priority dates before the published cut-off date may apply for permanent residency that month. If a country is experiencing no visa retrogression, its cut-off date is listed as “current” or “C”. However, some countries experience fluctuations in their cut-off date, which can move forward or backward, depending on:

  • How efficiently the USCIS Immigrant Investor Program Office processes I-526/I-526E petitions.
  • Overall demand for EB-5 visas.
  • New EB-5 visas being made available.

Below is an excerpt from the December 2023 Visa Bulletin. As you can see, all EB-5 (5th) visas are listed as C for current, except for the unreserved category for India and China.

China’s cut-off date is October 1, 2015. In other words, Chinese investors can only apply for an EB-5 visa if USCIS received their I-526/I-526E form on or before this date. That means many investors have had to wait more than eight years to apply for their Green Card. Some Indian applicants for unreserved EB-5 visas have had to wait more than five years.

Estimated EB-5 Visa Processing Times

As mentioned above, another important factor that affects EB-5 wait times is how quickly USCIS processes visa petitions.

The latest estimated EB-5 visa processing times are available on the USCIS website. These wait times are calculated based on the amount of time it takes USCIS to process 80% of all petitions. In other words, most applications will be processed more quickly than this estimated time, while 20% will take longer. But there is no indication of the longest or shortest EB-5 visa wait times.

For example, if the latest estimated processing time for Form I-526/I-526E is 55.5 months, then 80% of all petitions will be processed more quickly than that length of time. Indeed, we know from experience that a significant number of applications are processed within 12 months.

Still, it is always a good idea to take a conservative approach and assume that an application will take at least the estimated processing time, as this will allow for suitable preparations in case of a delay.

Tips for Better Estimating EB-5 Visa Wait Times

While those beginning the EB-5 process can see how long other applicants waited and which priority dates are currently being processed, it is impossible to know what will happen in the future. Knowing how many people are beginning the process, how many applications are in the process of being assessed, and what the estimated EB-5 visa processing times are can provide a rough estimate of wait times, but nothing more.

When attempting to gauge EB-5 visa wait times, applicants should also consider backlogs related to visa limits. Thus, the first step is to consider the number of people from the same country with earlier priority dates divided by the number of visas available. However, factors such as attrition from I-526/I-526E petition withdrawals, and denials, deaths, and increases due to family members joining the process, will cause fluctuations in the wait time estimate.

How to Reduce EB-5 Visa Processing Times

There are some steps that immigrant investors can take to potentially reduce their EB-5 visa wait time. These include:

Invest in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA)

When applying for the EB-5 program, individuals must invest in a new commercial enterprise (NCE) in the United States. Immigrant investors can speed up the EB-5 process by choosing to invest in a business located in a TEA.

A TEA is an area that has a population of fewer than 20,000 people and an unemployment rate at least 150% of the national average. Investments in TEAs qualify for a lower capital investment amount ($800,000, compared to $1,050,000 for projects located elsewhere), as well as roughly a third of set-aside EB-5 visas, and priority processing of Forms I-526/I-526E filed for rural projects. This speeds up the EB-5 application process and helps investors avoid visa backlogs.

Use our TEA map to find areas that qualify.

Invest through a Regional Center

Regional centers are designated by USCIS to pool and manage EB-5 investor capital. Regional centers can submit exemplar I-526E petitions for their projects for USCIS approval.

Once an exemplar has been approved by USCIS, all future I-526E petitions for that project will automatically be signed off upon, save for the parts of the application relating to the individual.

This will not necessarily help avoid a visa backlog, but it will help reduce overall EB-5 visa wait times.

Complete All Forms Fully and Accurately

Failure to complete all USCIS forms properly or provide the required evidence or supporting documentation can slow down an investor’s application in three ways:

  • It may make it more difficult, and therefore more time-consuming, for the USCIS adjudicator to approve a form.
  • The adjudicator may not feel that they have enough information to make a decision. This could lead to them issuing a request for evidence (RFE). In these cases, the investor needs to send additional documentation or information before the EB-5 process can continue.
  • The adjudicator may issue a notice of intention to deny (NOID). Investors must provide a detailed response citing why the NOID is incorrect and cite the laws and documentation that prove this is the case.

How to Start Your EB-5 Process

Long EB-5 visa wait times can be a significant source of stress for immigrant investors—especially when it affects their families’ immigration plans.

Our advice is for foreign investors to thoroughly research EB-5 visa wait times for their home country. Investors should make plans for any potential significant delays and retain an experienced immigration attorney. This way, they will have a plan in place if complications arise.

For more information on navigating every step of the EB-5 process, book a free call with us today to take a closer look at the specifics of your case.