As 2020 winds to a close, the world remains volatile and unpredictable. COVID-19 vaccines are in the works, with the first doses having already been administered in the United States and a handful of other countries, but the pandemic rages on, threatening to keep public life heavily restricted for the foreseeable future. The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program has not escaped the effects of the pandemic and the associated lockdowns, with temporary suspensions at U.S. consulates and embassies blocking countless foreign investors from claiming the U.S. green cards their I-526-approved EB-5 investments have earned them.
The situation for EB5 investment applicants with pending I-526 petitions is hardly any better, with I-526 processing volumes continuing their downward spiral under Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO) chief Sarah Kendall. Simultaneously, the estimated processing times for I-526 petitions jumped to unprecedented highs in FY2020, frustrating those with active EB5 investments and discouraging future participation in the program.
FY2020 wasn’t such a bad year for I-829 petitioners, however. I-829 adjudications rose despite the dramatic downturn of I-526 processing, granting many foreign nationals with a successful EB-5 investment their coveted U.S. permanent resident status even in the midst of the most severe pandemic since the Spanish Flu.
High Adjudication and Approval Rates for I-829 Petitions
In contrast to the low I-526 processing volumes, FY2020 saw a jump in I-829 adjudications, surging to 1,229 total I-829 petitions adjudicated and positioning FY2020 as the year with the third-highest I-829 processing volume in its first two quarters since FY2012. This represents a 62% increase over the same period in FY2019, which still saw more I-829 petitions processed than the average since FY2012. The consistently high approval rate for I-829 petitions was also maintained in FY2020, clocking in at 95% for the first two quarters.
The situation in the latter two quarters is unknown as of December 17, 2020. In July 2020, USCIS published a policy memo about redeployment, which directly affected how I-829 petitions are adjudicated. The impact of this policy change will become evident in the latter half of FY2020 and in FY2021, but the EB-5 industry could see I-829 approval rates suddenly falling in the second half of FY2020.
I-829 Estimated Processing Time Range Grew Wider
It’s difficult to predict how long it will take USCIS to adjudicate an I-829 petition. The IPO’s actions in FY2020 make it clear that the organization is prioritizing I-829 petitions over I-526 petitions, but with its snail-like pace under Kendall’s direction, processing times may not have actually decreased since Julia Harrison ran the IPO in FY2018. In January 2020, the estimated processing time range for I-829 petitions was 21–45.5 months, but by October 2020, the range had risen to 35–56 months, despite USCIS’s clear focus on I-829 petitions. Additionally, the range growing wider leaves room for more unpredictability in I-829 processing times. Processing statistics from the latter two quarters of FY2020 and beyond will reveal how the changes to redeployment policy have affected I-829 processing and may offer an indication of the direction processing times will take in the future.