The world has been thrust into the largest global disaster since World War II, with countries all over the world seeing high numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths. The unprecedented catastrophe has ushered in a new era of social distancing and lockdowns, but the EB-5 program continues on.
Since March 18, 2020, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices have been closed to the public in part of the national effort to curb the spread of the deadly virus, but the Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO) continues to adjudicate I-526, I-829, I-924, and I-485 petitions. I-526 processing times are even slightly down, perhaps because forgoing other activities means more time for EB-5 adjudications.
Visa Appointments Postponed
EB-5 investors with biometric appointments will find their EB-5 process delayed, as USCIS has canceled all visa appointments until the economy opens back up. As of March 30, closures have been extended to April 30. EB-5 investors with scheduled visa appointments may receive rescheduling notices, although the future is unpredictable. EB-5 petitioners with upcoming biometric appointments may receive rescheduling notices with instructions.
Electronic Signatures Temporarily Accepted
For the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, USCIS has announced that it will accept electronic signatures in lieu of original “wet” signatures. However, EB-5 petitioners are instructed to keep original copies on hand, and USCIS may request them at any time. Failure to produce requested original documents could result in a denied petition.
Flexible Deadlines for RFEs and NOIDs
A further adjustment USCIS has made is extending the deadline for responding to Requests for Evidence (RFEs) and Notices of Intent to Deny (NOIDs). Any EB-5 investor who receives an RFE or NOID between March 1 and May 1, 2020, is allotted an additional 60 days past the deadline given on the notice to respond. As long as USCIS receives a response within 60 days of the deadline, EB-5 investors will not be subject to any negative impacts.
Consulate and Embassy Closures
As of March 20, 2020, U.S. consulates and embassies all around the world have suspended routine visa services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Emergency visa services are still available, but EB-5 investors living abroad can no longer attend their visa appointments or apply for their EB-5 visas. While EB-5 investors overseas are facing a setback in their EB-5 process, the pandemic may offer an opportunity to the investors already residing in the United States, since USCIS is continuing to process I-485 Petition to Adjust Status forms. Domestic investors may receive visas originally earmarked for EB-5 investors overseas.
EB-5 Coronavirus Rumors
There are no plans to lower the minimum required investment amount and increase the number of available EB-5 visas as part of the coronavirus relief bill—but nonetheless, the rumors continue to circulate. Senator Lindsey Graham, rumored to be leading the movement, has repeatedly denied the reports, but they are spreading like the virus itself, inviting media criticism of the EB-5 program and damaging the image of the program.