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The Mysteries of USCIS’s Estimated Processing Time Range Update

The Mysteries of USCIS’s Estimated Processing Time Range Update

In August 2020, United State Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) split up its estimated processing time range for I-526 petitions into two categories: one for Chinese EB-5 investors and one for investors from any other country. Given that the Chinese EB-5 backlog is massive, with the switch in April 2020 to a visa availability processing approach, the distinction makes sense—Chinese investors may be subject to significantly longer waiting times for I-526 adjudication.

Strangely enough, however, checking the estimated processing times for I-526 petitions on the USCIS website presents users with three time ranges—one for Chinese investors, one for investors from all other areas, and one unspecified time range. With no calculation formula provided, the unidentified time range doesn’t appear to be an average of the other two, making its very existence mysterious. Furthermore, USCIS does not appear to have updated their calculation methodology to reflect the changes in the processing approach, considering that they have left the line “we generally process cases in the order we receive them” unchanged, just as it was under the previous first-in-first-out (FIFO) approach.

Most concerning, however, is the case inquiry dates. At June 29, 2014, for Chinese investors and September 26, 2015, for rest-of-world investors as of September 14, 2020, EB-5 investors must wait five to six years before they’re allowed to inquire about the abnormally long processing times of their I-526 petition. According to the historical processing data, the average processing time for I-526 petitions in FY2020 until June 30, 2020, has been a mere 13.7 months—a far cry from five or six years.

The upper limit for both time ranges also seems strange—both seem far too high to be plausible. Based on country-specific case receipt data USCIS published in October 2018 and subsequently removed in July 2019, assuming USCIS processed I-526 petitions according to the FIFO approach right up until April 2020, the global backlog should have been cleared up to April 2017. That isn’t compatible with the Chinese estimated time range of 54 to 75 months, which would put the receipt date of Chinese I-526 petitions under processing between May 2014 and February 2016. If all these figures add up, USCIS is essentially saying it’s not processing Chinese I-526 petitions.

The calculation that the global backlog should have been cleared up to April 2017 by April 2020 also sheds new light on USCIS’s case inquiry dates of June 29, 2014, and September 26, 2015. If the backlog really was cleared up to April 2017, hardly any EB-5 investors—if any at all—are eligible to file case inquiries. With nontransparent estimated processing time ranges, USCIS seems to be almost entirely preventing case inquiries into its long processing times.