United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has long maintained estimated processing time ranges to help investors in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program gauge how long they must wait for adjudication of their I-526 petition. The estimated time range has traditionally incorporated EB-5 investors of all nationalities, irrespective of how backlogged their country may be. However, now, as of August 2020, USCIS has split the estimated processing time range for I-526 petitions into two categories: Chinese EB-5 investors and everyone else.
The move may have been inspired by a sudden sharp increase in the estimated processing time range for I-526 petitions in August 2020, with both the low- and high-end numbers in the range almost doubling. This does not necessarily indicate the average EB-5 investor will experience significantly longer wait times—the lower number in the range represents the time by which half of EB-5 investors receive an adjudication, and the higher number represents the time by which 93% of EB-5 investors receive a decision on their petition. However, the increase does push the date for case enquiry up considerably, meaning investors must wait significantly longer before they’re allowed to file a case enquiry into the abnormally long duration of their adjudication.
USCIS’s new move to categorize Chinese I-526 petitions separately from the rest of the world indicates that Chinese EB-5 investors are more likely to experience long wait times than investors from elsewhere. It’s no secret that China dominates EB-5 demand, even if its grip over the program has been diminishing in FY2019 and FY2020.
Nonetheless, the Chinese EB-5 backlog remains large, and some Chinese investors have been waiting for I-526 adjudication for more than five years. With the visa availability processing approach kicking in since April 2020, Chinese investors can expect even longer waits, easily justifying the separate category in the estimated processing time range. Finally, the addition of Hong Kong EB-5 investors to the Mainland Chinese backlog pushes the wait times up even further.
The distinction between EB-5 investors from China and those from the rest of the world is evident in the drastically higher estimated processing time range for Chinese applicants. As of August 25, 2020, the estimated time range for Chinese investors is 54–75 months, whereas investors from the rest of the world have an estimated time range of 31.5–60 months. This makes the Chinese date for case enquiry June 9, 2014, where it’s September 6, 2015, for the rest of the world—more than a year later.
The distinction is good news for EB-5 investors outside of China because it brings their date for case enquiry closer to the present. Chinese EB-5 investors, on the other hand, have to wait an astonishing six years before they’re permitted to file an enquiry into their abnormally long processing times.