United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has updated the historical national average processing times for I-526 petitions to include February 2020, with processing times increasing to 12.9 months from 12.6. Despite the increase, the national historical processing time remains at a five-year record low, indicating a faster I-526 processing period for EB-5 investors.
The truly interesting update will come in June, when the data for March 2020 is added. March was the first month of the COVID-19 lockdown in the United States, with USCIS shutting its offices to the public and suspending routine visa services at embassies and consulates around the world. Anecdotal accounts suggest processing times have decreased, but only the data will provide the true picture.
It is also important to note the discrepancies between the national historical processing times page and the USCIS case processing page. USCIS’s estimated range of 31 to 50.5 months is at a minimum more than double the length indicated in the national historical average processing page. While the low average processing times are good news, EB-5 investors must bear in mind that their actual processing time could be far longer.
The I-526 petition is the first petition an EB-5 investor files. It is essentially an application for the EB-5 program, with EB-5 investors required to demonstrate evidence of the legal source of their funds, proof that they have invested it in a qualifying new commercial enterprise (NCE), and the business plan of the NCE, including its hiring schedule and economic projections.
In exchange for a qualifying investment that creates at least 10 new full-time jobs for U.S. citizens or residents, the EB-5 program grants investors and their immediate family members permanent resident status in the United States. The minimum required investment amount is $1.8 million unless the EB-5 project is in a targeted employment area (TEA), in which case it is lowered to $900,000.
Despite the current USCIS office closures to curb the spread of COVID-19, the organization continues to adjudicate I-526 petitions and other petitions related to the EB-5 program. The closure of embassies and consulates worldwide means EB-5 investors residing overseas are currently unable to apply for an EB-5 visa, but those residing in the United States on a different visa may receive their permanent resident status more quickly because the overseas investors are unable to claim theirs.