United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has released the February 2021 edition of its monthly Visa Bulletin to inform petitioners of the state of the visa backlogs in February 2021. As the world hurtles into strengthened COVID-19 travel bans and restrictions following the emergence of new, more contagious strains of the virus, USCIS provides no light at the end of the tunnel for those involved in EB-5 investments and hoping to earn U.S. permanent residency rights. Five months into FY2021, the U.S. immigration body has failed to take advantage of the thousands of extra EB-5 visas allocated for the fiscal year to reduce the lengthy EB-5 backlogs, risking countless EB-5 visas going unused by the end of FY2021.
With COVID-19 vaccines making their global debut, albeit at dramatically varying speeds depending on the country, there is hope for some sense of normalcy in 2021. However, from the current vantage point in late January 2021, the future of EB5 investment participants and the world at large is unpredictable, and EB-5 investors should prepare for the possibility of a second 2020. Adding to the EB-5 program’s challenges in FY2021 is the increased risk for EB-5 Regional Center Program termination on June 30, 2021, with industry leaders rallying stakeholders to work together toward EB-5 reform as the most effective weapon against a program sunset.
While the February 2021 Visa Bulletin is good news for Indian EB-5 investors—still no backlog since achieving “current” status in July 2020—the outlook is not so good for those in China and Vietnam pursuing EB-5 investments. The Vietnamese final action date has advanced two weeks from the January 2021 Visa Bulletin, landing at October 1, 2017. The Chinese final action date, meanwhile, remains at August 15, 2015, where it has stood since the August 2020 Visa Bulletin. The deluge of new EB-5 visas in FY2021 has thus far done nothing to improve the situation of EB5 investment participants, with wait times growing ever larger and Chinese investors entering their seventh month of final action date inaction.
Chinese EB-5 investors have to face not only a stalled final action date but also a disconcerting lack of movement in the date for filing, which has stood steady at December 15, 2015, for 11 months. Should the March 2021 Visa Bulletin not offer any improvements, Chinese EB-5 investment participants will have reached the unfortunate milestone of a year-long unchanged date for filing. Though a lot can happen in a month, the current global situation surrounding COVID-19 does not offer a lot of hope that the March 2021 Visa Bulletin will provide good news to Chinese EB-5 investors.