Good things come to those who wait. The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program is complex and popular, so expect to wait at least a couple of years by default before receiving your conditional permanent resident status. The unpredictable situation of COVID-19 may also influence wait times. Here’s how long you can expect to wait in the different stages of the program during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Time Needed to Prepare and Submit an I-526 Petition
Filing an I-526 petition is how you kick off the official EB-5 process. Each investor and EB-5 project is different, so how long this stage takes depends entirely on your individual circumstances. Consult with an immigration attorney to guide you through the process and ensure that you’re doing everything correctly. You can expect this process to take a few weeks to several months, depending on how much due diligence you need to conduct and how difficult it is to prove the lawful sources of your EB-5 capital.
Time Needed to Receive an Adjudication on an I-526 Petition
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processes I-526 petitions at its Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO). As of April 9, USCIS has closed its offices to the public until at least May 4, with closures poised to be extended if the outbreak is still not under control by then, but the IPO, which does not need to deal with the public, is continuing its normal operations. According to USCIS’s processing estimates, the processing times in April 2020 are estimated at around 31 to 50.5 months, with 43% of I-526 petitions expected to be adjudicated during this period. However, detailed processing data reveals that up to 80% of adjudications may fall outside the estimated range. Additionally, the estimates are based on data from two months prior, inevitably allowing for inaccuracy.
While EB-5 investors should prepare to wait at least two years for their I-526 adjudication, USCIS has also revealed that the average processing time for an I-526 petition from October 1, 2019, to January 31, 2020, was only slightly more than a year. You may receive your adjudication earlier than expected.
How the Visa Availability Processing Approach Affects Processing Times
Traditionally, the IPO assigned I-526 petitions for adjudication on a first-in-first-out basis, but on March 31, 2020, it adopted a visa availability approach. Under the new system, the IPO assigns I-526 petitions for adjudication based on whether there are any EB-5 visas available for the applicant’s country. Since USCIS uses the Chart B dates from the monthly Visa Bulletin, the only investors affected as of April 2020 are those from Mainland China, whose Date for Filing in the April 2020 Visa Bulletin is December 15, 2015. Therefore, Chinese EB-5 investors may face longer wait times, while investors from other countries could potentially see faster processing times.
Wait Times After I-526 Approval
Depending on your country of origin, your wait may continue even after your I-526 petition is approved. For EB-5 applicants outside the United States, USCIS sends approved I-526 petitions to the National Visa Center (NVC) to proceed with the visa application, but if you’re from a backlogged country (as of April 2020, China, India, and Vietnam are the only backlogged countries), the NVC will hold off on contacting you until your priority date is earlier than the final action date of your country. The backlogs move in unpredictable ways, so if you’re from a backlogged country, expect to wait several more months or even years.
Time Needed to File and Receive Adjudication for an I-485 Petition or DS-260
If you’re living outside the United States, you can start the process of filing your DS-260 form to apply for a U.S. green card once the NVC contacts you. You must carry out the process through your local U.S. consulate or embassy, but since all U.S. consulates and embassies are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, you will have to wait until public life opens back up.
If you already live in the United States under a different visa, you can skip the NVC step and simply file an I-485 petition to adjust your immigration status. Since you don’t need to visit a consulate in this case, COVID-19 may have little impact on your EB-5 visa. In fact, EB-5 investors already residing in the United States may even obtain their EB-5 visa faster because they may receive visas originally intended for investors overseas.
Time Needed to Schedule a Visa Appointment and Obtain an EB-5 Green Card
As mentioned above, because USCIS has suspended regular operations at consulates and embassies, overseas investors cannot proceed past I-526 approval until the COVID-19 crisis subsides.
EB-5 investors already living in the United States may also face setbacks if they require an interview or biometric appointment. With USCIS offices across the United States closed until at least May 4, many domestic EB-5 investors will also find their EB-5 process stalled.
Even in the best of times, there is no specific time frame for how long it takes to obtain an EB-5 visa after your visa interview, but with overseas investors unable to proceed with their applications, if you are applying from overseas, you should expect to wait several more months.