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What USCIS’s Case Processing Times Mean

On the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website, EB-5 investors and regional centers can check the estimated processing time range for their I-526, I-829, and I-924 petitions on the Check Case Processing Times page. The page is constantly updated, and as of June 4, 2020, USCIS gives the following estimates for processing times:

I-526: 29.5 to 44.5 months (2.5 to 3.7 years)

I-829: 21.5 to 47 months (1.8 to 3.9 years)

I-924: 58.5 to 119 months (4.9 to 9.9 years)

Investors can also check the estimated processing times for their I-485 petitions, but the times vary by regional office.

One might assume an estimated processing time range of 29.5 to 44.5 months means USCIS is currently processing petitions that have been pending for 29.5 to 44.5 months, but that isn’t the case. “Estimated processing time range” is a bit of a misnomer because the majority of petitions are processed outside of the estimated range.

What the Range Really Means

The estimated processing time range is more an indicator of delays rather than an estimation of average processing times. The lower number in the range is the time by which 50% of petitions have been processed, and the higher number is the time by which 93% of petitions have been processed. Assuming perfect accuracy, this means only 43% of petitions are processed within the estimated time range.

However, naturally, the time ranges are not perfectly accurate. The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program is far too complicated to predict such metrics with high precision, and the estimates are based on data from two months prior. The most an EB-5 investor can take away from the estimates is a very general idea of when their petition might be processed.

Understanding the Receipt Date for Case Inquiry

It’s no secret that some EB-5 investors are left waiting a considerable period of time for their petition to be adjudicated. The process is particularly complicated for I-526 petitions, since the adjudication process is anything but linear and USCIS introduced a visa availability approach to I-526 processing at the end of March that sees petitions adjudicated based on the immediate availability of visas for the applicant’s country rather than the date of receipt.

To address unreasonably long delays, USCIS offers a “receipt date for case inquiry”—the date before which USCIS must have received a petition before the petitioner is permitted to send a case inquiry. USCIS uses the higher number of the estimated time range (i.e., the time by which 93% of petitions have been adjudicated) to define the case inquiry date. Why USCIS designates only the 7% of petitioners with extremely long processing delays for case inquiries is unclear when those whose petition has been pending for longer than the lower number are also experiencing a longer than average processing period.

Why the Receipt Date for Case Inquiry Can Move Erratically

EB-5 investors who watch the case inquiry date for the chance to inquire about their unusually delayed petition are often confused by the erratic nature of the date, which can sometimes move ahead suddenly or move backward. It seems strange because generally, the date moves steadily, increasing by one day at a time.

The answer is simple: The receipt date for case inquiry is updated automatically each day, but the estimated case processing times are not. The case processing times are updated at irregular intervals, and since the receipt date for case inquiry is based on the upper limit of the range, it can seem like the case inquiry date suddenly jumps significantly at random times.

Historical Average Processing Time vs. Estimated Processing Time Range

Many EB-5 investors have also pointed out the clear discrepancies between the historical average processing time and the estimated processing time range. While it may initially seem confusing, the first thing that’s important to note is that the estimated processing time range is measuring petitions processed two months earlier and the historical average processing time is measuring the average age of petitions currently pending. Since the metrics measure different things, a bit of discrepancy is only natural.

The second thing that’s important to understand is that, as discussed above, the estimated time range does not indicate the mean average processing time but rather the median. Petitions processed unusually quickly or slowly can skew the overall numbers for the mean average but not for the median, which can sometimes result in large discrepancies.

Detailed Data for FY2019 Q1

USCIS doesn’t release detailed data for most quarters, but it did release a comprehensive report on the figures for October to December 2018 (FY2019 Q1). The period reveals a stark difference between the estimated processing range and the actual processing times. Although USCIS gave an estimated processing range of 20.6 to 26.5 months for I-526 petitions, the majority of petitions were adjudicated within 10 to 15 months. The figures make clear the truth of USCIS’s nonlinear processing tendencies.