For an immigrant investor hoping to obtain his or her green card through the EB5 capital investment program, they must first choose an EB5 project and then make the required capital investment. That path to a green card and potentially to US citizenship, begins with the filing of Form I-526, the Immigration Petition for Alien Entrepreneur. The I-526 petition must be submitted with accompanying evidence in support of the USCIS EB5 program’s requirements. Upon receipt, the USCIS will evaluate and adjudicate the I-526 petition.
I-526 processing time
Historical I-526 processing trends
Historically, this number has changed quite significantly. For example, in August of 2018, the range was 19.5 months to 25 months. And in 2014 the I-526 processing time was an average of 11.6 months. So, clearly the estimated time has been trending up over the years. With that said, in 2017 and 2018 the Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO) saw several quarters of improved processing times. IPO Chief Sarah Kendall told industry stakeholders in October 2018 that IPO was fully staffed and looking to make significant improvement in the backlog in 2019. However, this optimism was not to last as improvement stopped at the end of 2018 with a 37% reduction from the previous quarter. No official explanation has been issued regarding this sudden and unexpected change.
What 2020 I-526 processing times may look like
Right now, approximately 70,000 EB-5 applicants have filed their I-526 applications. The number of EB5 Green Cards issued to investors will largely be determined by three significant factors: Visa availability, I-526 processing, and country caps.
Extra visas, or “rollover,” from other visa categories will provide EB-5 with almost 1,000 extra visas in 2020. Specifically, in 2020, the Department of State (DOS), will issue 11,111 visas to the EB-5 program. 7% (778 visas) go to any one country due to the program’s country caps. China has a special allowance and receives 288 visas plus those visas from countries that will not use their entire 7%. In FY 2020, roughly 5200 visas will be issued to China, almost 1,000 more than in the previous year.
To understand the complex situation of I-526 processing, we can review three data sources:
- USCIS Check Case Processing Times page, with updates twice per month
- the Historical Average Processing Times page which publish annual averages
- the Immigration & Citizenship Data page, which provide quarterly updates
Interestingly, these three different data sources show us different numbers for recent I-526 processing. Currently, the Check Case Processing page estimates 32.5 to 49.5 months to process an I-526 petition. As recently as June 2019, USICS published estimates of 27 to 52 months.
When we turn to the Historical Average Processing page, we see an average of just 19.8 months in FY 2019 for I-526 processing.
The Immigration & Citizenship Data page reports there are 13,000 pending I-526 applications as of June 2019. Industry pundits say such a number would take about three to five years to process that number of EB5 investors — at the rate of about 4,000 a year. However, as recently as 2018 USCIS was processing around 4,000 per quarter, so estimated numbers are constantly and significantly shifting.
So, is USCIS truly processing I-526 petitions at only one quarter of the speed they did in 2018? Not everyone thinks so and some experts believe processing times are better than currently published numbers for political reasons.
The industry will have a more clear understanding of what current processing times really are when we see EB5 news of the most recent processing volume numbers. Promises from USCIS of more efficiency and integrity in EB-5 give many stakeholders an optimistic view of I-526 processing.
Reasons for a processing slowdown
In general, processing times take longer when IPO gets more petitions than it can process. However, at the time of this writing, there are a couple other possible explanations regarding the longer I-526 processing times. Increased litigation is one as perhaps USCIS is now looking to comply with recent court orders than have gone against their traditional policy implementation. Another possible reason for the slowdown could be an imminent policy change. For example, in 2011/2012 a processing slowdown came just before policy changes. The industry is certainly expecting changes to the program soon. Some industry experts have stated that the possibility exists that actual processing times have not changed at all. The thinking here is that perhaps USCIS is publishing longer times to reduce the number of inquiries they receive; perhaps USCIS wants to avoid EB5 visa applicants filing a writ of mandamus, a court order that compels the adjudication of a case that is taking longer than the mandatory time limits.
On July 10, 2019; The U.S. House of Representatives has approved bill H.R. 1044, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019. The Act if passed from the Senate, would eliminate the 7% country cap for EB-5 Green Card.
Past investors from the rest of the world would have 3-5 year delays (apart from China, Vietnam and India, for whom it would reduce) .
Future investors from anywhere in the world would wait 7-8 years.
What to do if your case is taking too long
Keep in mind the numbers USCIS publishes are averages. But if you have filed your I-526 and your case is outside the average processing time, you should speak with your Eb 5 Visa immigration lawyer. You or your lawyer could send an email inquire to the IPO office. USCIS says the time range indicates how long they will take to process your case from the date they received it. They also say that they “generally” process petitions in the order they are received. To check the latest USCIS processing estimates, go to their Case Processing Times page.
Look below at the fundamental factors that affect I-526 processing times depending on I-526 petition requirements issued by USCIS.
Investment Is Made in a New Commercial Enterprise
As an EB5 investor, it is incumbent upon you to prove that your capital investment was made in a New Commercial Enterprise (NCE). An NCE is any for-profit enterprise established after November 29, 1990 (or prior to that date, provided certain conditions were met). The NCE must have been formed for the ongoing conduct of a lawful for-profit US-based business. The business types of the NCE may include, among others, a sole proprietorship, joint venture, general or limited partnership, holding company, corporation, business trust, or other privately or publicly held entity. In the context of a Regional Center, the NCE is the fund in which the immigrant invests. In general, that fund will take the form of either a Limited Liability Company (LLC) or Limited Partnership (LP). In the context of a direct EB5 investment, i.e. not through a Regional Center, the NCE is the business wherein the immigrant invests and which will create the required jobs for U.S. workers.
The petition to get investor visa USA must be supported by proof that the immigrant has invested the required capital. The minimum required investment is $500,000 or $1 million, with the amount dependent upon the project or NCE’s location. If located within a designated Targeted Employment Area (TEA), the minimum investment amount would be $500,000. Outside of a TEA designated area, the minimum investment would be $1 million.
The USCIS requires that the immigrant investor’s funds be deemed “at risk” and irrevocably committed to the NCE. The funds must be used by the NCE to create employment.
Lawful Source of Capital
The funds used by an immigrant for the EB5 investment must be lawfully earned. The investor must be able to provide to the USCIS the sources of the funds for the capital investment in the EB5 project. There must also be clear evidence that those funds were used for the NCE. EB5 Source of funds could come in the form of salary, earnings, investment or business distributions, sale or mortgage of assets or personal property owned by the immigrant investor, or gifts from third parties (provided those funds were also lawfully obtained). Funds earned or obtained by the immigrant investor while in the United States and “out of status” are not considered lawfully acquired.
Active Involvement in the NCE
Direct Investment: Under USCIS EB5 rules, the immigrant investor may not have a passive role with regard to his or her direct investment. He or she is required to participate in the management of the NCE. This requirement can be satisfied either through day-to-day management of the NCE or assisting in the formulation of the NCE’s business policy (i.e. having voting rights and exercising same).
Regional Center Investment: In the context of an EB5 Regional Center, investors in an EB5 enterprise that is organized, say, as a Limited Partnership, generally have the same rights and duties typically accorded to any limited partner under the respective state’s Limited Partnership Act. The same holds true of the immigrant investor if the NCE was formed as a Limited Liability Company. For the purpose of the EB5 investment this level of involvement, i.e. as a Limited Partner in an LP or as a Member in an LLC, is deemed sufficient by the USCIS.
Direct Investment: In the context of a direct investment under EB-5 process, the NCE must create (or preserve) at least ten (10) direct, full-time positions for qualifying employees for each EB5 immigrant investor. The ten (10) jobs created must be directly for full-time (i.e. not less than 35 hours per week), permanent employees of the NCE. This definition excludes the EB 5 Visa investors, his or her family and any non-immigrant alien. At the time of the I-526 petition, if the positions have not yet been created, the NCE’s business plan must contain a thorough description of the NCE’s hiring plan that will show the positions that would be created with that investment and when those positions would be filled. These ten (10) new jobs must be created within two years after the petitioner receives their conditional permanent residency.
Regional Center Investment: In the context of an investment via a Regional Center, the I-526 petition must show that the EB5 investment will create (or preserve) at least ten (10) direct, indirect or induced full-time positions for qualifying employees for each EB5 immigrant investor. The petition should further show that these ten (10) jobs would be created through revenues generated from the Regional Center projects. The number of direct, indirect or induced jobs that are estimated to be created through the EB5 investor’s capital investment is based upon a comprehensive business plan and a detailed economic analysis. The EB5 petition must contain evidence, i.e. a third-party prepared Economic Impact Analysis, which shows that ten (10) direct, indirect or induced jobs will be created for each immigrant investor in the EB5 project. These ten (10) new jobs must be created within two years after the petitioner receives their conditional permanent residency.
If the foregoing EB 5 visa requirements are met, then, barring any unforeseen circumstance, the I-526 petition should be approved by the USCIS within 12 to 18 months of initial filing. Once the I-526 petition is approved, if the immigrant investor and his or her family are living abroad, they can apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Consulate or U.S. Embassy in their home country. When they lawfully enter the U.S., their status will change to conditional permanent residents of the United States. If the immigrant investor and his or her family are already lawfully residing in the United States, they may petition to adjust their status to conditional permanent residents. Conditional permanent residence is granted for a period of two years; thereafter, the investor and his family must file Form I-829 to have the conditions removed.
Finally, the investor must show the USCIS that the NCE was sustained during the period of conditional permanent residence, that his or her at-risk investment was similarly sustained during that period, and that ten (10) jobs were created as a result of his or her capital investment.
For a free consultation about the I-526 Petition, call us @ 888.313.6222
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