Just 32% of available FY 2020 EB-5 visas used; COVID-19 largely to blame

  • Written by GCBI Team Posted on March 25, 2021 | Updated on March 25, 2021 | 3 min read

Because of the pandemic, EB-5 pundits predicted that in FY 2020 many visas for the program would be unused; and, unfortunately, those predictions came to pass. While 11,094 visas were available, only 3,556 (32%) EB-5 visas were issued this past fiscal year. That’s in stark contrast to the previous three fiscal years when 9,478 (94%), 9,602 (96%), and 10,090 (102%) EB-5 visas were issued. EB-5 expert Suzanne Lazicki has been compiling historic processing data and says “2020 is a story about visa processing constraints.” 

The Department of State has released the Report of the Visa Office 2020. This data (neatly organized for EB-5 by business plan writer Suzanne Lazicki) offers a confirmation of predictions and some interesting insights into who is getting EB-5 visas and how (Adjustment of Status versus consular processing).

While Lazicki tells us that in years past reports about visa issuance were a look into the the EB-5 demand from different countries, this report for FY 2020 “does not reflect who wanted visas, but who was lucky to get visas despite massive COVID-19 restrictions and processing bottlenecks.”

EB-5 visas issued from FY 2017 to 2020

Total EB visas140,000140,292141,918156,253
EB-5 quota (7.1%)9,9409,96110,07611,094
Total EB-5 visas issued10,0909,6029,4783,596
Consular processing visas8,414 (83%)7,807 (81%)7,889 (83%)2,425 (67%)
Adjustment of Status visas1,6761,7951,5891,171

In FY 2020 only a third of available visas were used, starkly dropping from previous years

We can see in FY 2020 that while there were more visas available for EB-5 than in any of the previous years, only 3,596, or 32% of the available number, were actually issued. This is a steep decline from the three years prior — when 94%, 96%, and 102%, respectively, of available visas were used. This decline shows just how significant the impact of the pandemic was on EB-5 processing.

Consular processing efficiency even lower than Adjustment of Status processing

Another statistical curiosity in FY 2020 was the lower percentage of visas issued by consular processing. In the three years prior 81-83% of visas issued were through consular processing; however, in FY 2020, only 67% of visas issued were through consular processing. Clearly, adjustment of status processing in the U.S. was more efficient than the processing in consular offices overseas.

While USCIS was impacted by the pandemic and I-485 (Adjustment of Status in the U.S.) processing numbers were down significantly from prior years, it’s interesting to note that USCIS processed slightly more I-485 petitions for both Chinese and Indian applicants than in years prior.

FY 2020 Visa issuance by country 

While in normal years Lazicki looks to the Visa Office Report as an indication of demand, she reminds us that in the year of the pandemic, the numbers can’t offer the same insights. With the caveat that we should not “make many conclusions from these numbers,” here are the countries or regions that were issued at least 20 visas in FY 2020: 

Visas issuedGlobal %% issued through
consular processing
China Mainland1,68646.961
South Korea1524.288
China Taiwan962.778
United Arab Emirates300.880
South Africa270.889
Hong Kong S.A.R.230.648
All other countries1955.488

We can see that in FY 2020, China, as is to be expected, claimed the most visas, followed by India and Vietnam, then a big drop to South Korea. Brazil was the leading non-Asian country.

The top countries with the highest percentage of consular processing in their homeland were Iran, Vietnam, South Africa, and South Korea. The top countries with the highest Adjustment of Status processing (occurring in the U.S.) were Venezuela, Hong Kong S.A.R., India, and Egypt. 

EB-5 visas in FY 2021 and the future

The October Visa Bulletin anticipated an FY 2021 annual limit of approximately 261,500 employment-based visas. This number would be an all-time high. With EB-5 receiving 7.1% of the the total employment-based number, EB-5 was projected to have 18,567 available visas in FY 2021, far eclipsing the 11,094 available in FY 2020.

Looking forward, there are many reasons to expect much improved processing this year: mass vaccination is well underway; a new immigration-friendly Bien administration is in power; a former heard of USCIS, Alejandro Mayorkas, is now running Homeland Security, and is expected to be very open to EB-5; the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act 2021 has just been introduced and the bill has provisions for greatly improving processing times.

The confluence of these factors should mean a higher number of EB-5 visas will be issued this fiscal year — and hopefully many more once the country fully returns to normalcy. Goodbye and good riddance to FY 2021 and let’s raise a toast to the end of the pandemic, the beginning of new leadership, and the future of EB-5.

See Suzanne Lazicki’s blog “EB-5 visas issued by country in 2020”

See the Report of the Visa Office 2020