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EB-5 expert Suzanne Lazicki has compiled a list of official statements explaining the I-526 processing slowdown that suddenly happened in FY 2019. The many reasons include complying with court orders due to increased litigation, temporary reassignment of staff, training, the regional center program sunset, changes to ensure integrity and quality assurance, and working with law and regulatory enforcement. The average time spent on an I-526 increased 33% from 2016.
Suzanne Lazicki, tireless in her collection and examination of EB 5 immigration facts and numbers, has put together a comprehensive list of statements issued by USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security regarding the drop in I-526 processing efficiency. The EB-5 program hit I-526 processing high in the third quarter of FY 2018. There was a significant decrease between Q4 FY 2018 and Q1 FY 2019; and then a huge drop in Q2 FY2019. Since then, processing has been around a quarter of the level it had been in FY 2018.
A letter signed by 38 senators to USCIS in May 2019 inquired about “reports of long processing delays.” The letter received a response citing these factors for delayed processing: staffing and facility resources, new policies, new processing systems, and increased form complexity. The USCIS response also goes into some detail saying that an increased number of litigations have led to USCIS compliance with various court orders and this has impacted processing.
The September 9, 2019, EB-5 Modernization Stakeholder Call also detailed a lengthy list of reasons for the decreased processing efficiency. It cites the sunset of the EB5 investment program during the previous December and January as hurting efficiency even after the reauthorization of the program. It also points to quality assurance programs to achieve better consistency in adjudication, and this new mandate required extensive training for I-526 adjudicators and economists. A temporary reassignment of staff to “other agency priorities” is also given as a reason for the processing downturn.
Other official statements repeat many of these reasons and go on to expound on enhancing EB5 Green Card program integrity and protection from fraud and abuse — political hot buttons that made headlines and divided both journalists and politicians.
While I-526 processing had been quite efficient since FY 2016, it hit its high point in FY 2018. Lazicki also details reasons for this upswing in adjudications. At the end of 2017, some positive EB5 news was that the Immigrant Investor Program Office (IPO) created “hybrid” teams of both economists and adjudication officers to process I-526 petitions. That year also saw the IPO determined to standardize and better manage the assignment of EB-5 applications.
There has been a general trend up in IPO staffing numbers: from 110 in February 2016, to 185 in July 2017, to 212 in September 2019.
New program director Sarah Kendall, on October 5, 2018, made this statement in the USCIS meeting with IIUSA:
“I believe it represents that it was a good decision for the leadership here to invest additional resources in the program. We are fully staffed now…. we are fully staffed and we anticipate that we will continue to be as productive and we’re aiming to be more productive…. So the productivity on the 526s was very good this year. But we’re not sitting on our laurels. We recognize that this is a business community. There are business practices. There are people, the individuals behind every application. And that the credibility of that application’s likelihood of being adjudicated in a timely way is important. “
Especially in light of Kendall’s seemingly optimistic remarks, the question that still remains is: if the agency is fully staffed and committed to ensuring long-term I-526 processing efficiency to be “credible,” even with all the factors cited in this article, how can I-526 processing slowdown to just a quarter of what they were in FY 2018? Is IPO no longer committed to the business behind EB-5, the people behind the petitions? Is it no longer interested in being “credible”? If being fully staffed was a “good decision” and processing is a fraction of what it so very recently was, cannot IPO make a further investment in the staffing and resources needed to bring processing back to respectability?
The Green Card by investment industry, the foreign investors hoping to create a better life for their families, and the American economy await the answer.
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