The President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders just released its inaugural report, now being reviewed by the White House. The commission recommends USCIS “reduce the backlog of immigration visas by expanding staffing and modernizing processes to reduce wait times.” The commission also notes that such a vision is “is aligned with the new goals for USCIS…. [which] has developed its own implementation plan that highlights forthcoming resources and an additional 200-500 new officers.”
White House is reviewing recommendations
According to media publications, the commission just released its inaugural report which is now being reviewed by the White House Domestic Policy Council, before it will be seen by President Biden. While we don’t believe the report is published for the public, minutes from the May 12 meeting point to the particulars of the recommendations the commission has made to the president.
Some immigration policy recommendations will be of keen interest to the EB-5 community that has, for several years now, been dealing with processing issues and backlogs.
The commission voted unanimously to move forward all three recommendations of the Immigration and Citizenship Status Subcommittee. The first recommendation, relating to processing times for the general category of “immigration visas,” would have a positive impact on EB-5 it it were implemented.
Recommendation to reduce wait times with a goal of six months for processing
The subcommittee's first recommendation for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is to “reduce the backlog of immigration visas by expanding staffing and modernizing processes to reduce wait times, expanding premium processing services, providing automatic work permit renewals, securing funding, and more quickly processing work permits, travel documents, temporary status extensions, and other immigration applications.”
Of particular note, the subcommittee recommends that “the targeted goal for applications to be processed is six months unless there is a query or are questions by the USCIS.”
Many in EB-5 are familiar with the fact that the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022 (RIA) also has a section for “Timely processing” that mirrors this recommendation: six months processing time for a standard investment petition, and just 90 days for a petitions in a targeted employment area.
While the RIA processing goals may not be legally binding, a presidential commission that supports much faster processing could be a good sign for EB-5; recommendations by a group commissioned by Biden should increase the political pressure to make USCIS more efficient in processing.
Six months for application adjudication may seem like a pipe dream at the moment, but the Immigration Service must be recognizing that there are forces outside of EB-5 demanding improvement in the area of processing efficiency.
USCIS plans for hundreds of new staff and aims for processing improvement by 2023
A commissioner of the Immigration and Citizenship Status Subcommittee, Ajay Bhutoria, indicated that the recommendation to reduce processing times and the backlog is “aligned with the new goals for USCIS.” Bhutoria provided the following details about the recommendation and the Immigration Service’s plans:
“USCIS should also review requests for work permits, travel documents, and temporary status extension within three months. USCIS has developed its own implementation plan that highlights forthcoming resources and an additional 200-500 new officers. It also plans to implement suggested internal processing times by 2023. USCIS should share the backlog by using skilled officer employees from other agencies, as well as hiring temps and contractors as allowed by the law.”
Hiring hundreds of new USCIS officers will be welcome news to anyone in EB-5 who realizes that I-526E adjudication efficiency is tied to staff numbers. And setting a target date of 2023 to improve internal processing appears to support the notion that the Immigration Service has some urgency in the mandate to improve petitioner wait times.
Commission addresses causes of the immigration backlog
When one commissioner asked what has created the immigration backlog, Bhutoria identified pandemic-staffing issues, and the new administration’s policy changes. Another commissioner further commented that the backlog was a result of a build-up of cases from the Trump era, as well as a lack of automation and staffing.
With the impact of COVID diminishing and an apparent plan for hundreds of new USCIS hires, one could be hopeful that the promise of better processing will soon be put in action.
‘Additional topics for exploration’ include recapturing unused visas
The commission also addressed “additional topics for exploration” that the commission would like to address at a future date. The USCIS-related topics included “processing immigrant visas up to the limits and recapturing unused visas.” Both of these issues have been circulating in the EB-5 world for years now. The former seems to be largely tied to the pandemic, and hopefully will be addressed as the U.S. and the Immigration Service move forward in a post-crisis world.
The second issue of recapturing unused visas would go a long way in helping ease the backlog of over 80,000 petitioners, mostly Chinese, Indian, and Vietnamese, who have approved I-526 petitions but are still waiting for available visas.
Next steps: White House review
All of the recommendations made in the May 12 meeting were said to be moving forward. One media report states that the commission’s report was given to the White House on August 24 and is being reviewed by the White House Domestic Policy Council. After that review, it can be given to President Biden.
Given that Biden appointed the commissioners of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, one would infer that he should be at least somewhat receptive to their recommendations.
If that’s the case, this may be another real push to get USCIS to live up to their responsibility of timely petition processing. As always, the world of EB-5 must wait and see.
Read The Economic Times article “White House looking into recommendations to reduce Green Card adjudication and processing time.”
See the recommendations in the May 12 commission meeting minutes.