Processing Times: Historical Overview

The processing times for the initial EB-5 investor petition, Form I-526, and now after the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022 (RIA), Form I-526E, have been the subject of much interest as processing efficiency has varied significantly the last several years.

The median yearly I-526 processing times posted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are as follows:

Fiscal year

1-526 processing time average

2017

16.6 months

2018

17.9 months

2019

19 months

2020

31.1 months

2021

32.5 months

2022

44.2 months

USCIS processing plummeted between FY 2018 and FY 2019

What has vexed the EB-5 industry is that after EB-5 processing hit a high of 15,122 petitions adjudicated in FY 2018, the Immigration Service’s efficiency plummeted to just 31% of that number the next year.

Fiscal year

Petitions processed

2013

4,642

2014

6,381

2015

9,807

2016

9,367

2017

12,243

2018

15,122

2019

4,673

2020

3,421

USCIS has cited these reasons for the huge decrease in processing: staffing and facility resources, new policies (the new EB-5 regulations were implemented November 21, 2019), new processing systems, increased form complexity, and an increased number of litigations. 

FY2020 started off with very fast processing — then COVID-19 hit

According to a USCIS report, I-526 processing plummeted from an average time of 19 months in FY 2019 to just 12.6 months in the first quarter of  FY 2020. Upon its publication, this was very positive and welcome news for the EB-5 industry and potential investors. 

However, that 12.6-month average ballooned to 31.1 months for the entire year; with the emergence of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, we can infer that the pandemic played a huge role in that unexpected and very significant increase. 

Expedited processing for investments in the national interest

The processing times quoted above are the standard times associated with I-526, and now I-526E, petitions. However, certain investments may be deemed by USCIS to receive special processing attention, usually for being in the U.S. national interest; these EB-5 investments will be granted expedited processing.

Before the emergence of COVID-19,  I-526 petitions with expedited approval were being processed in only three to six months. As the pandemic has significantly impacted USCIS efficiency, expedited adjudication times have increased somewhat but many immigration lawyers are still expecting expedited processing to happen in six months to a year. 

As the effects of the pandemic recede, it may be reasonable to expect a return to pre-pandemic expedited processing efficiency.

Priority processing for rural investments in 2023

The EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022 (RIA) has given rural investments a processing advantage by offering “priority processing.” While neither the RIA nor USCIS has provided clarity on exactly what this will mean, many immigration lawyers expect this to be similar to expedited processing and are predicting priority processing times of about a year for rural investments.

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