Petition Processing Times Report Change, RC List Updates

The USCIS page to Check Case Processing Times, which updates at irregular intervals, has just published dramatic new time estimates for EB-5 forms.

  • I-526 Processing: Estimated time range of 29 to 45.5 months (the previous update gave a range of 22 to 28.5 months)
  • I-829 Processing: Estimated time range of 25.5 to 40.5 months (the previous update gave a range of 30 to 38.5 months)
  • I-924 Processing: Estimated time range of 22.5 to 44 months (the previous update gave a range of 16.5 to 21.5 months)

These charts picture the latest update in context of past reports (which I’ve logged in this file since 2014).

 

What’s the story behind the changes to estimated processing times? I have a few thoughts.

  • All we know for sure is that the report changed. Actual processing times may or may not be changing.
  • The major report change is in the spread between the high and low end of the “estimated time range.” Previous processing time report updates since early 2018 had around a 6-month spread; today’s report shows a 15+ month spread. I guess that USCIS is motivated here to redefine what counts as normal processing times by including outliers in the average. The high end of the estimated time range always roughly corresponds to the “Receipt date for a case inquiry” in the processing report. The report page states this purpose for the case inquiry date: “to show when you can inquire about your case.” By suddenly adding 1-2 years to their estimate of what can be considered “outside normal processing time,” USCIS effectively cuts the number of petitioners who can hassle them with inquiries about overdue petitions. An understandable possible reason, even if the processing speed and backlog have not in fact changed.
  • The new report gives these receipt dates for case inquiry: I-526: 9/15/2015; I-829: 2/2/2016, I-924: 10/25/2015. How many petitions filed before those very old dates could possibly still be in the system? We roughly know the answer for I-526, thanks to a report of forms pending as of 10/2018: up to 412 Form I-526 filed before September 2015 could still be pending. That was only 3% of total pending I-526 (though the number ought to be 0).
  • After several quarters of improvement, IPO reduced processing volume in the last reported quarter (Oct-Dec 2018), with 37% reduction from the previous quarter in number of EB-5 forms adjudicated. Lower adjudication volume drives longer processing times. On the other hand, lower receipt numbers (another recent trend) should eventually result in faster processing times.
  • IPO has not engaged with stakeholders since October 2018, when IPO Chief Sarah Kendall praised IPO’s progress thanks to additional resources, reported that IPO was fully staffed with over 200 personnel, and indicated that IPO would be working toward additional backlog reductions in FY19. (I keep a log of communications related to processing times here.)  There’s been no explanation for the overall processing slowdown evident since that positive report.
  • A May 2019 letter from L. Francis Cissna to Senator Tom Tillis discusses recent processing delays across USCIS, and gives EB-5 one mention. “Another cause for delays in processing can be increased litigation. For example … the USCIS Field Operations Directorate is complying with court orders related to the EB-5 program…” (on PDF p. 7) I assume that refers to the Zhang Class Action. Perhaps IPO is slowing new I-526 adjudications as it backtracks to deal with all the petitions that it denied in error over loan proceeds. And USCIS has been targeted by numerous other lawsuits over questionable denials involving the EB-5 “at-risk” requirement. (In other news, this letter is one of Cissna’s last actions as USCIS Director.)
  • We can see what IPO is not doing since October 2018 – not adjudicating many I-526, and not approving or terminating many regional centers. The question: what is IPO doing? IPO is processing more I-829, if the lower low end of the estimated time range in the new processing report gives any indication. That’s a good thing. I hear that IPO has been issuing lavish RFEs, which potentially doubles the work involved in each form processed. That’s less excusable, especially since many RFEs don’t even target problems, but basically just request that originally-filed documents be resubmitted to reflect developments during the adjudication delay.
  • Back in 2011/2012, a processing slowdown presaged a policy shift. At that time USCIS turned against tenant occupancy methodology, and delayed decisions on affected cases while it figured out how to define its objections. The current slowdown makes me wonder if USCIS is again shelving certain cases while it brews more new policy guidance. (Only the policy won’t be called “new,” when announced, since then it couldn’t apply retroactively to pending cases.)
  • UPDATE: Another point that’s come to my attention: USCIS may be re-allocating EB-5 workload, moving some petitions out of the Investor Program Office to other service centers. The evidence for this: case status reports for individual WAC numbers that say “Our California Service Center office will begin working on your case again” or “Our Unknown office will begin working on your case again.” Anyone else notice or have insight into what’s going on with this?

NOTE: Having written so much about timing issues, I’ve now added a EB-5 Timing page to collect links to data and posts related to processing times, visa wait times, and visa availability and allocation. I’ve also created a new service for people who would rather not wade through all the detail themselves, but want to request my timing estimate for their specific situation. See the EB-5 Timing Estimates Page.

RC List Changes

Speaking of reduced activity at IPO, here’s another sparse regional center list update. Just four regional centers have been terminated so far this year, as compared with 79 terminations in the first five months of 2018, and 38 terminations in the first five months of 2017. Just three new regional centers have been designated since January 2019. Is this a new period of welcome stability after the frantic growth and culling of 2016-2018? Or an unnatural calm?

Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 04/20/19 to 5/28/2019

  • No new regional center designations
  • Interestingly, four regional centers that were terminated last year have now been restored to the approved list, demonstrating that it’s possible to overcome a termination: EB5 United West Regional Center, LLC, EB5 Affiliate Network Washington, D.C. Regional Center, LLC, Art District Los Angeles Regional Center, LLC, and Greystone EB5 Southeast Regional Center LLC. (No decision documents have yet been posted for these RCs. For Greystone, USCIS has posted the termination reason but not the sustained appeal.)

New Terminations

  • America Commonwealth Regional Center (terminated 5/10/2019)
  • American Opportunities Regional Center, Inc. (terminated 2/15/2019)

About Suzanne (www.lucidtext.com)
Suzanne Lazicki is a business plan writer, EB-5 expert, and founder of Lucid Professional Writing.

20 Responses to Petition Processing Times Report Change, RC List Updates

  1. tpk129 says:

    What a god awful mess…

  2. happy says:

    Hi Suzanne, There is lot of delay at consular interview & refusal of visa due to 221 G, which is blackhole for investor. Please try to find out figures of 221 g refusal and denial in EB5. It is very big numbers and investors should make future plan keeping this in mind

    • Thank you for this tip. I’m not sure where to find the information, but will look. And if you have additional input from your sources, send it my way.

      • happy says:

        Dear Madam

        Can we have Family members numbers I-526 approved and received visa call till now minus number of person received visa till now, this number can give idea for who stuck at 221 (G) (more than 50% receive 221 (g) at interview, Few cases sent back to USCIS )

  3. Alessandra says:

    On top of substantially cutting the number of petitioners who can make inquiries about overdue petitions, the dramatic increase in processing times will have a tremendous impact on the amount of people who are currently evaluating EB-5 as a viable way to come to the US. I bet new petitions will go significantly down.

  4. Kelly says:

    It is interesting that unlike other countries’ investors, Some Chinese are waiting anxiously not for I526 approval, but hoping for I526 denial……

    • kishore says:

      20+ years wait time for chinese is hardly an incentive to wait in line. Pretty soon indians and vietnamese will join that queue

      • Kelly says:

        Chinese now, and Indians & Vietnamese pretty soon are all victims of EB5 Industry overselling.

        In other industries, if there are not enough products, normally they will control the sales volume and donot oversell too much. However in EB5, one 20+ years waiting ticket cost 550000 US dollars are still being sold righteously, without ethical pressure. Very interesting.

        If EB5 is a special industry because of its immigration nature, why countries like Australia Canada etc, control the investment visa sales volume by year or even by quarter……

    • Franchesca says:

      Why is this? Why can’t Chinese just pull out?

      • Kelly says:

        Once investing, it is difficult to pull out. Many have tried and were told several excuses for not refunding. Some RCs directly told investors that according to PPM, even some give up immigration process, RC won’t refund them until all others in the same project get I829 approval. Some clever RCs, who donot want to infuriate investors and at the same time donot want to reply directly whether can refund or not, reply that investors can give up immigration process anytime, but after pulling out I526 petition, they need to review and decide whether refund…

        Now many Chinese are waiting for redeployment coming and hope can get money back after the first project finish. Unfortunately, it is still not easy. Many PPM even in 2014 or 2015 have alrealy locked the money until the whole project investors get I829 approval. Maybe that is why EB5 now is called Modern Time Visa Slavery.

  5. David Derrico says:

    USCIS seems to be doing their best to kill the EB-5 program. Between long wait times, uncertainty in adjudications (and generally a “find a way to say no” mindset), investor-hostile policies like the redeployment/”at-risk” fiasco, and just the general threat of more negative surprise changes at any time, what responsible developer will want to offer a project under these conditions? (“We don’t know how long we’ll have your money because the process could take 8-15 years, we may have to redeploy into a 2nd random project in the future, rules could change mid-stream that makes our project untenable or impossible to complete the investment raise,” etc.)

  6. henry says:

    Hi Suzanne,

    Thank you again for the helpful insight. What’re the chances you could elaborate on this bullet point?

    “We roughly know the answer for I-526, thanks to a report of forms pending as of 10/2018: up to 412 Form I-526 filed before September 2015 could still be pending. That was only 3% of total pending I-526 (though the number ought to be 0).”

    How was the 412 obtained? Thank you so much.

  7. Ricardo Klinovski says:

    The average time for processing the I-526, even after this great increase last saturday, according to USCIS, is 21.2 months, even though it’s updated until march 31st. What does it mean?

    • kishore says:

      Thats like your car deal saying you get a mileage between 10-30 miles per gallon on the car. i wouldnt read too much about it. every case has a different processing time

  8. dan says:

    Hey, with the long wait times and no infopass appointments now, how do you get I551 stamps?

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