FY2019 Q1 EB-5 Petition Processing Statistics

USCIS has updated the Immigration & Citizenship Data page with data for petitions processed in FY2019 Q1 (October to December 2018).

The data shows that the Investor Program Office had an unproductive first quarter, with the fewest EB-5 forms processed since 2016. No wonder processing times remain long. Sometimes the data reflects a workload trade-off (e.g. fewer I-526 but more I-829 processed), but FY19 Q1 just had very low output overall. What’s up, IPO? Are you losing staff? Burning time with extreme-vetting RFEs? I-526 and I-829 receipts were up from the previous quarter, but still relatively low.

The All Forms report is interesting as a reminder of just how small EB-5 is in the grand scheme of employment-based petitions, and because the report now has separate line items for I-924 and I-924A.

All regional centers that want to remain in good standing should file the I-924A annual report between October and December, yet the report shows only 322 I-924A receipts for Oct-Dec 2018. Did the rest of the 885 currently-approved regional centers decide that designation isn’t worthwhile anymore? Or does the report not capture actual I-924A submissions? Certainly I-924 filings remain very low. No surprise considering the high form fee, the difficulty of operating in the current environment, and the fact that exemplar approvals have no value if they come too late to be usable.

RC List Updates

There has been little activity on the USCIS regional center list since the beginning of the year.

Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 12/31/18 to 04/19/19.

  • BC East Coast Regional Center LLC (Pennsylvania)
  • EB5 Affiliate Network Washington, D.C. Regional Center, LLC (District of Columbia)
  • Pride Capital, LLC (New York)

Name Change

  • Greystone EB5 Southeast Regional Center LLC (former name Greystone Florida Regional Center LLC) (Florida)

Removed from the approved list, but not added to the terminated list

  • Three Streams Mid-Atlantic Regional Center (Maryland)

New Terminations

  • San Francisco Regional Center (California) Terminated 2/13/2019
  • Midwest Investment Fund, LLC (Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio) Terminated 2/5/2019

FY2018 Q4 Petition Processing Data

USCIS is finally starting to update its Immigration & Citizenship Data page with data for petitions processed in FY2018 Q4 (July to September 2018). As usual, I’ve made charts to highlight salient features.

I like to look at annual trends in receipts and adjudications, because this reflects demand and allows understanding and predicting processing times at the Investor Program Office.

The backlog of pending petitions grows and processing times increase when IPO receives more petitions in a year than it can process in a year. That happened for I-526 from 2010 to 2017, when IPO finally started to catch up. In 2018, IPO surged ahead, processing more than twice the number of I-526 received. At this rate, the entire backlog of I-526 pending as of year-end 2018 will be adjudicated in 2019, and new I-526 can expect processing times of less than one year. I-526 processing times were a major factor for people who filed during peak demand in 2015 and 2016, and thus faced years-long processing on average. I-526 processing times will fade as a consideration, as new petitioners can expect months-long waits on average. (My I-526 prediction spreadsheet forecasts future processing times from petition volume.) Meanwhile, I-829 faces continued long processing times because adjudication volume is so small compared to the backlog. So long as IPO can only process less than 3,000 I-829 in one year, it will take 2-3 years just to get through the backlog of 7,660 I-829 pending as of October 2018. But we hope to see I-829 volumes improve considerably in 2019.

IPO’s total output was about the same in FY2018 Q4 as in Q3, just with a few more I-829 processed at the expense of a few fewer I-526. Meanwhile, the number of forms received by IPO remained relatively low in Q4. There was a small I-526 surge in advance of the September 30, 2018 regional center program sunset date, but nothing like in previous years. There continue to be very few new regional center applications and amendments, and high denial rates for previously-filed I-924.

I’m putting out my PayPal link again, particularly as an appeal to industry colleagues who depend on me to research and report news. How much more work would you have to do, if blog.lucidtext.com weren’t here to watch for and process EB-5 updates? If this blog saves you considerable time and effort, consider helping to make it worthwhile for me. (I am also contemplating advertising options, but have not settled on a strategy for appropriate and effective presentation within the constraints of the blog format.)

Retrogression Math

Retrogression — as people imprecisely call the visa wait times resulting from oversubscription — is my least favorite EB-5 topic. The problem threatens my market, and I’d love for it to go away. There are two ways to make the retrogression problem go away: solve it or ignore it. Solving retrogression requires convincing Congress to give EB-5 more visa numbers, or to change allocation. More visas = smaller backlogs = shorter wait times. Different allocation = spreading out the backlog impact = shorter wait times for some.  But solving retrogression is hard because of Congress, so that leaves ignorance. Ignoring retrogression is easiest if one shrouds it in mystery and doubt.  If EB-5 visa availability and wait times seem impossibly complicated and uncertain, then it’s natural to ignore the issue because what else can one do. But that’s not responsible. In fact, retrogression is in the realm of math, not of myth. China is exceptional (the future demand factor introduces need for a crystal ball, and results in variable/unreliable timing forecasts for China), but future EB-5 visa availability and wait times for other countries are calculable. Investors from countries nowhere near demanding 700 EB-5 visas annually need not fear retrogression. For countries that are over (Vietnam) or near (India) the approx. 700 limit, the risk from retrogression can be calculated from the accruing excess over that limit.

For India, we have ballpark figures for number of visas already spoken for as of the end of 2018, and know something of priority dates within this backlog. The fixed number of annual visas available to India simplifies the calculation for wait times implied in past and potential future demand. The math isn’t fun – especially when calculating the wait time for a particular priority date, because of course people at different places in line face different waiting times, and variables vary over time. But still, workable estimates can be made based on available data, with areas of variation and uncertainty accounted for with math plus judgment. “We just can’t know, no one can really predict” gave an alibi for China wait times and backlog buildup, but that excuse is not available for India.  We can’t know exactly but we can generally predict how long someone investing today from India will need to wait for conditional permanent residence. We can predict the result of looking to India for billions of dollars in EB-5 investment, so long as fewer than 700 EB-5 visas are available per year for India.

I collect all relevant data that comes to my attention in my Backlog Calc file, available to anyone undertaking his or her own analysis.  And do undertake your own analysis, because who is motivated and able to do it well for you? (Even some industry veterans have misconceptions.)

I put several analysis worksheets into my Backlog Calc file as a starting point.  For example, here’s a screenshot of the India Calc tab.

This sheet breaks down the data, assumptions, and equations behind Charles Oppenheim’s estimate for the India backlog and wait time as of Q1 2019, and offers models for calculating scenarios and the impact of future EB-5 capital raises in India. Being in the realm of math, when you doubt a conclusion, you can examine the variables, trace assumptions to underlying data, rethink the equations, and test alternate assumptions. My spreadsheet is your spreadsheet. Download the Excel and play with it on the big screen. Let clients play with it and reach their own conclusions. Just don’t tell prospective EB-5 users “we can’t know, it’s a mystery,” because predictions are possible and necessary.

We must try to be realistic about timing, because EB-5 isn’t only about waiting for a visa. It’s about tying up investor capital, and putting issuers on the line to deploy and redeploy capital for as long as it takes investors to get visas. Projects care whether they have to deal with EB-5 investors for 5 years or 10 or 20. Investors care whether their life savings are deployed at risk with negligible interest for 5 years or 10 or 20.  And lawmakers need to know if our current EB-5 visa limits soil the past, and gut the present and future economic potential of EB-5.

We need “real visa capacity relief,” as IIUSA says in a recent blog post. I’ll be interested to hear more about what specifically IIUSA can and will do toward visa capacity relief, which has historically not been a plank of the advocacy platform. (Not that the industry hasn’t wanted it, but that Congress hasn’t been willing to hear about it.) Certainly, the issue has become central to the long-term health of the EB-5 program.

 

FY2018 EB-5 Visas by Country

The US Department of State has published Report of the Visa Office 2018 Table V Part 3, which gives a tally of visas (conditional green cards) issued by country for the Employment Fifth preference (EB-5) in FY2018. The major story in the FY2018 report is the increase in EB-5 visas issued to applicants born outside of mainland China.

 

EB-5 in the early 2000s used relatively few visa numbers overall, and only really took off with the increase of EB-5 interest from/in China after 2008. Then China-born investors drove growth and claimed a majority of visas until the total number of EB-5 visas possible to issue hit its ceiling: the annual quota of about 10,000 visas. Since that ceiling was reached in FY2014, there’s been no room for EB-5 to grow — China and the rest of the world just have to jockey each other for the available annual visas. The decreasing number of EB-5 visas issued to China-born applicants since 2014 does not primarily reflect decreasing demand from China (China still dominates the backlog), but increasing demand from other countries that decrease the number of visas available to China.

FY2018 data shows a marked increase not only in total number of applicants from outside China, but also in the number of countries supplying those applicants, and in the number of countries with a relatively large number of applicants each. EB-5 marketers care about this, because it helps identify the range and depth of market potential outside of China. Past China-born investors care about this, because their future wait times depend on the nature of incoming non-China demand (with best case scenario being demand concentrated in a few countries that will become blocked by the per-country cap, and worst case being large total demand spread out over many countries).

We want to read EB-5 visa reports and draw conclusions about demand for EB-5 investment opportunities. So a few reminders to qualify such conclusions:

  • The Visa Office report indicates the number of green cards issued for conditional permanent residence. To track visa numbers back to investor detail, it’s necessary to factor in the time between investment and visa issuance (about 1 to 5 years in 2018 depending on investor origin and I-526 processing time), and the number of visas per investor (about 3 on average).
  • The Visa Office report only directly reflects demand for countries that take significantly less than 700 visas (ie less than the 7% per-country cap). For countries that exceed the cap, the number of visas issued is not the number they demanded, but the number they could get. In FY2018, Vietnam got 7% of total EB-5 visas pursuant to the per-country cap, regardless of how many Vietnamese were ready to apply, and China got 48% of visas because that’s what was left for the oldest applications after demand from undersubscribed countries was satisfied. On the other hand, India remained under the per-country cap in FY18, so its 585 visas directly reflect the number of FY18 applicants (more than threefold increase from the previous year). But keep in mind, lengthy I-526 processing times mean that the FY18 surge in India visa applications reflects a surge in investments from India that happened 1-2 years ago. For a better sense of recent demand trends, see the log of pending I-526 by country and priority date that USCIS published in October 2018.

I’ve expected to see an increasing number of visas associated with direct EB-5 investments, but that hasn’t been true so far. Regional center investments accounted for 94% of EB-5 visas issued in FY2018, as compared with 93% in FY2017 and 91% in FY2016.

For reference, here is my post on FY2017 EB-5 Visas by Country

I haven’t had time yet to update and recalculate my backlog calculation spreadsheet. But I will add one table here as follow-up to ILW’s article EB-5 Industry Misunderstands Retrogression (12/31/2018). The article estimates that “India generated close to $500 million in EB5 investments in 2018, and it is on track to generate $1 Billion in 2019 and $2 Billion in 2020. Indian EB-5 is a $3 Billion opportunity in the coming two years.” The article goes on to rightly correct misconceptions about how EB-5 visa allocation works, but omits one important calculation: what happens if one puts $3 billion dollars (12,000+ visa applicants) from one country in line to a gate that can only issue about 700 visas annually.

If we want to make Row A in that table a reality, and how wonderful that would be, then we have to deal with the constraints that turn successful markets into backlog tragedies. Let’s put the pressure on Congress for visa relief. Otherwise, ethical promoters will have no option but to reduce the amount of investment they try to raise, or to support proposals dramatically increasing the minimum investment per investor.

Applying data to questions (I-526 timing, visa timing)

This post applies data that’s recently become available to practical questions that EB-5 issuers and past/potential investors keep asking. [FYI: many edits made since first posting.]

Question 1: How long does I-526 take?

This question has a nice answer for new petitioners: much less time than before.

As inventory falls and flow rate increases, processing times fall. People who filed I-526 in 2016/2017 entered at the top of a mountain of pending petitions (as illustrated in Figure 1), and have suffered long processing times as a result. But people who file I-526 now in November 2018 are just standing on a molehill by comparison, plus benefiting from improved completion rates. They can expect their petitions to be processed in less than a year, I estimate. (I estimate processing times based on USCIS data for pending and processed petitions. See my I-526 time spreadsheet.)

As I-526 times improve, the many countries in the world with no visa wait (all but China, Vietnam, and (soon) India) will be able to enjoy EB-5 as a fast track once again. And project companies, investors, and program integrity all benefit from prompt attention by USCIS to investor petitions.

Question 2: If I’m a Vietnam-born person with pending I-526 or pending visa application, how long can I expect to wait for EB-5 visa availability?

This question has a better answer than many people fear. Last month when Charles Oppenheim of Department of State predicted a 7.2-year wait for Vietnam-born, he was giving a prediction for one point: people filing I-526 on October 30, 2018. If that point-in-time prediction is correct, then the wait time will be less than that for everyone who filed I-526 before October 30, 2018. The blue columns in Figure 3 mark the data points we have: actual wait times for past applicants (calculated by subtracting Final Action Date from Visa Bulletin Date in past Visa Bulletins), and Oppenheim’s future predictions. Fit a trend line through those points, and you can estimate wait times for other priority dates, between the past actual and future predictions. (The trend won’t turn out neatly linear in real life, but I think this is good for a rough estimate. If you want a better trend line, you can factor in quarterly fluctuations in I-526 filing and approvals, and guidelines for allocating visas by quarter. Or you could push for legislative/administrative fixes that would change the picture entirely.) These charts and source data are in the “Vietnam Calc” tab of my Backlog calculation spreadsheet.

[NOTE: When I first put up this post, I included a Figure 2 for China with linear trend through past visa bulletin waits for 2014 priority dates up through Oppenheim’s 14-year prediction for Chinese filing in October 2018. But the more I thought about it, the more I disliked the China chart — because that 14-year estimate for 10/2018 is questionable, and because complicating factors will likely make the China trend look more like the craggy mountain in Figure 1 than a slope. So I edited out Figure 2.]

Question 3: If I’m an India-born person with pending I-526 or pending visa application, can I expect to get a visa number in FY2019, before visas for India get used up for the year (i.e. before Department of State sets a Final Action Date for India)?

This question is tough, because the answer depends on predicting which petitions get adjudicated in the next few months, and how many. Table 1 and Table 2 below highlight the data points (from among those provided in the 10/30/2018 presentation by Charles Oppenheim) that I consider particularly relevant to the question. (These tables are also in the “India Calc” tab of my Backlog calculation spreadsheet.)

The worst case scenario is that in the next couple quarters, USCIS approves a lot of the I-526 pending for India-born people who filed I-526 in 2013-2017. If that happens (and the newly-approved petitioners quickly become documentarily qualified for a visa), the result could be that no one born in India who filed I-526 more recently will get a visa number in FY2019, no matter how quickly their I-526 was/will be processed or when they filed I-485 or the visa application. This risk exists because visa numbers get issued to qualified applicants in order by priority date, not based on when they filed their visa applications. The risk is accentuated by the fact that Charles Oppenheim at DOS is required by statute to dole out available visas gradually over the course of the fiscal year (no more than about 27% each quarter in the first three quarters), not all at once to as many people as qualify for them. That delay gives time for the pool of documentarily qualified applicants to grow, as USCIS approves more petitions.

The best case scenario is that in the next couple quarters, the pool of India-born people qualified for a visa doesn’t grow much, and additions to the pool mainly consist of people who filed I-526 recently. In that case, everyone already qualified for a visa as of Q1 FY2019 (500+ people) could actually get a visa in FY2019. Plus a few more people (about 60 investors with their families) who will get I-526 approval and become documentarily qualified in FY2019 may also get allocated visas before the approx 700 visas available for FY2019 run out. The best case scenario is possible because expedited projects have been popular with Indians, USCIS can be slow to process older I-526 (and has a lot of older petitions in the backlog from countries besides India), and the process between I-526 approval and becoming documentarily qualified can also be very slow.

The facts in Table 1 and Table 2 suggest to me that an India-born person filing I-526 today is unlikely to get a visa number in FY2019, regardless of how quickly they can get I-526 approval and qualified for a visa. There are just so many older petitions and applications already in the system. I don’t have my life savings and family on the line, however.  If you do have a major life decision depending on EB-5 timing, you should spend more time with the reports and spreadsheets to make your own estimate between the best and worst case possibilities. And talk with the immigration lawyer about limitations and benefits of being at various points in the process (I-526 pending, I-526 approved but not yet documentarily qualified, I-485 pending, documentarily qualified at NVC…) at the time when DOS publishes a Final Action Date for India.

For anyone who doesn’t manage to get a visa number in FY2019, don’t be too discouraged. India will have a trend line, like Vietnam as discussed above. You don’t automatically wait 5.7 years for a visa by virtue of having been born in India. Your wait time will depend on your priority date, with dates before October 2018 promising shorter wait time.

My post EB-5 Visa Waiting Line and Visa Allocation explains in more detail how visa allocation works. FYI, the Telegram group https://t.me/EB5VisaGroup notified me that they assembled their own India prediction spreadsheet. I’m not posting it here because I don’t know how to explain all their calculations and sources, but you can reach out to the group to request their additional analysis.

To the extent that my analysis and reporting benefits your decision-making, please consider my PayPal contribution option (corrected link). My spreadsheets and posts take a lot of time and thought that can only be rewarded if others share their benefit. I hope the work helps my clients who need information, and an industry that needs transparency, but it’s a sacrifice for me personally as a service provider dependent on new EB-5 business.

AILA/IIUSA Forum Updates (Kendall, Oppenheim, visa availability)

Last week I attended the 2018 AILA & IIUSA EB-5 Industry Forum, which featured appearances by new IPO Chief Sarah Kendall and Department of State Visa Control Office Chief Charles Oppenheim.

Ms. Kendall is a career civil servant and spoke accordingly. She gave the impression of being competent, in control, and unlikely to say anything unexpected. I didn’t note anything major in her speech that I hadn’t already heard from the USCIS Policy Manual, OMB Unified Agenda, or previous stakeholder meetings. (UPDATE: Here is a copy of Ms. Kendall’s prepared remarks.) The headlines: no update on regulations beyond what OMB said, and no significant new input on the hot issues of redeployment, bridge financing, material change, or minors as investors. Stakeholder meetings are not the proper venue for policy announcements, so I suppose there’s really not much to do but repeat existing guidance and say “thank you, we’ll consider it,” for everything else. One would expect Ms. Kendall to have a law enforcement orientation, considering her background. And indeed she stated that “focus must be on program integrity,” and listed these objectives for IPO: improve transparency, protect national security, lawful administration of our nation’s laws.  I appreciate that she started with transparency, which is foundational to the other two objectives. And it was gracious of Ms. Kendall (and former Interim Chief Julia Harrison) to attend the AILA/IIUSA event and take time to chat with attendees.

In the past I’ve sometimes felt like a lone crusader with my spreadsheets and numbers reports. I attended the AILA/IIUSA forum in person partly because I suspected that Charles Oppenheim would give information about visa numbers and wait times that my clients need to know, and no one else would process it or publicly report on it. But I was wrong. A wonderful panel on visa numbers not only provided a very extensive data set but analyzed and drew actionable conclusions from it, and then IIUSA made the right choice to promptly publish the full presentation where anyone can access it. And now other people are already reporting on it, without pausing to worry about messaging. Integrity depends on transparency – an important lesson for everyone.

Here is the gold mine: Presentation Materials from Department of State Visa Control Office Chief Charles Oppenheim (UPDTATE: IIUSA has also published commentary on the presentation.)

The slides provide the most comprehensive and current set of visa-availability-related data yet, with helpful interpretation and conclusions. Bottom line: how long should an investor filing I-526 on October 30, 2018 expect to wait for an EB-5 visa number?  Mr. Oppenheim made the following prediction: China, 14 years; Vietnam, 7.2 years; India, 5.7 years; South Korea, 2.2 years; China-Taiwan, 1.7 years; Brazil, 1.5 years. Here’s the famous slide:

These time predictions refer to the time between I-526 filing and visa availability for people filing I-526 on October 30, 2018. People who filed I-526 before October 30, 2018 have fewer people ahead of them in line, and thus can expect correspondingly shorter wait times. People who file later can probably expect longer waits (unless trends or rules change, as they could). The predicted visa wait times for South Korea, Taiwan, and Brazil are now short enough as to be likely imperceptible (i.e. even shorter than I-526 processing time). Mr. Oppenheim foresees that South Korea, Taiwan, and Brazil will remain current (no cut-off date) through 2019 and probably 2020. The predicted wait time for an India-born investor filing today has lengthened since the last prediction from April, but not as much as I’d feared. Mr. Oppenheim now predicts that the Visa Bulletin will have a Final Action Date for India “no later than July 2019.” In other words, the annual EB-5 visa allocation available to India in FY2019 is expected to run out in July. In October 2019, when new FY2020 visas become available, India will have a Final Action Date in 2017, meaning that India-born applicants with priority dates before the 2017 Final Action Date will then be able to apply for visas.  As for China, Mr. Oppenheim predicts that by October 2018, the Final Action Data for China-born applicants will progress to 10/22/2014 (best case) or 10/8/2014 (worst case), and that China will advance (at best) two months in 2019. Mr. Oppenheim expects to be able to move Vietnam’s Final Action Date as far as September 2016 this year, before the FY2019 visas available to Vietnam run out.

For the full background to these predictions, and very helpful commentary on how the visa process and allocation work, potential variability, and what we do and do not know, see the full slide presentation and my voice recording of the panel. (And if you want all the backlog-related data I know, though all you really need is Charlie’s predictions, see my backlog spreadsheet.)

A shout-out to other colleagues reporting on the conference:

Wolfsdorf Rosenthal is holding a free webinar on 11/8 to discuss the DOS data and implications.

See also the conference program/RCBJ Business Journal available online. I particularly recommend these articles:

Regarding legislation and potential developments in Washington, I did not hear anything particularly newsworthy. Industry lobbyists say that they see hope for the future because they are finally united for the first time. This talking point would be more encouraging if we hadn’t heard the same statement last year, before the last attempt at EB-5 legislation that excluded most of the industry until the 11th hour and then met with industry discord. The panel last week did not specify compromises or concessions that have been made since then, and did not reflect specifically on what went wrong. The panel foresaw possibility for renewed legislative efforts in 2019, initiated in the House. EB-5 has best chance of getting attention after border wall funding and DACA are no longer taking all available oxygen, and after more representatives have been educated on EB-5. The panel hinted that we might be looking at more continuing resolutions in December, particularly for DHS funding if Democrats do well in the midterms. The proposal to eliminate per-country caps (in the Yoder amendment to the House version of the DHS funding bill, and H.R.392) got little mention, and no one said they thought it likely to be enacted.

FY2018 Q3 EB-5 Form Processing Statistics

After months of famine we suddenly have a feast of EB-5 numbers: data for FY2018 EB-5 form completions through September 2018 from the USCIS/IIUSA meeting on October 5, data for pending I-526 as of October 2018 from an IPO mailbox response to my blog reader, per-country I-526 data through FY2017 on sale by IIUSA, data relevant to the EB-5 visa waiting line from a wonderful panel with Charles Oppenheim at the AILA/IIUSA conference, and now official figures from USCIS for EB-5 forms received, approved, denied, and pending in the third quarter of FY2018 (April to June 2018). I’ve already reported on the first two data sets, and will cover the Oppenheim presentation in a forthcoming post when I’ve had time to process the information. As time permits, I may also do a post that tries to make sense of how these various data sets intersect, and some apparent contradictions and mysterious gaps. But for now, here are my charts highlighting trends in the official FY2018 Q3 data. The numbers come from the USCIS Immigration and Citizenship Data page, with Form I-526 and I-829 data in the Employment Based subsection, and Form I-924 data in the Forms subsection in the “All Forms Report.”

A few notes:

  • Overall, IPO is receiving fewer forms and processing more forms than before. That should be a good sign for processing times at least, and will result in smaller backlogs. However, performance improvement is currently all focused on I-526. Q3 showed a record-breaking number of I-526 processed (22% improvement over the previous quarter) but drop in number of I-924 and I-829 processed.
  • Q3 I-526 receipts were lower than any quarter I’ve recorded since 2013, likely reflecting concerns about visa wait time.
  • In Q3, I-829 receipts exceeded I-526 receipts for possibly the first time ever.
  • I-829 completion rates look terrible, with an almost-linear 65% drop in completions over the last four quarters. What’s happening, I-829 team? Why are you getting fewer and fewer I-829 adjudicated? IPO should put more resources on I-829 adjudication, considering the receipt trend across all forms.
  • A surprising 51% of Form I-924 adjudicated in Q3 were denied. The denial rate for I-829 was higher than usual, at 13%. The I-526 denial rate remained at 9%.
  • USCIS is not infallible when it comes to inconsistencies, and the Q3 reports contain significant revisions to the Q2 and Q1 numbers previously reported. In the I-829 reports, for example, the May report indicated 1,046 receipts in Q1, the July report indicated 694 receipts in Q1, and now the October report indicates 862 receipts in Q1. You make us doubt that you know what happened in with I-829 in Q1, USCIS! This should make USCIS recognize and sympathize with the difficulty of reporting consistent numbers, even with the best of intentions. FYI, here is my file on the ongoing mystery of the pending petition count.

Pending I-526 by country as of 10/2018

There’s an EB-5 Support page on the USCIS website that provides an email address for IPO, and instructions for how and when to communicate through the IPO mailbox. I’ve dismissed this contact option, having only heard and experienced reports that emailing the IPO mailbox yields nothing but a canned response and no action. But what do you know, sometimes it works. On October 25, 2018, IPO responded to an email from one of my readers with this extremely valuable information: “Shortly after replying to your email, Immigrant Investor Program Office management asked the webmaster to post online a table containing I-526 data. Here’s the link: https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Working%20in%20the%20US/i526list.pdf” The link leads to a table that breaks down all I-526 pending at IPO as of October 2018 by investor country of origin and priority date. Thank you IPO management for this transparency! Program integrity depends on informed decisions, which in turn depend on information. We understand that these figures are probably subject to change since they’re so recent, and haven’t gone through the months-long review process that normally precedes public data posting. That’s just fine — our decisions need data timeliness far more than minute precision. And thank you reader for making the request and for bringing the answer to public attention. Otherwise this data treasure might have rested unnoticed on the USCIS website, or been hoarded by a few.

The charts and tables below highlight features of the data that I consider particularly interesting. The pending I-526 numbers by country help explain why Department of State predicts backlogs and visa wait times for certain countries. The pending I-526 numbers by receipt date illustrate how long currently-pending petitions have been waiting for adjudication. And the figure for total pending petitions, combined with data from other sources, suggests that I-526 receipts may have plummeted in FY2018. That’s bad news for the US economy, job creation, and destitute business plan writers like me whose revenue depends on new EB-5 demand. But it’s good news for EB-5 program sustainability. So long as the EB-5 visa cap remains at about ten thousand for investors plus family, the program can unfortunately only sustainably accommodate three to four thousand investor I-526 per year on average.

1

calc

5
I’ve added the data from USCIS to the I-526 tab and Country Focus tab of my Backlog spreadsheet.

USCIS meeting with IIUSA (regs, redeployment, processing times), Analysis of Litigation

Report on USCIS Meeting with IIUSA

Thank you USCIS for posting a complete transcript of the USCIS Meeting with IIUSA on October 5, 2018. Such transparency is so helpful. Program integrity suffers from general lack of information, and from the industry’s inclination to promote asymmetry for what little info is given.

At the meeting, USCIS Director Cissna spoke about current developments in EB-5, IIUSA representatives described areas of concern for the industry, and new IPO Chief Sarah Kendall commented on IPO performance.

The entire transcript is worth reading, but here are the most newsworthy elements from my perspective:

  • Regulations: Director Cissna, speaking in October, did not make it sound as of the EB-5 Modernization regulations (regarding investment amounts and TEAs) were on the brink of finalization. He said: “So on the main one, the proposed rule that has yet to go final, it is going to go final. We’re just not ready yet. We’re still working on it. You might have seen, I testified in front of the Senate a few months ago, back in June, and I got screamed at because Senator Grassley was wanting that regulation to be final even quicker. So I told him what I’ll tell you is the answer hasn’t changed. We are going to finalize it; just we’re not done yet. It’s a lot of work to finalize a regulation. But that should come soon.” And then later “Well, I think, I mean, you asked, you know, what are our priorities for the next fiscal year. I think, you know, putting aside the regulations which we already discussed, I think the main one is continuing to ensure the integrity of the program. That’s what it’s about. The reg., it might take a while yet before it gets finally published.” This is a grain of salt to go with the “last chance in November 2018” marketing pushes currently fueled by the OMB Fall 2018 Unified Agenda, which estimated 11/00/2018 for a final rule.
  • Redeployment: IIUSA representatives spoke strongly for the need to clarify policy around redeployment. USCIS sounded receptive but vague — not as if they are currently working on redeployment policy. Kathy Neubel Kovarik, Chief of the USCIS Office of Policy and Strategy, threw out a couple ideas:  that the industry might submit suggestions for how to clarify the policy, and what if USCIS published the details of approved redeployments for industry reference. IIUSA pointed out pros and cons.
  • Processing Times/Petition Backlog: The USCIS website has only published EB-5 petition data through March 2018, and we desperately want to know numbers for filing and adjudication volume for the year. This meeting transcript includes charts with completion information at least. The charts show a heartening increase to processing volume across all EB-5 forms in 2018 vs 2017: +21.9% for I-526, +2.5% for I-829, and +72.5% for I-924. Ms. Kendall acknowledged that I-829 (or as the transcriber tellingly heard it, “oh, no, we’re not,” haha) has “a bit of a bump going on.” She indicated that “in the next year we anticipate putting additional resources to the [I-829] so that we can address the needs of that particular line of adjudication.” She reports that IPO is now fully staffed with 200+ personnel, spread across FD&S, Fraud Detection and National Security, and Adjudications Management, plus “an excellent support team.”

I will report further when IPO Chief Sarah Kendall speaks at the AILA/IIUSA conference in Chicago next week.

Litigation in EB-5

I’m behind in reporting on litigation and enforcement actions in EB-5, but Friedland and Calderon have picked up the slack with a paper analyzing the couple SEC actions and flurry of investor-initiated litigation this year. Here is their helpful introduction to the paper.

In December 2017 when we released the first edition of “Understanding EB-5 Securities: NYU Stern Database of SEC EB-5 Securities Enforcement Actions,” we were skeptical as to whether there would be sufficient developments in this area to justify annual updates. However, any doubts were removed during the first 10 months of 2018.

Below is a link to our latest paper, entitled “EB-5 Securities – New Developments and Updated NYU Stern Database – 2018 Edition,” with the updated database as an appendix.

Topics covered by this paper include:

  • The pending litigation in the CMB Century Park Hotel case, with a detailed analysis of the Investment Company Act of 1940 aspects of the case, as well as discussing the relevance to this case of the recent SEC Order against CMB even though the Order relates to unrelated projects
  • The 2018 SEC enforcement action, the DOJ prosecution and the pending bankruptcy auction of the Palm House Hotel where an affiliate of the Related Companies is apparently the stalking horse bidder
  • The immediate impact of the 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision in SEC v. Kokesh based on recent SEC testimony before Congress
  • The SEC settlement with Ariel Quiros, the mastermind of the Jay Peak fraud; a comparison of the distribution of proceeds with the distribution under the Raymond James Financial settlement; and possible SEC Whistleblower awards
  • The pending litigation against USIF alleging a secret restructure of the EB-5 investors’ capital, in its atypical role as an in-house regional center
  • DOJ criminal prosecutions in 2018, as well as expected future prosecutions
  • Unregistered broker-dealer actions, including the recent enforcement action against an immigration attorney wearing multiple hats, and a 2018 US Supreme Court decision prompting a rehearing of aspects of the Hui Feng decision
  • The pending litigation against People’s United Bank for its role in Jay Peak and its potential impact upon other banks’ willingness to establish and maintain EB-5 subscription escrows
  • Updates to our SEC EB-5 Securities Enforcement Action Database
  • Our dim outlook on the likelihood of enactment of EB-5 integrity reform measures, although a recent announcement by OMB, DHS and USCIS provides a glimmer of hope

Link to new paper: EB-5 Securities – New Developments and Updated NYU Stern Database – 2018 Edition

Link to webpage on NYU Stern CREFR site listing our EB-5 research:
EB-5 Research Papers and Articles by Gary Friedland and Jeanne Calderon

FY17 per-country I-526 data, SEC action (registration)

Per-Country I-526 Data
IIUSA has received another year of per-country data for I-526 filings through the Freedom of Information Act process, and prepared a report for IIUSA members. Being ambivalent about freedom of information, IIUSA has decided to share this much with the public.
The full FOIA data set for I-526 filings, approvals, and denials FY2016-FY2017 is being sold for $1,500 (discounted to $300 for IIUSA members).

People who seek EB-5 investors will be interested to note shifts in the top six countries for EB-5 demand. Data on I-526 filings gives a better demand indicator than visas issued, since visas are usually issued 2+ years after the investment.

Past Chinese investors will note with concern the rising number of I-526 filings from other countries that aren’t oversubscribed. But Chinese can also take heart that increased demand in FY16/17 was concentrated in two countries that have (Vietnam) or will (India) exceed their cap and receive a demand-dampening cut-off date since FY2017. Only applicants from undersubscribed countries with no cut-off date can advance ahead of Chinese in the visa waiting line.

Indians will appreciate the clue to future EB-5 visa demand and wait time. Table 1 shows that Indians filed 354+587=941 I-526 from FY16 to FY17. Let’s say 941 I-526 filed * 85% I-526 approval rate * 2.9 visas per I-526 approval = 2,320 visas demanded. (I’m using historical worldwide averages as variables for this estimate, though I guess Indian approval rates may be lower and family size higher than the China-dominated average.**) About 2,320 EB-5 visas demanded by Indians * 1 year/696 EB-5 visas available to India = about 3.3 years to issue the EB-5 visas demanded by India in FY16 and FY17. 3.3 years/2 years = 1.6 more demand than supply = backlog coming. Processing time information indicates that USCIS is only just now approving I-526 from 2016, so many of those I-526 filers haven’t reached the visas application stage yet. When they do, they’ll exceed the per-country cap and lead to a visa bulletin cut-off date for India. When that will happen depends on USCIS’s speed in adjudicating I-526. The length of the visa wait time will vary for people with different priority dates. If only we had FY2018 data as well! Charlie Oppenheim at Department of State probably has these numbers, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say at the AILA/IIUSA EB-5 Industry Forum in a few weeks. I also look forward to USCIS finally publishing FY2018 Q3 data for worldwide EB-5 petitions filings (which they’re very late in doing). Because good business decisions depend on information, I continue to update and share my spreadsheet of available data related to EB-5 visa availability.

**UPDATE: I’ve since realized that DOS publishes a report of Monthly Immigrant Visa Issuances that contradicts my assumption about family size. I logged the monthly reports of EB-5 visas issued to Indians and Vietnamese so far in FY2018 (See Tab 2 Column AS of my backlog spreadsheet), with this result:

  • India: 347 EB-5 visas issued Oct 2017-August 2018, of which 130 were to principal applicants (average 2.67 visas per principal)
  • Vietnam: 658 EB-5 visas issued Oct 2017-August 2018, of which 171 were to principal applicants (average 3.85 visas per principal)

SEC Action on Unregistered Sales of Securities
The SEC has set a gentle example to the EB-5 community in a recent enforcement action. The SEC targeted EB-5 giant CMB Export for violations of registration requirements and improper transaction-based compensation until 2015, and settled for $11.6 million in penalties (not much, considering the amount of investor funds involved) and compliments to CMB’s compliance efforts since 2015. In its press release, the SEC emphasizes the intended moral of the story: “All securities, including EB-5 securities, must comply with registration provisions, which are essential to protecting investors. In the EB-5 industry, strong compliance policies can help ensure that companies meet their registration obligations under the federal securities laws.” Other regional centers will be interested to read the SEC Order and consider their own past and future policies. Note that previous actions have made an issue of transaction-based compensation to unregistered broker-dealers, but this is the first SEC action to target offering partnership interests without first registering the offering, or having a valid exemption from registration.

Per-country limits in question?

[1/2019 UPDATE: IIUSA has done a more granular analysis of the EB-5 impact of removing the per-country cap. The Yoder Amendment discussed in this post was not included in the 2019 DHS funding bill. A standalone bill introduced in 2019 (H.R. 1044 ‘Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2019) renews the proposal to remove the country cap for EB visas, but with a transition period and protections intended to avoid unduly harming past applicants from low-volume countries who are already in line for a visa.]

— ORIGINAL POST —

I do not normally quote the Center for Immigration Studies, but for once I agree with David North. This is a concerning development:

An alarming bit of news – generally ignored by the press – is that the country of origin ceilings that try to diversify our immigration streams may be scrapped by congressional action.

The House Appropriations Committee, while marking up the Department of Homeland Security spending bill this week, inserted language that would eliminate the long-standing requirement that no more than 7 percent of any group of employment-based immigrants could come from a single nation. The same provision would ease the 7 percent rule on family migration as well, but not eliminate it. (See the amendment here, on pp. 23-28; it was introduced last year as a stand-alone bill, H.R. 392.)

This came about because the chair of the DHS Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan.), managed to persuade his colleagues on the full committee that the current system is unfair to the Indian nationals whose visa applications, notably in the EB-2 category, are backlogged for several years. The provision would also speed up the delivery of EB-5 (immigrant investors) to Chinese applicants, while slowing down their arrival for people elsewhere in the world.

This House amendment language may not get into a final bill (it’s not in the Senate version), but it’s still important for the community to be educated about what the per-country limit means for EB-5. Based on data for EB-5 usage to date, here is what I calculate would happen to EB-5 visa availability if the per-country cap were removed as part of the FY2019 funding bill in September:

  • The October 2018 Visa Bulletin would have a 2014 cut-off date for the EB-5 category for all countries.
  • From 2019 to 2027, Department of State would be issuing EB-5 visas to people already in the backlog as of 2018, with no visas left for contemporary demand. Here are my estimates for when visas would be available to investors from various dates, based on data about I-526 filings from 2014 to 2018 and assumptions about denials/dropouts, family size, and visas already issued. Investors from all countries would be in the same line in order by priority date, without regard to nationality.
    • 2014 priority date: visa issued in 2019 (5-year wait)
    • 2015 priority date: visa issued in 2020/2021 (6-year wait)
    • 2016 priority date: visa issued in 2022/2023 (7-year wait)
    • 2017 priority date: visa issued in 2024/2025 (8-year wait)
    • 2018 priority date: visa issued in 2026/2027  (9-year wait)
    • 2019 priority date: visa issued in 2027/2028
  • China-born applicants would dominate the front of the line for EB-5 visas, having the oldest priority dates. They would get 99% of EB-5 visas in 2019, and gradually reduce to about 80% of visas by 2027.

Pros and Cons

  • Removing the per-country limit for EB-5 would give past China-born investors a predictable visa wait of 5 to 10 years, mostly just competing with each other for visas. That would be better than the current hard-to-predict wait of 5 years to life that depends on the wild card of future incoming non-China demand. Removing the per-country limit would give the China-born investor filing today an estimated 9+ year wait rather than the currently-estimated 15+ year wait. This is a benefit for China, but not a solution even for China. 9 years is preferable to 15 years, but this difference becomes irrelevant if both times are unacceptably long.
  • Removing the per-country limit for EB-5 would be a pure disaster for non-China investors. All non-Chinese with pending I-526 or pending visa applications would find themselves in line behind the tens of thousands of Chinese with older priority dates, with many-year visa waits for everyone. Today’s China-born investor suffers, but at least it’s from policy that was in place when he invested, and an excess China demand situation knowable at that time. The non-China investor already in the system would suffer retroactively from new policy that didn’t exist when he invested.
  • Lacking the per-country limit to protect new investment from a variety of countries, the EB-5 program would be essentially dead as regards new investment for the next ten years. Interest might revive by 2030, when the backlog that piled up in 2011-2018 is out of the system, leaving visas available for new applicants. (Or earlier, if many people in the system are shocked at finding their visa timeline unexpectedly expanded by 5-10 years, and try to exit.)

There’s still room for lobbying on this issue, so judge where your interest lies and speak with your contacts.

Additional Reading:

Visa Numbers (FY2018 Q3 and conference update)

The 2018 eb5 investors Magazine EB-5 Convention in Los Angeles provided a platform to discuss a challenged industry. The dominant theme was EB-5 visa numbers, and the consequences of excess demand for a limited quota.  Panels and conversations discussed alternatives to China in view of untenable visa wait times, alternatives to EB-5 for investors and project companies and service providers, alternatives to the visa quota as currently interpreted, and options for deploying past investor funds during the visa wait. I learned that everyone is confused about redeployment and material change, with smart lawyers giving conflicting advice, and that many people are confused about visa availability.   I copy below the most important piece of solid information I learned at the conference – the latest DOS statistics on EB-5 visas issued – followed by my comments and predictions.

Information reported by Bernard Wolfsdorf at the EB-5 Waiting Line panel at the eb5 investors Magazine EB-5 Convention on July 24, 2018, based on information provided by Charlie Oppenheim at the Department of State Visa Controls Office [recording here]

As of the third quarter of FY2018 (June 2018), Department of State had issued the following number of visas:

  • Worldwide: 7,900
  • China: 4,049
  • Vietnam: 692
  • South Korea: 423
  • India: 375
  • Taiwan: 337

DOS China Predictions:

  • On October 2018, the cut-off date for China will move to August 8, 2014 (or maybe August 15).
  • China has received a large number of visas annually because it has been able to take visas unused by other countries. Increased marketing in the rest of the world means that the number of visas available for China is dropping. Charlie will allocate 4,675 visas to China in FY2018—much fewer than in previous years. (China received 7,567 visas in FY2017.) Charlie predicts that China will have 3,500 visas available in FY2019, and 3,000 in FY2020.

DOS Vietnam Predictions:

  • On October 1, 2018, the Vietnam cut-off date will move up to January 2016.
  • In March 2019, the Vietnam cut-off date is expected to retrogress.
  • [Suzanne’s note: In other words, the October Visa Bulletin date moves up so that Vietnamese can get the about 700 new visas available to them in the new fiscal year. These having been issued, the March Visa Bulletin will put Vietnam back to the same cut-off date as China — i.e. in the same line as China for any leftover visas.]

Notes on visa availability:

The China backlog has the oldest priority dates in the system and thus first claim on all visas left over after the up-to-700 per country allocation. The total allocation to China depends on number of leftover visas. Countries behind China are effectively limited to about 700 visas annually. Data on visas issued for FY2018 to date indicate that Vietnam has already reached its limit for the year, while South Korea, India, and Taiwan are closer than ever before to the 700 limit. (As a reminder, total visas issued to these countries in FY2017: Vietnam 471; South Korea 195; India 174; Taiwan 188.)  DOS predicts future visa wait times for investors from these countries. (No FY2018 Q3 numbers were provided for Brazil — don’t know if that means fewer FY2018 visa applications than expected from Brazil.)

Remember that investors from one country don’t all have the same wait time.  Individual wait times vary by priority date (date of I-526 receipt). Vietnamese investors who filed I-526 in January 2016 will likely have an almost 3-year wait for a conditional green card (per Charlie’s Visa Bulletin cut-off date prediction above), while Vietnamese who filed I-526 in April 2018 will likely have a 6-year wait (per Charlie’s prediction at the IIUSA conference in April). Each of those estimates is specific to a point in time – that is, to Vietnamese investors who filed on a certain date — not for all Vietnamese.  If the number of I-526 filings from Vietnam increased in a linear manner from 2015 to the present, then the visa wait time for Vietnamese investors over that time period is also linear. As a Vietnamese investor, I’d estimate my visa wait by plotting a line through the two wait-time estimates provided by Charlie, and see where my priority date would fall on that line. (i.e. I’d estimate about a 2-year wait if I filed in 2015 and a 4-5 year wait if I filed in 2017, since he estimated 3 years for early 2016 filers and 6 years for early 2018 filers.) The demand line often isn’t linear (e.g. I expect Vietnam I-526 filings to drop in 2019, thus changing the calculation for 2019 Vietnamese investors), but still plot-able given data.

In EB-5 some people have a false sense of panic (i.e. past Chinese investors thinking Charlie estimated a 15-year visa wait for all Chinese as of April 2018, when he just estimated a 15-year wait for new Chinese investors filing I-526 in April 2018), while others have a false sense of security (i.e. current Vietnamese investors thinking an October 2018 Visa Bulletin indicating 3-year wait applies to today’s new investors, when in fact it’s just specific to people who filed by January 2016 and at the visa application stage in October 2018.) The misunderstandings both result from forgetting to think of the visa wait as a waiting line problem, with the wait for any one investor as a function of that investor’s place in a priority-date-ordered queue (subject to country limits, but not in undifferentiated pools by country). Generally, the longer ago you filed I-526, the shorter your total wait for an EB-5 visa. Chinese investors who filed I-525 four years ago are receiving visas today (four year wait), while Chinese investors filing I-526 today will have longer to wait.  The EB-5 waiting line problem extremely complex but not impossible, considering the process we know and the fact that we have at least some data. (FYI my spreadsheet of backlog-related data is currently under revision as I try to think out a simpler presentation with clearer country-specific analysis. And I really wish we could get updated per-country I-526 data!)

Misconceptions about visa availability were evident in several promoters who spoke at the conference about demand  potential. The EB-5 quota and per-country limit mean that each non-China country can get only about 700 visas i.e. accommodate only about 230 investors annually.   (10,000 visa quota * 7% per country + 0 visas leftover after the China backlog) * 1 investor/3 visas = about 230 investors per country, sustainably. Meanwhile, thousands of investor I-526 * 3 visas/1 investor * 1 year/700 visas = many years visa wait for any country that falls for the siren song of big projects. India especially, take note.  CanAm alone boasts of securing 200 Indian investors this year – almost a year’s worth of visas to one regional center operator – and I hear about multiple other projects each seeking hundreds of Indians. Investors should be vigilant, and EB-5 promoters consider their long-term interests and watch the activity of other promoters.  No market can replace China; raising too much in any one market will simply spoil it. That is, unless the EB-5 visa quota changes.

Will the EB-5 visa quota change, and who will advocate for change? I was reminded at the conference that the industry has conflicting interests. On the one hand, we cannot keep raising money or creating jobs at historical levels without visa relief. Long wait times would ruin the market going forward. Either EB-5 visa numbers increase or EB-5 economic contributions fall.  On the other hand, long visa waits result in the golden gift of billions of dollars in past investment free to be redeployed for 10+ years longer than expected with little investor input and no new job creation requirement. Some companies with large amounts of EB-5 money already in pocket may not be motivated to press for change. But a majority of industry players do want change, as do investors of course.  A new lawsuit pressing the 10,000 EB-5 visas-for-investors argument has maximized its slim chance of success by being entrusted to rockstar Ira Kurzban. (The 10,000 EB-5 quota has been historically interpreted to include family members, thus making it effectively a 3,300-investor quota.) If Kurzban can’t argue this, no one can. People at the conference seemed to think the lawsuit is, at least, a significant and productive gesture. (Update: here is the complaint.) A new organization has been formed just to advocate for backlog problems: EB-5 Visa Relief Group. We shall see where all this leads. This year the draft EB-5 reform legislation did not touch EB-5 backlog problems, while larger immigration bills offered to increase visa numbers for every EB category except EB-5. I welcome more pressure and lobbying on behalf of EB-5 visa relief.

Based what I heard from panels and in conversation at the conference, I would be willing to bet money on the following predictions:

  • The regional center program will get another short-term reauthorization with no changes by the next sunset date of September 30, 2018, as part of the funding bill for FY2019.
  • Another EB-5 bill with longer-term regional center authorization and some EB-5 reforms will be introduced following the midterm elections. The bill will not go anywhere, unless finalized regulations motivate the EB-5 factions to consult with each other, accept painful compromises, and figure out a minimum broadly-beneficial platform that Washington can count on being thanked for enacting. In other words, the bill will not go anywhere.
  • The EB-5 modernization regulations will be finalized in 2018, probably right when I wanted to focus on pumpkin pie and Christmas shopping. The investment amount increases and priority date protections may be modified from the original draft regulations. Litigation around the rollout may come out of New York City.
  • The total number of I-526 filings will fall gradually through 2018, and drop significantly in 2019 as a result in of the regulations and new Visa Bulletin cut-off dates. Because I predict a fall in demand overall, my projections for China visa numbers are more optimistic than Charlie’s. I think that rest-of-the-world demand will fall after 2019, leaving more visas left for China.
  • When new Visa Bulletin cut-off dates are imposed in 2019, many people will express surprise that the cut-off dates and associated visa wait effect people who invested back in 2017 and 2018. If the visa cut-off dates come earlier than expected as a result of more/faster-than-expected I-526 approvals, people will be surprised by that too.
  • With increasing pressures and alternatives, many regional centers, real estate companies, and service providers (and some past investors) will look to exit EB-5 in 2019.
  • Litigators will keep busy, cashing in on questionable interpretations by USCIS and investor frustration with wait times, issuer redeployment decisions, and project progress.
  • I-526 processing times will improve significantly with the fall in I-526 receipts. EB-5 will become a fast track again for investors from low demand countries, escrows contingent on I-526 approval will become feasible again, and new types of projects will find opportunity in EB-5.

FY2018 Q2 EB-5 Form Processing Statistics

USCIS has updated its Immigration and Citizenship Data page with statistics on forms received, processed and pending in the second quarter of FY2018 (January to March 2018). Form I-526 and I-829 are in the Employment Based subsection, and Form I-924 is in the Forms subsection in the “All Forms Report.”

My charts below summarize FY2018 Q2 data compared with previous quarters, and highlight trends. A few notes:

  • IPO processed a few more forms in FY18 Q2 than ever before. It’s nice to see processing trend in a positive direction, and a new record set. Once could wish for more dramatic improvement. The chart of quarterly processing volume over the past three years shows a very gradual upward trend. I-526 and I-924 volume (approvals+denials) improved significantly in Q2, but net improvement remained low when considering reduced I-829 volume.
  • Form receipts at IPO reflect a gradual downward trend, driven by falling I-526 receipts. However I-526 receipts remain unsustainably high. The 10,000 annual quota of EB-5 visas means that the program can accommodate about 830 I-526 per quarter on average (assuming about 3 visas per investor). FY18 Q2’s unusually low 1,607 I-526 receipts is still almost twice the sustainable average: one quarter’s filings sufficient to claim half a year of visas.
  • Form I-924 receipts and processing were both significantly elevated in FY18 Q2. No wonder I-924 processing times look better than expected. I-924 denial rates remain high.
  • I-829 receipts grew in FY18 Q2, even as processing volume fell again, with fewer I-829 processed in Q2 than in any of the previous three quarters.
  • If we could predict processing times by dividing number of pending forms in Q2 by number forms processed in Q2, then I-526 would take 17 months, I-829 36 months, and I-924 16 months. This prediction differs from the month ranges currently in the USCIS Processing Times Report: 20-26 months for I-526, 30.5-39.5 months for I-829, 19.5-25.5 months for I-924. I tried several equations with the pending and volume numbers, and (unlike last quarter) didn’t find one that neatly replicates the USCIS processing time calculation.
  • In case I-829 petitioners didn’t have enough to worry about already, the I-829 data doesn’t look right. The FY18 Q2 report reviews Q1 data, as follows: 694 receipts, 6,251 pending. But the Q1 report published in May had quite different numbers for Q1: 1,046 receipts, 6,673 pending. To where did those 352 receipts and 422 pending petitions from Q1 disappear? Or maybe they didn’t disappear, but joined other petitions of unknown origin, since the number of petitions reported pending at the end of Q2 (7,447), is higher by almost a thousand than what one would expect from taking Q1 pending petitions plus Q2 receipts minus Q2 approvals and denials. Hope USCIS can soon modernize beyond paper and counting sticks for keeping EB-5 records. Or am I missing something?

I-526 and EB-5 visa wait times; country-specific effects of potential changes

I’ve written separately about I-526 processing time and the EB-5 visa wait time, but find that people get confused about how those times interact. How does I-526 processing time affect the total time to get an EB-5 visa? From what point do we calculate the visa wait? What factors and potential changes could compress or expand the full process from priority date to green card for people from different countries?  This post addresses such questions.

Note that the path to conditional permanent residence has two separate, sequential steps (Step 1 and Step 2 in Figure 1), but we usually calculate timing for each step from the same starting point (Time A and Time B in Figure 1).  An immigrant investor’s priority date – the date that USCIS received his I-526 petition – marks his place in line for I-526 processing (which is first-come-first-served in principle) and also his place in line for a visa. An investor must wait for I-526 approval before he can take the next step and submit a visa application or file for status adjustment.  But once he gets to the visa application stage (Step 2), his place in the queue for a visa doesn’t depend on the date he finished Step 1 (I-526 approval) but on the date he started Step 1 (I-526 receipt). This is so because anyone who files I-526 is effectively putting herself in the visa queue, even though she hasn’t progressed yet to the point of being qualified to file the visa application or I-485.  INA 203(e)(1) stipulates that available EB-5 visas are issued to eligible immigrants in the order in which the immigrant petition was filed. So when Charlie Oppenheim at the Department of State Office of Visa Controls estimates a two-year wait time for Country A, he is talking about two years from priority date to visa availability, not two years from I-526 approval.  To estimate wait times for new applicants today, it’s necessary count both chickens (documentarily-qualified applicants currently ready to file for a visa) and eggs (people who have filed I-526 petitions that may eventually hatch and yield visa applications). Therefore, with reference to Figure 1:

  • For an investor of any nationality, Time B is, at minimum, longer than Time A, because an investor isn’t qualified to apply for a visa until after I-526 approval.
  • For investors from countries without excessive demand, Time A can be the major factor determining the length of Time B. I-526 processing times have tended to be lengthy for all countries (averaging around 2 years). But once having received I-526 approval, the investor from a country with no cut-off date will have a visa number available right away and can progress straight to the visa application or status adjustment process to claim that visa. Only investors from countries over or near the annual per-country limit need to worry about waiting years for a visa number, making Time B very much longer than Time A.
  • For an investor from a country exceeding the annual 7% per-country limit, Time A becomes relatively insignificant (personally) because Time B will be long regardless of the individual’s Time A. As a Chinese investor, I may not care about the timing of I-526 approval if  have a decade to wait for conditional permanent residence regardless. The visa queue is ordered by priority date, not date of I-526 approval, so an expedite in Time A doesn’t expedite Time B for investors from significantly oversubscribed countries.
  • Because the visa waiting line technically starts with priority date, we have to look at I-526 receipts, not just I-526 approvals or current visa applications, to estimate Time B. Prospective Indian investors may wonder why there’s already an informal visa wait time estimate for Indians filing today, even though India shows as current in the Visa Bulletin. That’s because today’s Visa Bulletin just reflects what’s currently happening in Step 2. The prospective investor needs to predict how the Visa Bulletin will look in the future, when he can progress to Step 2. And that future Visa Bulletin will depend on what’s happening in Step 1 now, and the volume and nationality of people entering the system and receiving priority dates.

How long is Time B, for various countries? The latest rough estimates (as of April 2018) suggest the following time between priority date and visa availability for new investors from different countries filing today: China, 15 years; Vietnam, 6 years; India, 5 years; Brazil and South Korea (and maybe Taiwan), 2 years. (Update: see estimates as of October 2018 here.) Times for everyone else are just based on estimated petition processing times, assuming no wait for a visa number. (There’s a potentially significant time factor between visa availability and actually getting a conditional green card, depending on how busy the appropriate consulate or service center happens to be, but this time is so variable that I haven’t tried to account for it in my Time B calculation.)

Many factors could change the estimates for Time B, or cause the reality to be longer or shorter for people of various nationalities who have entered the EB-5 process.

Possible Change: USCIS improves I-526 processing, increasing volume of adjudications and reducing I-526 processing times.

  • Likelihood of this change: High. IPO processed 30% more I-526 in FY2017 than FY2016, and hopes to continue to improve performance
  • Impact of this change, if it occurs:
    • China: Negative effect. More approved I-526 means more approvals for countries other than China, which means more visa applications from outside China and fewer leftover visas available to the China backlog. Fewer leftover visas annually means longer Time B for Chinese investors.
    • Vietnam, India, Brazil, S. Korea, Taiwan: Mixed effect. These countries are or will be too new in the backlogged category to compete for leftover visas in any case (since China has enough older backlogged applicants to claim all leftover visas for years). An increased volume of rest-of-the-world applicants may not hurt countries that can’t expect more than their personal allotment of 700 visas a year regardless. However, more and faster I-526 approvals could mean that India, Brazil, and possibly South Korea and Taiwan get cut-off dates sooner than expected. (Charlie Oppenheim knows that they’re already probably oversubscribed, based on counting eggs, but he doesn’t set cut-off dates until the eggs actually hatch into chickens, i.e. until immigrant investor petitioners are documentarily qualified to apply for a visa.)
    • Rest of the world (any countries well below 250 investors per year): Positive effect. So long as a country doesn’t risk generating over 700 visa applications in a year, its investors can only benefit from improved I-526 processing time/volume. With no hold-up to wait for a visa number, short Time A means short Time B.

Possible Change: Legislation removes the per-country numerical limit for the EB-5 category, such that individual countries aren’t limited to 7% of EB-5 visas when the category is oversubscribed.

  • Likelihood of this change: Possible. Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018 (H.R. 6136), the compromise immigration legislation just introduced by House GOP leadership, proposes this change in Sec. 2102 (page 192).
  • Impact of this change, if it occurs:
    • China: Positive effect. With no per-country limit, the visa waiting line would simply be in order by priority date. Having been held back with cut-off dates for years, Chinese applicants have the oldest priority dates in the system. Thus, with no per-country limit, the huge pool of backlogged China-born investors would move to the front of the line for visas. Based on the number of old Chinese applications in the system, they could take 100% of available visas for the next 2-3 years, and be on equal footing with contemporary applicants from other countries thereafter. Time B for a China-born investor with priority date from 2014-2016 would decrease dramatically. Time B still wouldn’t be short for a China-born investor filing today (about 9+ years unless many previous applicants drop out, as they might), but that’s much better than the current estimate of about 15 years.
    • Vietnam, and any soon-to-be oversubscribed countries (India, Brazil, etc.): Negative effect. The per-country limit means that each backlogged country can expect to get at least about 700 visas annually. Without the per-country limit, all more recent applicants would find themselves in line behind tens of thousands of China-born applicants with earlier priority dates. Time B (currently estimated at 5+ years for new investors from Vietnam/India and 2+ years for Brazil/South Korea) would likely expand to 9+ years for all new investors regardless of country, in absence of per-country limits.
    • Rest of the world: Negative effect. The per-country limit currently protects low-volume countries from the effects of excess demand for EB-5 visas. Even with a decade of current/potential visa applications already in the system, new applicants from low-volume countries can expect a visa promptly because high-volume countries get held back. With no country-specific limits, new investors would join a line that’s about a decade long without regard to nationality.

 Possible Change: Legislation increases the number of EB-5 visas available annually.

  • Likelihood of this change: Possible. We need this change so badly, and advocacy dollars should focus on this issue. But I haven’t seen EB-5 visa number increases in any recent legislative proposals – not even in H.R. 6136, which proposes additional visa numbers for every EB category except EB-5.
  • Impact of this change, if it occurs: Positive for all past and future EB-5 investors from all countries.

Possible Change: Legislation or regulations implement higher minimum investment amounts that significantly depress new demand for EB-5. (Or other factors significantly depress new demand: e.g. investors in potentially-high-volume countries get discouraged by wait times, the U.S. becomes a less attractive destination for immigration or investment, EB-5 becomes a less attractive financing option for U.S. companies.)

  • Likelihood of this change: High. All legislative and regulatory proposals include higher investment amounts. The most imminent proposal – regulations possibly on schedule to be finalized in August 2018 – have investment amounts high enough to kill demand almost entirely, many EB-5 promoters say. Even if investment amounts do not increase, or increase only moderately, EB-5 has plenty of challenges and complications with potential to moderate future demand.
  • Impact of this change, if it occurs:
    • China: Positive effect. Fewer incoming immigrant investors means less competition from rest-of-the-world for available visa numbers
    • Vietnam, and any other high-demand countries: Positive effect. Reduced demand reduces risk for investors already in the system that their countries will become or stay oversubscribed.
    • Rest of the world: Neutral. Low future demand does not improve wait times for people already in the system from countries with no cut-off date.

Possible Change: Demand for EB-5 grows, and countries besides China produce a sufficiently high volume of EB-5 petitions to exceed the per-country limit.

  • Likelihood of this change: Fairly high. The Department of State already predicts cut-off dates in the next couple years for five to six countries in addition to China. And media reports indicate aggressive EB-5 promotion outside of China, particularly in India and Brazil.
  • Impact of this change, if it occurs:
    • China: Positive effect. Time B for China-born applicants depends primarily on the number of visas leftover each year from the “rest of the world” with no cut-off date. As soon as another country exceeds the per-country limit and gets a cut-off date, it’s removed from and reduces the size of that “rest of the world” pool, thus leaving more visas on the table for older China-born applicants.
    • Vietnam, and any other countries to be oversubscribed: Negative effect. Time B expands dramatically for a country as soon as it’s oversubscribed. Vietnam and subsequent countries don’t benefit the way China does from each additional country to get a cut-off date, because these countries don’t have applicants old enough to compete with China for visas leftover from the rest of the world.
    • Rest of the world: Positive effect. Each additional country to get a cut-off date reduces competition for available visa numbers.

Possible Change: Demand for EB-5 diversifies, with more investors coming from outside China, but spread out so that few individual countries exceed the per-country limit.

  • Likelihood of this change: Moderate. It’s much easier to raise a lot of EB-5 money from one country than from many countries, so concentration has been the rule to date in EB-5. But data has suggested a trend toward diversification.
  • Impact of this change, if it occurs:
    • China: Negative effect. Time B for China-born applicants depends primarily on the number of visas leftover each year from the “rest of the world” with no cut-off date. As that “rest of the world” pool grows, visa availability for China shrinks, and wait times grow.
    • Vietnam, and any other countries to be oversubscribed: Neutral effect. They aren’t competing for “rest of the world” visas anyway, thanks to China’s earlier priority dates.
    • Rest of the world: Negative effect. Each new applicant with no cut-off date increases competition for available visa numbers.

Possible Change: People already in line for an EB-5 visa despair about Time B and withdraw in large numbers from the EB-5 process. (Or other attrition factors come into play: more petitions get denied, more projects fail, more deaths and divorces occur, children age out or don’t get born.)

  • Likelihood of this change: Moderate. On the one hand, current wait time estimates are devastating for some investors (especially, China-born investors in the past couple years), undermining their immigration objectives and their investment projects. This could precipitate voluntary withdrawal, not to mention attrition from children growing up and more time for divorce and death and project failure. On the other hand, EB-5 investments are major and real at-risk investments, committed regardless of the immigration process. Giving up is not easy. Also, many people do not read my blog and are not well-informed about timing issues.
  • Impact of this change, if it occurs:
    • China: Positive effect for some. Each China-born applicant who withdraws from the process reduces the time that more recent China-born applicants have to wait for a visa.
    • Vietnam, and any other countries to be oversubscribed: Mixed effect. Mass exodus of past investors would reduce competition for available visas, but also involve collateral damage to the EB-5 program as a whole (in terms of public relations and damage to companies deploying EB-5 investment, not to mention the human cost for the prospective immigrants involved).
    • Rest of the world: Mixed effect. Countries without cut-off dates do not compete with the backlog anyway, so reducing the backlog has little effect on timing for these countries. But large-scale failure of previous EB-5 applications would damage the EB-5 program as a whole.

Other related posts:
AILA/IIUSA Forum Updates (Kendall, Oppenheim, visa availability) November 5, 2018
Visa Numbers (FY2018 Q3 and conference update) July 27, 2018
How Long Does I-526 Take? (III) May 18, 2018
Visa Numbers (China, Vietnam, India, Brazil, S. Korea, Taiwan) April 23, 2018
EB-5 Visa Waiting Line and Visa Allocation April 8, 2018
EB-5 Timing Issues and Visa Wait: Process and Data October 13, 2017

Benefit from this blog? Please support the effort behind it. As the EB-5 industry changes, your contribution can help preserve this space for conscientious and freely-available EB-5 reporting. Contributions go to Lucid Professional Writing, a for-profit business, to fund work on this blog. Thank you!

How Long Does I-526 Take? (III)

This post combines, updates, and replaces my two previous posts on I-526 processing times. I’ve divided the post into six sections:

How much time does USCIS take to process an I-526 petition? The short answer: usually between 3 and 33 months. The rest of this post provides the long answer.

Interpreting Official USCIS Processing Time Information

USCIS addresses the processing time question on the EB-5 filing tips page:

How long does USCIS take to process a Form I-526 petition?
For current estimates, see USCIS Processing Time Information. However, processing times can vary depending on the circumstances of each case. These include factors such as the time it takes to complete a background check and whether we need to request additional evidence.

Since, March 23, 2018, the USCIS Processing Time Information page for I-526 has looked like this:

The report claims that “We generally process cases in the order we receive them,” and provides two pieces of information: an estimated time range, and a case inquiry date.

  • What “Estimated time range” means:  This month range gives a theoretical average processing time and an upper limit. The lower number (25 months) is an average that’s calculated by dividing the number of I-526 petitions pending at IPO by the average number of petitions that IPO has been processing in a month. The higher number (32.5 months) is “generally” the lower number multiplied by 1.3. Cases that take longer than 32.5 months to process have exceeded an arbitrary “upper limit” for “normal” processing times, and considered outliers. The month range provides a reasonable theoretical estimate for I-526 processing times. However, we have no evidence that the dates broadly reflect the actual ages of cases currently being adjudicated at IPO. Quite the contrary, in fact, as discussed below. (Source of my interpretation: USCIS’s More Info page, which says that we “continue to use our old method to calculate processing times” for non-pilot forms such as I-526, combined with an Office of Inspector General report exposing the “old method” for calculating processing times in the I-485 context, and corroborated by reproducing USCIS’s presumed time range calculation using public data on I-526 pending petitions and volume of adjudications.)From March 23, 2018 to May 18, 2018, the Processing Time Information Report Estimated Time Range for I-526 has remained unchanged: 25 to 32.5 months. Since the Estimated Time Range appears to be a broad theoretical calculation, not dependent on fluctuating reality, I expect it to remain unchanged in the report indefinitely, regardless of what’s happening on the ground at IPO. [Update: on 5/31/2018, the report was updated to show 20-25.5 month range for I-526.]
  • What “Case inquiry date” means: As the Processing Time Information page explains,

    We have posted a Case Inquiry Date … to show when you can inquire about your case. If your receipt date is before the Case Inquiry Date, you can submit an “outside normal processing time” service request online.

    From March 23, 2018 to May 18, 2018, the Case Inquiry Date for I-526 has remained constant: today’s date minus 971 days. (I spot check the webpage periodically, and log the reports in my IPO Times file.) The webpage claims that the report gets updated “around the 15th of each month,” but that has not been true yet.

    Like the Estimated Time Range, the Case Inquiry Date appears to be merely theoretical and functional. It’s more-or-less simply the upper end of the Estimated Time Range, converted from a month into a calendar date. It does not claim to be the date of cases that IPO is processing now. It’s just the cut-off date that IPO has set for complaints – and naturally IPO would choose to put that date back as far as possible. If you want to estimate when you may start to complain, add 971 days to your priority date. But your I-526 will get a decision before that date, unless it’s an outlier. And I predict that variable currently set at 971 will be adjusted downward eventually, assuming that IPO continues to improve processing speed. [Update: on 5/31/2018, the report was updated to show I-526 case inquiry date of 761 days ago, rather than 971 days ago]

Predicting Average Processing Times

Average processing time is theoretically a function of inventory (number of pending petitions) and flow rate (rate at which IPO approves and denies petitions). You can get the input data for this equation from the USCIS Immigration and Citizenship Data page, which posts quarterly reports for I-526 and other forms. My I-526 Time spreadsheet turns the quarterly data into a prediction model that estimates average processing times as a function of petition volume at different points in time (with some assumptions about future trends). The last quarterly report indicated 24,627 I-526 pending at IPO in December 2017 and an average of 2,954 petitions processed per quarter over the last four quarters. 24,627/2,954 = 8.3 quarters to process the pending petitions (estimated average). So an I-526 petition filed in January 2018 would be theoretically likely to wait 8.3 quarters (25 months) for processing, other factors being equal. That’s consistent with the Processing Times Information page, which starts the Estimated Time Range at 25 months. But unequal reality leads to some petitions being processed more quickly.

Understanding Variation in Processing Times

Here’s what IPO has said about I-526 time variation (summarized from communications copied in my log of IPO communications on processing times).

  • DHS estimates that the average Form I-526 gets 6.5 hours of touch time.  That means an adjudicator spends less than a day handling the case —  the remaining (and most variable) processing time is queue time and time spent waiting for additional evidence or supervisory approval.
  • IPO has at least three queues going for I-526 petitions: (1) a queue for direct EB-5 petitions; (2) a queue for regional center petitions based on investment in projects that haven’t yet been reviewed; (3) a queue for regional center petitions based on investment in projects that have Exemplar I-526 approval or previous I-526 approvals.  The following chart illustrates my understanding of IPO Deputy Chief Julia Harrison’s description of the process.

    IPO indicates that each queue has dedicated staff working on it. Petitions within each queue are ordered by earliest filing date. A regional center petition for a project not previously reviewed must wait in Queue 2 (for project-specific adjudication) and then again in Queue 3 (for investor-specific adjudication). RC petitions for previously-approved projects advance straight to Queue 3. IPO encourages communication between team leaders on the Queue 1 and Queue 2/3 side to ensure that direct and RC petitions filed at the same time move forward concurrently. With this complex process, it’s unsurprising that IPO appears far from its intention to process cases more-or-less in the order in which they are received.
  • Factors that can speed I-526 processing per IPO:
    • Investing in a project with an approved Exemplar and/or previously-approved I-526
    • Having a clear, high-quality petition (this is important when evidence requests and supervisory approval are the major variables — besides queue time — in overall processing time)
    • Having an approved expedite request (this shortens the queue time, not the adjudicator touch time).
  • Factors that can slow I-526 processing per IPO:
    • Having a petition that’s poor-quality, unclear, problematic, or otherwise inspires IPO to request additional evidence
    • Filing with/after a surge of other people who filed poor-quality petitions
  • Factors that don’t affect I-526 processing time per IPO:
    • The investor’s nationality. (IPO does not currently sort petitions by nationality. There is no hold-up for China-born petitioners at the I-526 stage, as there is at the visa stage. However, IPO asks whether they should change that — considering that fast I-526 approval doesn’t help China-born investors facing a long visa wait regardless. Also, stats show that I-526 denial rates are much higher for some countries than others, which makes me suspect that IPO finds some countries’ source of funds and background checks more challenging than others – which could naturally be associated with longer processing times. So even if the process is FCFS for all nationalities, it’s probably not FIFO for all nationalities.)
    • Whether the petition is for a direct or regional center investment. (IPO claims that they try to move direct and RC petitions forward concurrently. However there may be some regional center advantage in practice since direct petitions are often the first in a project and cannot take advantage of Exemplar approval.)
    • Project size. (IPO reports that they do not privilege petitions for big projects with many investors. But some anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise.)
    • TEA status. (Some legislative reform proposals have suggested offering quicker processing to petitions based on investment in a Targeted Employment Area, but IPO does not report having any such policy now.)

Expedited Processing
EB-5 forms, like other immigration forms, can apply for and benefit from expedited processing under certain limited conditions. Expedited processing reduces the time a form takes to reach an adjudicator’s desk. It does not reduce the time to adjudicate the petition, and does not reduce the visa wait time for petitioners from countries with a cut-off date.

Individual Processing Time Experience

Individual processing time variation means that some people wait longer than the theoretical average 25 months for I-526 approval, while others receive approval much more quickly.

My best evidence for faster-than-average approval is priority dates for pending visa applications. If all I-526 take 2 years to process, then Department of State should have been receiving applications in 2017 from people who filed I-526 in 2015. In fact, as of October 2017 Department of State reported having over 1,500 pending visa applications based on I-526 petitions filed in 2016 and 2017. Assuming an average 3 visa applications per approved petition, that reflects about 500 I-526 petitions approved and advanced to the next stage within a year of filing. And the DOS report only mentioned pending applications for five countries, not counting all applications for the year. I-485 inventory statistics likewise show many pending status adjustment applications with recent priority dates.

I set up a Google Form to collect reports of processing time experience from individual investors. (Entries still welcome!) In the very limited sample of entries so far (which appear in this Google Sheet), I-526 approvals in 2017/2018 that were reported to me had an average processing time of 19 months, with standard deviation of 7 months. The following tables summarize results reported in my Form so far.

Resources for Investors

Additional Note

My series of timing posts is missing an important piece: analysis of the steps and time factors (for countries with no cut-off date yet) between receiving the Form I-797, Approval Notice for the I-526 and claiming an EB-5 visa number. Especially Indians are trying to calculate: if I can count on receiving I-526 adjudication in the next few weeks, can I count on getting allocated a visa number in the advance of the Visa Bulletin giving a cut-off date for India? The point at which the visa number actually gets allocated, and the factors/timing between I-526 approval and that point, vary between I-485 and consular processing, and I don’t understand it all yet. But potential investors should include this in discussions with counsel, because delays can be considerable for consular processing anyway. I’m hearing reports of USCIS taking  8+ months just to forward I-526 approvals to the National Visa Center. Ironically, it seems that the faster USCIS adjudicates I-526, the more it drags its feet on advancing that approval to the next stage. But this is a developing situation, and I have limited examples. Here is my background reading list so far FYI. Please email me any additional helpful articles and current timing information.

Benefit from this blog? Please support the effort behind it. As the EB-5 industry changes, your contribution can help preserve this space for conscientious and freely-available EB-5 reporting. Contributions go to Lucid Professional Writing, a for-profit business, to fund work on this blog. Thank you!

FY2018 Q1 EB-5 Form Processing Statistics

USCIS has updated its Immigration and Citizenship Data page with statistics on EB-5 forms received, processed and pending in the first quarter of FY2018 (October to December 2017). Form I-526 and I-829 are in the Employment Based subsection, and (I belatedly realize) Form I-924 is in the Forms subsection in the “All Forms Report.” (The row title is labeled “I-924/924A” for some quarters’ reports and just “I-924” in others, but it’s evident from the numbers that the data is for I-924 only, not including I-924A. I assume the row comprises initial applications and amendments.) This processing volume information provides the best picture we have of the progress and prospects for IPO processing.

My charts below summarize FY2018 Q1 data compared with previous quarters, and highlight trends. A few notes:

  • IPO processed fewer forms overall in FY2018 Q1 than in the previous quarter. The volume of I-526 and I-924 processed stayed about the same on average over the past few quarters, while I-829 volume leapt and then tumbled. I had hoped for a more positive growth trend, and was disappointed.
  • However, annual numbers trend in a positive direction, with IPO improving processing volume every year, and annual adjudications growing at a slightly faster rate than annual receipts.
  • I-526 and I-924 receipt numbers continue to correlate with regional center program sunset dates, but with smaller and smaller surges.
  • I-829 receipts increased last quarter as expected following the mysterious dips in previous quarters.
  • I-924 adjudication has been remarkable for number of denials.
  • IPO ended December 2017 with about twice as many pending I-526 and I-829 as it’s proven able to process in a year, and nearly three times as many I-924. So if we estimate processing times by dividing inventory by flow rate, that yields a 2-year processing time estimate for I-526 and I-829, and three-year estimate for I-924. That volume-based estimate matches exactly with the base month that USCIS posts on its new Processing Time Information page for I-526 and I-829, which makes me think they’re using the same equation. USCIS’s processing time estimate for I-924 is much lower, however. Maybe they plan to dramatically increase volume of I-924 adjudication, or disappear some of the pending backlog?
  • FY2018 Q1 showed fewer I-526 adjudications and more I-526 receipts than I’d expected, so I recalculated my I-526 time prediction model accordingly.

Now that I’ve chosen to spend so much time sweating over Excel and Photoshop and injuring my eyes to make this post better than it needs to be, and as helpful as possible to you, I shall recopy my Paypal plug below. (Thank you to the 26 readers who contributed to the blog since I opened the option last month.)

Benefit from this blog? Please support the effort behind it. As the EB-5 industry changes, your contribution can help preserve this space for conscientious and freely-available EB-5 reporting. Contributions go to Lucid Professional Writing, a for-profit business, to fund work on this blog. Thank you!

4/23 Visa Numbers (China, Vietnam, India, Brazil, S. Korea, Taiwan)

[10/30/2018 UPDATE: for more recent data and predictions, see my post AILA/IIUSA Forum Updates (Kendall, Oppenheim, visa availability)]

Visa Numbers Update

Charlie Oppenheim, Chief of the Visa Controls Office at the U.S. Department of State, spoke about EB-5 visa numbers and allocation at the IIUSA conference on April 23. This post summarizes interesting data from his slides. (The tables pictured below are also in my increasingly untidy Backlog Calc Excel file. When I have time, I’ll reorganize the file and recalculate projections.) I’m relying on a partial video recording and reports from others for this post, not having heard Mr. Oppenheim’s talk in person. When someone at the conference posts a substantial report, I’ll link it here. As always, I welcome corrections. [Update: other reports on this presentation from IIUSA and Wolfsdorf Rosenthal.]

Highlights from Mr. Oppenheim’s presentation [with my commentary in brackets, and images showing my summaries of data points from the presentation]:

  • USCIS has picked up the pace on I-526 adjudication. The National Visa Center received 25% more EB-5 applicant petitions in 2017/2018 than 2016/2017. That reflects I-526 processing improvement (good news), and results in more people ready to claim available visas (bad news for the visa backlog).
  • Visas can be issued by Department of State through consular processing (for applicants residing outside the US) or USCIS through I-485 status adjustment (for applicants in the US). Historically most EB-5 visas have come through DOS, but we’re seeing a steady increase in visas through status adjustment: 991 in FY2015, 1,442 in FY2016, 1,676 in FY2017, and 952 already in the first six months of FY2018. This reminds us to keep an eye on what’s happening at USCIS as well as DOS, when tracking visa number demand.
  • Department of State has seen a dramatic increase in visa applications from people outside China. In just the first six months of FY2018, DOS issued 2,735 EB-5 visas to applicants from outside China – more than in the whole of the previous year. That increase in “rest of the world” visas can be bad news for China, because annual visas available to China depend on leftovers from the rest of the world. [My model estimates that the China line is 10 years long assuming 80% of annual visas available to China, and 15 years long if 50% of annual visas are left to China. Also, I wonder if the “rest of the world” bump could reflect IPO taking initiative to prioritize moving non-China I-526 petitions – an idea they suggested in November 2017.]
  • Based on growing demand, Vietnam, India, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan are on Mr. Oppenheim’s radar for potential to trigger the per-country cap and thus get held back with cut-off dates. Vietnam already has a final action date that Mr. Oppenheim expects to advance by several months in 2019 (but not make it current). He expects to set a final action date for India by June 2019 at latest, and for Brazil, South Korea, and (maybe) Taiwan in Summer 2019. The projected final action date for September 2019 is October 1, 2014 (worst case) or October 15, 2014 (best case) for China and other oversubscribed countries. [Cut-off dates for other countries is good news for China, because those countries get temporarily removed from the queue-cutting “rest of the world” pool, and instead stuck in line behind older Chinese applications for leftover visas.]
  • In the Q&A period, Mr. Oppenheim reportedly projected these EB-5 visa wait times: China 15 years, Vietnam 6 years, India 5 years, Brazil and South Korea 2 years. [This time indicates years from today to conditional permanent residence for people filing I-526 today. But these estimates are subject to change depending on future demand trends.]

Consider the lesson from China. EB-5 was still current for China throughout 2014; Chinese applicants didn’t start getting held back with a cut-off date until May 2015. But Chinese investors who filed I-526 back in FY2014 have been affected.  Applicants with 2014 priority dates started getting visas in September 2015 (per the Visa Bulletin) and will still be getting visas into 2019 (per Mr. Oppenheim’s predicted final action dates). That’s a lot of years just to issue conditional green cards to petitioners from one year.  Look at 2014, and then visualize how many years it will take to issue the visas to Chinese who filed I-526 in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018, unless something changes. (See my graphic for visual reference.) If Chinese with 2014 priority dates are still in line for visas into the end of 2019, how long will a Chinese with a priority date of today have to wait for a visa? That tower of past petitions is a sobering fact for China, and also any potentially high-volume countries that may end up in line behind China. The prospect of unacceptable wait times creates urgency to advocate for more EB-5 visa numbers. As things are, we can’t keep attracting every year three to four times the number of investors who could eventually get visas in a year, or depend heavily on any one country given the per-country limits.

For additional discussion of factors that could change visa wait times for various countries, see my post I-526 and EB-5 visa wait times; country-specific effects of potential changes (June 18, 2018)

EB-5 Processing Times

Since late March, I’ve been tracking EB-5 forms on the new USCIS Processing Times page. So far the month range has remained unchanged for each form, while the “Case Inquiry Date” has advanced one day per day for each form. No evidence yet of human intervention to update the information, and I rather doubt the link to reality. But for the record, here’s how the system is currently set to auto-advance the “Case Inquiry Date”:

  • I-526 case inquiry date: today’s date minus 971 days (i.e. priority date plus 971 days is the date when one can start to inquire about the petition as being outside normal processing times)
  • I-829 case inquiry date: today’s date minus 893 days
  • I-924 case inquiry date: today’s date minus 663 days

FYI, of people who’ve filled out my I-526 processing experience Google form so far, a majority of those with approvals  in 2018 had priority dates in 2016, and some even in 2017. (Form results here.)  Apparently IPO isn’t simply processing petitions from 2015, as the published Processing Time Information would suggest.

New TEA Data

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has made its annual Spring release of employment data for the previous year, which means a new data set for calculating Targeted Employment Area qualification.  Impact DataSource explains what changed. To learn more, consider signing up for a webinar.

Other Resources

Speaking of webinars, note that the Council of Development Finance Agencies is hosting a course  designed to provide a substantial practical introduction to EB-5.

EB-5 Visa Waiting Line and Visa Allocation

People who use EB-5 face some tough facts:

  • Demand for EB-5 visas (annual I-526 filings) has been three to four times higher than EB-5 visa availability since 2011, resulting in a backlog now about a decade long. (For those not already familiar with the situation, here’s a simplified explanation.)
  • New investors from most countries today can still expect to receive a conditional green card fairly promptly after I-526 approval, but only due to exceptions that will allow their applications to skip ahead of (push back) other people stuck in the backlog. (Or the overall wait could be shortened if the visa quota changes, or many people drop out of line.)

We respond to these facts by (1) advocating for backlog relief (AILA’s White Paper: Solutions to the EB-5 Visa Waiting Line gives suggestions), and (2) figuring out how the exceptions work, because investors and projects want to avoid a decade-long wait if possible.

The past few years offered a simple exception that allowed jumping much of the queue: be born outside China, since China accounts for most of the backlog and was the only oversubscribed country. Now, people from Vietnam face getting stuck in the visa wait line behind the Chinese (the May 2018 Visa Bulletin will have a Vietnam cut-off date), other countries wonder whether the same could happen to them one day, and Congress threatens set-asides and other changes to visa availability. And so we feel the urgency to understand just how visa allocation works, and relevant numbers.

First, here’s the law related to EB-5 visa allocation, with linked citations. (Or you can download my Word doc to get the text with headings to assist navigation.)

  1. The annual worldwide level for all employment-based (EB) immigrants is effectively 140,000. INA 201(d)(1)(A)
  2. At most 7.1 percent of the employment-based worldwide level is made available to immigrants in the EB-5 category. INA 203(b)(5)(A)
  3. Available EB-5 visas are issued to eligible immigrants in the order in which the immigrant petition was filed. INA 203(e)(1)
  4. At least 3,000 EB-5 visas are reserved annually for immigrants based on investment in a Targeted Employment Area. INA 203(b)(5)(B)
  5. 3,000 EB-5 visas are set aside annually for immigrants based on investment in a Regional Center. PL 102-395 Section 610(b) as amended by PL 105-119 Section 116(a)
  6. The EB-5 visas made available to natives of any one country may not exceed 7 percent of the available worldwide total. But if one or more countries gets held back by this rule, resulting in available visas with no one else to take them, then those remaining visas can be made available again without regard to per-country numerical limits for that year. INA 202(a)(2) and INA 202(a)(3) and INA 202(e) and PL 106-313 Section 104
  7. EB-5 visa numbers available to China annually under the per-country limit are reduced by 700 to compensate for cases processed under the Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992. PL 102-404 Section 2(d)(B)

I imagine Charlie Oppenheim at the Department of State, sitting at his desk on October 1, 2017 with 30,000 EB-5 visa applications before him and tens of thousands more to come as USCIS approves pending I-526. How does he apply the above rules to decide who gets a visa in FY2018, and in what order? I hope he addresses this question during his keynote speech at the IIUSA EB-5 Advocacy Conference on April 23. (4/25/18 update: here are notes from Mr. Oppenheim’s presentation. 10/30/18 update: See slide 5 in this presentation, and my recording of a panel on EB-5 visa numbers.) In the meantime, here’s my understanding of how the rules get applied in practice.

  • #1 and #2 above give the target quota for EB-5 visa numbers in one year: 140,000*0.071=9,940.
  • #3 specifies the basic rule of order: first-in-first-out by priority date (applicants with oldest I-526 priority dates are first in line for a visa)
  • #4 to #6 are factors that can override the basic FIFO order principle. The applicant with oldest priority date gets the first visa number unless she’s held back by:
    • #4) being the 6,941st+ applicant that year (9,940-3,000) who invested outside of a TEA, in which case she’s held back for any TEA-based applications to go ahead (thus far, non-TEA applications have been too few to trigger this set-aside)
    • #5) being the 6,941st + applicant that year who invested outside of a regional center, in which case she’s held back for any regional center-based applications to go ahead (thus far, direct EB-5 applications have been too few to trigger this set-aside)
    • #6) being the 696th+ applicant that year (9,940*0.07) from a single country, in which case she’s held back for any applicants from not-oversubscribed countries to go ahead (China has been oversubscribed and triggered the per-country cap since 2015, and Vietnam will as of May 2018)
  • #6 does not mean that 7% of visas get set aside annually for each country in the world. It does not mean that any one country gets only 7% of visas annually. #6 just means that any one country’s allocation gets capped at 7% so long as other countries are also competing to use up available visas. When other countries aren’t competing, then any visas still on the table get allocated to the waiting line in FIFO order without regard to per-country limits. So in 2017, China in fact got 75% of visas, which is what remained after numbers had been allocated to qualified applicants from other countries. (If not for the Chinese Student Protection Act, China could’ve received 700 visas plus the 75% leftover.)
  • When total demand promises to exceed total available visas for the year, then DOS looks at individual countries to see which look likely to exceed the 7% per-country cap, and sets a cut-off date or final action date for each of those countries. When a cut-off date is in place, only people from that country with priority dates earlier than the cut-off date can proceed with visa applications; others are held back. DOS gradually advances the cut-off date to release just enough people to apply for available visas.  At the beginning of the year, different oversubscribed countries can have different cut-off dates. When each country is getting its 7% of visas for the year, DOS looks at each country individually when setting the cut-off dates. When per-country caps have been met, then all oversubscribed countries are just competing together for remaining EB-5 visas left by not-oversubscribed countries. That means they are all in the same line again and will have the same cut-off date. (In practice that puts China at the head of the line for leftover EB-5 visas, since it’s been held back for years and thus its applicants have the oldest priority dates. Vietnam will start being held back in 2018, and its more recent held-back applicants will find themselves behind many longer-pending Chinese applicants. If India or Brazil get held back next, their still-more-recent applicants will find themselves behind both China and Vietnam in the competition for leftover visas. )
  • Exceeding the 7% cap is scary because it puts a country in the same line as China for leftover EB-5 visas, and near the back of that line based on priority dates and the FIFO process. The saving grace for small countries is that they can at least get 7% of EB-5 visas every year, and probably won’t exceed that cap by very much. If I’m a Vietnamese applicant held back this year, I’ll be one of the older Vietnamese applications next year and thus well-placed to get one of 700 new EB-5 visas available to Vietnam then. What I can’t expect is to get an EB-5 visa left over after not-oversubscribed-countries took what they want, since tens of thousands of Chinese have earlier claim on any leftover visas. But small excess = small backlog = small need to compete for leftover visas, thus relatively short wait time. As an Indian, I’d be a bit more concerned and vigilant. India hasn’t had high EB-5 numbers before, but the companies that helped create the China backlog with giant EB-5 raises have turned to India. If Indians flock to big raises seeking 100s of investors, then they will end up needing many more than 700 visas per year,  thus creating a significant India backlog that needs leftover visas but won’t get them for ages because behind the earlier China/Vietnam backlog plus squeezed by any new rest-of-the-world applications.
  • Visas can only be issued to people with complete visa applications ready, not to people with I-526 investor petitions still pending at USCIS. But it’s important to keep an eye on I-526 petitions – on number of receipts, petitioner origin, adjudication speed, approval rates – to estimate how many of those petitions will become visa applications, and when. New visa applications from not-oversubscribed countries immediately reduce the number of leftover visas available to pending applicants from oversubscribed countries. New applicants from a country near the 7% cap could tip the balance into cut-off dates and backlogs for fellow-countrymen already in line. A major decrease in I-526 filings or increase in denials or withdrawals would reduce incoming pressure on the visa backlog, and shorten wait time projections. Estimates are tough with all these moving parts and limited data, but we must try. The China backlog ballooned quickly and came to many investors (and their projects) as a nasty surprise. They didn’t realize how many other Chinese investors were already in the system or entering at the same time, and what that would imply for future visa wait times. A cautionary tale.

To facilitate analyzing numbers relevant to country-specific visa availability, I’ve added a tab titled “Country Focus” to my ongoing Backlog Calc Excel file. (The numbers aren’t new, but highlight significant previously-reported I-526 and pending visa data. I even made a cartoon to assist in visualizing the numbers. The thumbnail image here gives a teaser of the new Excel tab.) I don’t offer conclusions, but information to assist your conclusions.

Additional reading:

Benefit from this blog? Please consider supporting the effort behind it. As the EB-5 industry changes, your contribution can help preserve this space for conscientious and freely-available EB-5 reporting. Donations go to Lucid Professional Writing (a for-profit business) to fund work on this blog. Thank you!

RC Authorization to 9/30/2018, Processing Times, New RCs

Regional Center Program Authorization

The last time Congress voted a significant regional center program extension was 2012. Since then, the program has been extended a few months at a time, in connection with government funding. This is now happening again with H.R.1625, the vehicle for the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2018, which was signed by the President today.  The text includes regional center program authorization to 9/30/2018 on PDF page 1759, as follows:

SEC. 204. Section 610(b) of the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1993 (8 U.S.C. 1153 note) shall be applied by substituting “September 30, 2018” for “September 30, 2015”

This language refers back to Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1993 (Public Law 102-395) Section 610 (PDF page 47), which established the regional center program. The 2018 Appropriations Act does not include the EB-5 Reform Act, or other EB-5 changes. It just extends the borrowed time until we get a good piece of EB-5 legislation.

Processing Times

USCIS has attempted to clarify reporting for processing times, and succeeded in confusing me, at least, even more than before. Unfortunately I missed a webinar on this topic yesterday because even the emails were confusing, but here’s what I think I understand, having read the new pages at egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/ and egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/more-info, and used my spreadsheet to fiddle with the EB-5 form numbers in comparison with numbers in the old-style report.

USCIS has changed its method for calculating processing times for four forms: N-400, I-90, I-485, and I-751. The underlying method for calculating (and underlying reality behind) times for I-526, I-829, and I-924 has not changed. What’s different for the EB-5 forms is that USCIS now reports three pieces of information: a high and low month in an “estimated time range” and a “case inquiry date.” The low month in the time range corresponds to the date USCIS previously reported for “processing cases as of…” in the old-style report, while the high month multiplies that duration by 1.3, and the case inquiry date more-or-less corresponds to the high month. Apparently IPO doesn’t want people complaining that they’re outside of normal processing times until their cases are taking 130% longer than average. If you took part in the webinar and have additional insights or corrections, please share.

See also the OIG Report: USCIS Has Unclear Website Information and Unrealistic Time Goals for Adjudicating Green Card Applications

Visa Availability

The Visa Bulletin for April 2018 confirms that Vietnam is definitely up next month for a cut-off date based on oversubscription. With visa availability being the major political and practical factor for EB-5 today, I’ll be writing more about this soon.

Regional Center List Updates

Additions to the USCIS Regional Center List, 03/09/2018 to 03/19/2018:

  • 888 American Dream Projects Regional Center (California, Nevada)
  • American National Regional Center d.b.a. EB5 Financial Regional Center (California): www.anrcs.com
  • Dayton Regional Center, LLC (Ohio)
  • Delvelyn Regional Center, LLC (California)
  • Hudson Funds New York Regional Center, LLC (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania): hudson-funds.com
  • MGV NYC Regional Center LLC (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania)
  • Monterey Massachusetts Regional Center, LLC (Massachusetts)
  • Monterey Northern California Regional Center, LLC (California)
  • Monterey Southern California Regional Center, LLC (California)
  • New York/New Jersey Real Estate and Infrastructure Regional Center LLC (Connecticut, New Jersey, New York)
  • PacNW Regional Center, LLC (Oregon, Washington)
  • Propet American Dream, LLC (Washington): www.propetamericandream.com
  • RSR EB-5 Regional Center, LLC (North Carolina, South Carolina)
  • Smith Mountain Regional Center, LLC (Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas)
  • U.S. Green Capital Regional Center, LLC D/B/A Playa Vista Regional Center (California): pvcapitalmanagement.com
  • Washington American Investments, LLC (District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia)

New Terminations:

  • Chen Roberts Regional Center (Oklahoma)
  • Regency Regional Center LLC (California)

FY2017 EB-5 Visas by Country

The US Department of State has published Table V Part 3 of the Report of the Visa Office 2017, which gives a tally of visas issued by country for the Employment Fifth preference (EB-5) in FY2017. If we believe USCIS processing times reports, these should be visas based on investments/petitions from 2015 or earlier. A few points to note:

  • Having issued slightly fewer than the annual EB-5 visa quota last year, DOS compensated by going slightly over the quota this year.
  • Vietnam and Brazil are the countries with greatest increase in EB-5 visas issued between 2016 and 2017. South Korea showed the largest drop.
  • South America is the region with the greatest increase in number of EB-5 visas issued in 2017, and Europe the region with the greatest increase in number of nationalities receiving EB-5 visas.
  • Compared with 2016, the 2017 report has more countries taking at least one visa, but fewer countries taking over 20 visas. Kudos to the brave lone souls from Angola, Cameroon, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Tajikistan, and Suriname who immigrated last year though EB-5.
  • Countries besides China claimed 25% of the 2017 EB-5 visas (compared with 24% in 2016).
  • There were 160 fewer visas based on direct EB-5 investments in 2017 than 2016.
  • In addition to the Visa Office Report data on EB-5 visas issued during FY2017, we also have data on applications pending at the National Visa Center at the end of FY2017. (I’ve copied a couple charts below, and you can consult the Visas tab in my master visa/backlog spreadsheet for additional detail and source links.) It’s puzzling to look at the different reports together. For example, one wonders why the drop in visas issued to South Koreans in 2017, when there were 278 visa applications for South Koreans left pending at the end of the year. Or why people from Hong Kong got only 81 EB-5 visas in 2017, when there were 447 Hong Kong applications pending in November 2016 and 423 still pending in November 2017. Vietnamese received a hefty 335 EB-5 visas in 2017, just behind China, but 649 Vietnamese applications were still left pending. In total, DOS issued 2,523 visas in 2017 to applicants from countries other than China, but that still left 3,524 applications from countries other than China pending at NVC as of November 2017. Anyone know the story behind the non-China backlogs at NVC?

For reference, here are my posts on the Visa Office Reports from 2016, 2015, and 2014.

For a running tab of EB-5 visas issued in FY2018 by country, see the Department of State’s report of Monthly Immigrant Visa Issuances. (The visas with “5” as the second digit in the three-digit code are EB-5 visas: C51, C52, C53, T51, T52, T53, R51, R52, R53, I51, I52, I53.)

And my more recent posts related to the visa wait time: