Keeping in mind that the numbers reflect, as per EB-5 expert Suzanne Lazicki, “dark pandemic days, and lingering Trump administration leadership,” here are the most recent processing stats. 1,123 I-526 petitions processed with 89% approval rates. 682 I-829 petitions processed with 94% approval rates. Interestingly, USCIS has not published the number of forms received for I-526 petitions.
I-526 processing almost identical to previous quarter but 10% higher approvals
As context, FY 2020 continued the disappointing trend of lower processing efficiency with just 3,421 I-526 application adjudicated.
Given that FY 2021 Q1 (October to December 2020) was hit hard by COVID-19, and also represented the last days of an anti-immigration Trump government, the stats for this period aren’t surprising: 1,123 petitions processed — almost identical to the 1,140 processed in FY 2020 Q4.
The more positive news is that 89% I-526 approval rate was a marked improvement from the FY 2020 Q4 approval rate of 79%.
I-526 filings unknown for FY 2021 Q1
The EB-5 industry is keen to see if I-526 filings have picked up, given the precipitous drop we saw after the new regulations near the end of 2019 hiked investment amounts — for the first time ever in program history — by 80%.
The filing numbers for FY 2020 Q2, Q3, and Q4 were meagre: 21, 40, 53, respectively. However modestly, they did climb, and EB-5 stakeholders are hoping to see this trend continue.
Unfortunately, USCIS is withholding the data for receipts in FY 2021 thus far, with the curious disclaimer of “data withheld to protect applicant’s privacy.” Suzanne Lazacki wrying comments that this disclaimer could also read as “data withheld to disguise our counting errors.”
Did I-526 filings increase? We certainly hope so. And the trend of the previously published data combined with anecdotal evidence seems to suggest the market is ever so slowly getting more active.
I-829 processing and approvals
While I-526 processing mirrored the previous quarter, I-829 processing, (the application to remove conditions for permanent residency), dropped slightly to 682 petitions adjudicated. The previous thee quarters saw 794, 748, and 787 petitions processed, respectively. The approval rate for I-829 petitions in FY 2021 Q1 remained strong at 94%.
What can we expect for EB-5 processing for the rest of 2021?
2021 is not a normal year for almost any industry because of the pandemic, but EB-5 has some additional factors at play that will influence processing as we move through the year: a program expiry date of June 30, 2021; a new more immigration-friendly Biden administration; and managing COVID-19.
If, as many EB-5 pundits predict, the Reform and Integrity Act becomes law, it will bode well for processing applications as the Act mandates a fee study for USCIS to determine the costs necessary to process Targeted Employment Area (TEA) petitions in just four months.
Lazicki, perhaps the foremost EB-5 expert on processing, will hold off on predictions till more data and evidence becomes known. However, she reminds us that the EB-5 Regional Center Program once (not that long ago) enjoyed far greater processing efficiency: “IPO has so much room for productivity improvement, considering they used to regularly process three times more forms with fewer staff than they have today.”
Consider that in calendar year 2018, well over 16,000 I-526 and I-829 petitions were processed. New leadership and legislation can help us return to those not-so-distant glory days.
See Lazicki’s blog “FY2021 Q1 EB-5 Performance Data”