Taking the Guesswork Out of EB-5 Wait Times

New EB-5 Regulation Pending

The EB-5 investor visa program is a great way for foreign investors to invest in a real estate project in the United States while simultaneously obtaining a permanent U.S. green card for themselves and their eligible family members. Naturally, the top question from most potential investors is, “How long will it take until I can move to the U.S.?” Unfortunately, the EB-5 process timeline is an estimate, and for some, the overall process may take much longer than for others. Key factors that impact the EB-5 wait times include the investor’s country of origin and the number of applications in queue with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). But to understand the timing, one must first understand the mechanics of the government-run EB-5 program.

EB-5 Visa Allotment Mechanics

The USCIS allots 10,000 visa slots to the EB-5 program per year, and the fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. Only seven percent of this 10,000 allotment is assigned to each country equally – totaling about 700 visas per country. In addition, both investor visas and the visas allotted to their eligible family members (spouse and unmarried children under age 21) count towards this 10,000 allotment, which means there are only about 3,300 EB-5 visas available to the investors themselves. If a particular country does not use all 700 of its allocation, the unclaimed visas are reassigned to countries with higher demand. And the demand for EB-5 visas has far exceeded the supply in recent years, which has led to longer wait times in certain countries.

Delayed Wait Times

During the past five years, certain countries have had an abundance of EB-5 applications that far exceeded its’ 700 annual visa allotment. These countries have a backlog of applications waiting to be processed and thus, new investors that originate from these countries go to the back of the line.

According to predictions by the national visa center, China, for instance, has a wait time of about 16 years for new applications to be processed. India’s backlog is steadily increasing and is currently estimated at six to eight years. But many other countries have very little to no backlog so new applications start moving through the process as they are received. For instance, countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Russia currently have no wait time other than normal petition processing times.

Petition Processing Times

In general, there are three petitions required to obtain an EB-5 visa, and while processing times fluctuate, the USCIS reports approximate ranges. The first is an I-526 petition, or Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur. This form shows proof that an investor made the investment with legitimate and legal sources and it is expected to create at least 10 jobs for U.S. workers. The USCIS states current processing times for this petition at about 28.5 months to 49.5 months. USCIS is working on new processes to help improve the processing times.

Once the I-526 petition is approved, the investor may file Form DS-260 which is an online Immigrant Visa Application & Registration form. Processing of this form typically takes about three to six months and once complete, the investor and eligible family members will receive two-year conditional permanent green cards and may move to the United States where they will live for up to 24 months.

Within the 90-day period immediately preceding the expiration of the two-year conditional permanent green cards, the investor will file an I-829 petition with the USCIS to prove that their investment created 10 jobs. The USCIS will then remove the conditions on the permanent resident status. This process currently takes about 30 to 34 months and once the petition is approved, the investor and family receive permanent green cards. During this time, USCIS will grant an extension for the conditional permanent green cards so the investor and family may continue living in the U.S. while the I-829 is being processed.

EB-5 Wait Times Simplified

All in, the process can take from five to 10+ years depending on the investor’s native country. But investors and eligible family members can often begin living in the United States within two years of submitting their initial application if the investor’s native country is not subject to a waiting line. “We’ve seen quite a few of our investors move to the U.S. within a few years of their initial application,” said Richard Marquard, EVP, Investment Operations of The LCP Group, L.P., a New York real estate investment management firm that specializes in the EB-5 program. “Conditional permanent green cards afford the holders the same benefits as permanent green cards so investors may live, work, start a business and go to school wherever they like in the U.S. during this time period.”

Given the potential to live in the U.S. within two years after application, it stands to reason that the EB-5 investor visa is still an easy and fast route to permanent U.S residency.