By Anayat Durrani
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is picking up the pace on rural I-526E processing and adjudication. The improved timeline began in July of this year when processing times for I-526Es clocked in at under a year. But more recently, I-526E approvals have made a major jump, with one case coming in at under three months.
“Looks like USCIS is starting to get their arms around ‘priority adjudications,’” says Mitch Wexler, a partner at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, LLP.
“This case was probably a combination of a well-documented case in terms of explaining the investor’s source of funds scenario and documenting each leg of every journey of every dollar,” says Wexler.
He adds that recent trends have shown that the USCIS is getting more particular on the source of fund (SOF) documentation, “so it was good that extra effort was undertaken in this regard on the front end.”
Wexler says upon filing, the project’s I-956F was pending but was approved before the I-526E was approved, as expected.
In another case filed by Joseph Barnett, EB-5 attorney and partner at WR Immigration, approval was received in four and a half months. Barnett says the case was filed by an Indian national in the U.S. who was held up with his spouse in the EB-2/EB-3 backlog.
“They wanted more control and a faster option to get a green card, and EB-5 provided that opportunity,” says Barnett.
He says the firm was very excited to receive the I-526E approval so fast. For USCIS’ part, the agency has promised to provide more timely and efficient processing.
EB-5 industry welcomes faster processing times
The speedier rural I-526E-approvals are a step in the right direction, say industry stakeholders.
“We have actually received over ten I-526E approvals based on investments in rural areas so far, and expect the other hundreds we have filed to be processed quickly too,” says Barnett.
The EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022 (RIA) providing priority processing for rural investment would be the reason behind the quicker processing.
Also, stakeholders note that national origin does not appear to be a factor in the approvals.
“There is no national difference as to who the applicants are since premium processing enables the applicant to jump the line in cases such as applicants from India or China,” says Andy J. Semotiuk, U.S. and Canadian immigration lawyer for Pace Law Firm. He adds that in such cases, earlier priority filing dates are also of little significance.
According to RIA, new EB-5 investors filing I-526E petitions after March 15th, 2022 that invest in rural projects are eligible for the 20% annual visa set-aside and priority processing.
“I don’t think it matters where the investor is from, as long as their priority date is current,” Wexler restates.
EB-5 application processing likely to take longer as petitions increase
However, Semotiuk cautions that as more applications are filed and processed, processing times are likely to take longer.
“Still, for the next few months, it appears that EB-5 applicants applying with rural projects have the best chance for quick processing results,” says Semotiuk.
Meanwhile, Wexler says he expects that rural projects will remain very popular with investors, which may result in “a quicker exhaustion of its 20% allotment” when adjustment of status and immigrant visas at U.S. consulates begin getting approved.
“Fortunately, no adjustment of status applications or immigrant visas post-RIA have been issued, so there remains pretty good runway for future filings,” says Wexler.