By Anayat Durrani
The year 2021 has undoubtedly come with its highs and lows. As the year comes to a close, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has released a report detailing preliminary fiscal year (FY) 2021 agency statistics and accomplishments, some of which have impacted EB-5 investors and stakeholders.
USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou said in a statement she was proud of the USCIS during a very challenging year, “From responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing processing delays to enacting numerous operational and policy changes in response to executive orders from the Biden-Harris Administration.” She said the year marked one of growth and renewed vision for the agency.
In 2022, she said the agency will continue to serve the public “with compassion and reflect America’s promise as a nation of welcome and possibilities for all.” She added that the agency “will adjudicate requests with fairness, efficiency and integrity.”
Challenges faced in 2021 for EB-5 investors and applicants
Some of the challenges the agency endured during 2021 include challenges with fiscal health, temporary flexibilities in response to COVID-19, employment-based adjustments and processing delays.
Regarding employment-based adjustments, USCIS noted the challenge of processing over 237,000 employment-based Green Card applications—apart from the agency’s usual 115,000, plus an additional 122,000 immigrant visa numbers that the Department of State was unable to process in FY 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By the end of FY 2021, USCIS approved over 172,000 employment-based adjustment of status applications, an increase of 50% above the typical baseline, the report showed.
Processing delays saw an increase in pending cases and processing times. USCIS addressed processing delays by reusing biometrics for 2.5 million applicants since March 2020; reducing the number of pending biometrics appointments from 1.4 million in January 2021 to 155,000 as of the end of September; and fully eliminating the “front-log” of cases awaiting intake processing—which was more than one million receipts in January 2021 and was eliminated in July—by expanding staffing and overtime at their lockbox facilities.
“With the large number of pending applications that are not being reviewed due to the lapse of the Regional Center portion of the EB-5 Program, we would hope that some of these measures to address delays are implemented once the program is reauthorized,” says Rogelio J. Carrasquillo, Esq., Shareholder at Carrasquillo Law Group P.C. “Otherwise we may see a crazy number of delays which may increase the number of legal actions by investors against USCIS for the processing of their applications.”
USCIS achievements in 2021 when dealing with visa and immigration petitions
Regarding the agency’s response to executive orders, the agency noted they promoted naturalization and continued to process naturalization cases at pre-pandemic levels during 2021 and completed approximately 895,000 naturalization applications, conducted more than 52,000 video-facilitated interviews, and hosted more than 40,000 naturalization ceremonies.
Another accomplishment mentioned in the release was increased public engagement by the agency, which held more than 2,000 virtual engagements covering more than 20 topics, including citizenship/naturalization, online filing, family-based petitions and business immigration. The agency also highlighted their transition from paper applications to a fully digital filing and adjudication experience, such as expanding and enhancing self-help tools for applicants online and through the agency’s Contact Center to provide more efficient and timely service. Additionally, the agency mentioned its increased data transparency as an accomplishment, noting the USCIS has increased data transparency and availability of new and expanded quarterly reports.
Carrasquillo says he hopes in the new year that Congress will provide a permanent solution for the reauthorization of the EB-5 Regional Center Program.
“This reauthorization should include an increase in the number of available visas in order to jump-start the program and the confidence of foreign investors,” says Carrasquillo.
Although the EB-5 Direct program is permanent and Carrasquillo says they are seeing a small number of investors taking advantage of such programs, “the numbers are not sufficient to cause the economic impact that the regional center program could have with the larger amounts of foreign direct investment flowing into our economy.”
However, he says, at the same time, they “expect a steady number of direct EB-5 investors as the amount of investment remains at the $500k amount.”