EB-5 Visa Quotas and Backlogs

Updated: June 23, 2024


EB-5 Insider Team

A group of professionals with years of experience helping people immigrate to the US

Note: This article is for informational purposes only. We are not providing legal advice or selling securities. The articles and content on this site are of a general informational nature only and should not be relied upon for individual circumstances.

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program has seen significant reform in recent years to streamline processing. Recent changes have sought to make the program more appealing to investors. The EB-5 visa provides a route for permanent residency through investment for foreign nationals who invest at least $800,000 in a new commercial enterprise that creates 10 full-time jobs.

The EB-5 visa has evolved greatly in its three decades of operation. Moreover, the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022 (RIA) has brought a new sense of optimism to the process by changing quotas and addressing backlog issues.

EB-5 processing times have improved drastically since RIA was introduced. Multiple I-526E applications were approved in under a year during 2023, significantly less than the average timeline.

We’re exploring EB-5 visa quotas, the current backlog, and how to manage wait times.

Explanation of Visa Quotas

The EB-5 Program allocates 10,000 visas annually for qualified foreign nationals seeking to access permanent residency through investment. RIA introduced a new set of reserved visas (also known as ‘set-aside’ visas) for qualifying investments.

  • 20% for rural projects
  • 10% for projects in areas of high unemployment
  • 2% for infrastructure projects

Reserved visas have revolutionized the EB-5 program for applicants from countries with the highest demand, such as China and India. EB-5 investors can now file their green card application concurrently with their EB-5 application if they are already in the U.S. under a non-immigrant visa and receive a conditional green card sooner. Additionally, they can apply for employment and travel authorization.

The purpose of visa quotas and reserved visas is to direct investments to underserved rural areas to stimulate economic growth in areas of the country most in need. Allocating 32% of visas to these projects provides a major incentive for investors to direct their investment to these areas to benefit from faster processing times.

Every country in the EB-5 Program is allocated only 7% of the total annual quota of visas. This technicality results in a backlog with EB-5 visas, as most applications come from a few countries. Reserved visas now provide an alternative route for citizens of these countries to access EB-5 visas and bypass the backlog. The fastest approvals for I-526E, since the RIA was introduced, have been for rural TEA petitions. It offers the best option for EB-5 investors as it has the maximum set-aside quota with low demand, meaning they are more likely to be able to and less prone to backlogging. RIA also mandated that rural EB-5 petitions receive priority processing by USCIS.

Current Backlog of EB-5 Visas

The backlog in EB-5 visa processing in recent years has resulted from heightened demand from a few countries. Due to the U.S. immigration system, the EB-5 visa is the easiest for foreign nationals from countries like China and India to obtain permanent residency. An annual cap on visa availability, policy changes, and administrative challenges create the perfect storm for a backlog in EB-5 visa processing.

The EB-5 program has an annual limit of 10,000 visas and a country cap of 7% for any one country. The country cap is the main reason for the backlog. From 2015 to 2020, almost 80% of EB-5 applications came from China, India, and Vietnam.

Reforms introduced by the RIA, including reserved visas, address this backlog by allowing applicants to invest in rural projects to speed up their processing.

EB-5 applicants from countries outside these high-demand areas continue to experience good visa availability with faster processing time. Due to new procedures and the implementation of RIA, the USCIS reduced its EB-5 visa backlog in 2023 for the first time in a decade. RIA has now established a framework to address the bottleneck created by the 7% country cap. Furthermore, the USCIS is gradually improving its adjudication time, continuing to process EB-5 visas faster to reduce the backlog.

Impact of Backlog on EB-5 Investors

Backlogs can put EB-5 investors in a difficult situation. They may not be able to apply for travel or work authorization at a time when they need it. It can restrict their ability to work or more freely across the United States as they wait for their EB-5 visa to be processed.

It can also create difficulties when an EB-5 investor applies for the conditions of their temporary green card to be removed. This petition can only be applied within three months before the expiration date of the green card. The processing time is over three months, so investors receive a two-year extension on their green card. They must carry the notice receipt USCIS provided to validate their green card. The backlog of EB-5 visas can make it difficult for investors to plan for the future, especially if they’re also petitioning on behalf of a spouse and children.

Strategies to Manage Wait Times for EB-5 Visas

There are proactive steps EB-5 investors can take to minimize the wait times for their visas. The RIA introduced the option of concurrent filing for investors residing in the United States on a valid non-immigrant visa, such as an E-2 visa. Applicants can simultaneously file their Form I-526E and Form I-485 for adjustment of status to streamline processing. Before the RIA, these had to be filed separately after the I-526E petition was approved. This meant investors couldn’t apply for a work or travel permit while waiting for their visas to process.

Work authorization and travel permits can now be processed before the I-485, with approval times of just a few weeks. When EB-5 investors receive these, they can live and work anywhere in the United States and freely travel internationally. Essentially, they can utilize the benefits of a green card before they’re approved for it.

Become a Permanent U.S. Resident Through Investment

An EB-5 visa is the most efficient way to achieve permanent residency and U.S. citizenship if you have the capital to make the required $800,000 investment.

EB-5 Insider simplifies your path to U.S. residency and citizenship through investment, working with foreign nationals internationally to streamline the application process. We’ll help you obtain a permanent U.S. green card for yourself, your spouse, and any unmarried children under 21 for an investment of $800,000.

Start applying for an EB-5 visa today, or contact our team for more information.

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