The processing time for I-526 petitions has now gone beyond 8 months. USCIS seeks to reassure by pointing out at its stakeholder meetings that it has hired or transferred and trained an additional 10 examiners in order to shorten processing times. It might be too early to judge how productive the 10 new examiners will be; however, the rapidly increasing number of regional centers means that, even if just a fraction of the new regional centers begin producing projects, when those projects are added to the stream of projects from the existing regional centers, the number of individual petitions will be increasing exponentially. This is not to mention the increasing size of projects at some regional centers from tens of investors to hundreds of investors. Given such growth, USCIS might want to consider hiring 10 new examiners per month rather than 10 per year.
There is no other immigration program with growth like this, considering that the designation of one new regional center can bring about hundreds, if not thousands, of new individual petitions over the life of a given regional center. The growth can continue until 10,000 EB-5 green cards are being issued each year, and the category backlogs like pretty much every other EB category. Luckily, we are currently not even close to that point. For these reasons, USCIS needs to allocate resources to this program differently.
There are some other financial and economic factors that USCIS should consider.
1. A sufficient increase in examiners could enable USCIS to implement premium processing of I-526 petitions. EB-5 investors have the desire to speed up the processing of their I-526 petition, and they have the money to pay for it. USCIS can charge the extra $1,225 premium processing fee, or even more, and the EB-5 investors will pay it.
2. The sooner each EB-5 investorís I-526 petition is approved, the sooner he will reach the time when he needs to pay the I-829 petition fee, which is more than twice the fee for the I-526 petition. This really makes clear the opportunity cost of the processing delay because the fewer I-526 petitions that are approved this year, the fewer investors who will pay the I-829 petition filing fee two years from now.
3. Last, but most important, since the purpose of the EB-5 program is to create jobs and improve the economic conditions in economically depressed regions of the U.S., delays in investment funds going from the escrow account into the intended business activity means that important projects are being delayed and their viability is being endangered.
We encourage USCIS to treat the funding of the EB-5 program as investment in a business enterprise. An initial investment into increasing its processing capacity will pay dividends through enabling USCIS to receive premium processing fees, which it is currently not receiving, and to receive more I-526 and I-829 filing fees each year. Most importantly, USCIS will produce these and other dividends for its shareholders, the American people, by enabling the influx of more clean foreign capital into depressed regions of the U.S. in order to create jobs, lay the groundwork for additional businesses to develop, improve the local infrastructure, and grow the local tax base in order to educate and improve the skills of local workers and their children. USCIS has made tremendous progress in improving the consistency, transparency, fairness, integrity, and popularity of the EB-5 program. Their next task is to manage the programís growth properly by allocating enough resources to train enough examiners in order to provide premium processing within 15 days, and to keep regular processing to 2-3 months, while the total volume of cases increases each year as more regional centers are approved. Although a moving target is hard to hit, USCIS needs to aim ahead of its target, not behind it.