Background: As part of our mission to advocate for EB-5 investors, AIIA has filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for information from USCIS on topics that impact the EB-5 immigrant investor community. These have included:

  • Information on staffing levels at the IPO, which affects the speed of processing EB-5 petitions
  • Data for I-526/I-526E receipts by country and set-aside category, which is crucial for estimating the waiting times for incoming investors
  • Administrative policies on I-829 processing criteria in order to assist investors in successfully getting their petitions approved and 
  • Implementation of the EB-5 Reform and Integrity Act of 2022.

Since USCIS does not habitually provide timely response to FOIA requests, AIIA has also initiated litigation against USCIS to compel the agency to respond. We have received, and will continue to receive hundreds of pages worth of documents including internal memos, emails and training manuals. AIIA Members are entitled to a full copy of the government’s FOIA response. If you would like to receive the complete dataset, reach out to us through our contact form.

Find this article too complex? Want even further specifics and predictions? Watch this webinar we did with some of the top EB-5 experts to further analyze the raw data and put forth possible wait time predictions on the different countries and visa categories.

AIIA was previously able to obtain data through April 2023 (reported here), and has now received a report through the end of 2023. The updated data contains the distribution of I-526 and I-526E receipts by TEA category and country of chargeability, which is crucial for understanding visa backlog and waiting time estimation in the new reserved visa categories. In this blog, we have analyzed the data to assess 1) economic impact of EB-5 in the post RIA world, 2) the trend in filings and 3) what the visa backlog/potential wait times could look like for investors.

In summary, the latest data indicates a moderate growth in demand for the Rural TEA category, but still below the needed level to absorb the near-term annual visa supply, including visas carried over from the previous year. Conversely, demand for visas in Urban High Unemployment TEAs remained high and is on track to surpass annual availability.

Demand Trend by TEA Category

Compared to the data we have previously received, this new batch of data clearly shows a surge in the number of petitions in the rural category. The number of rural I-526E petitions saw a significant jump after July 2023 and is now close to the high unemployment category in terms of monthly applications (see chart 1). While the ratio of total rural I-526Es compared to total high unemployment I-526Es have been steadily rising from April’s 1:3 to around 1:2 as of today, it should still be noted that the demand and supply of rural and high unemployment categories is still lopsided, considering that the ratio of rural to high unemployment visa supply is 2:1.

Post-RIA I-526/I-526E Filing Trend, by Visa Set-Aside Category

Demand Trend by Country

The data also shows demand from China increased, while that from India and other countries remained steady.

Post-RIA I-526/I-526E Filing Trend, by Country of Chargeability

The table below shows the total number of I-526 and I-526E petitions filed after the enactment of RIA, including petitions for reserved visa categories. The key point to note is the high demand from the Rest of the World in the high unemployment category. This opens the potential for a visa backlog for the ROW investors and is also likely to affect the visa availability beyond the 7% country cap for investors from China and India.

Total number of I-526/I-526E filed from April 1, 2022 to November 2023, by TEA category and country of chargeability (latest stats as per our FOIA data)

China India Taiwan Rest of World Total Total%
Rural 767 174 18 134 1,093 32%
High Unemployment 976 375 209 625 2,185 63%
Infrastructure 0%
Multiple TEA Categories 7 3 5 16 0.5%
Not TEA 26 21 6 97 150 4%
Total 1,776 573 233 861 3,444 100%
Total % 52% 17% 7% 25% 100%

The pending inventory of I-526 and I-526E petitions represents an “invisible backlog” that is not reflected in the visa bulletin because they have not yet reached the visa stage. This backlog indicates the growing pipeline of people who will eventually apply for visas.

AIIA is doing its best to bring the invisible backlog out into the open. With this information, prospective investors can assess what they are getting into, pending applicants can see where they are in line, and responsible EB-5 investment issuers can protect their investors by advocating for visa relief. We believe the industry needs to band together and support any and all policies that make the inevitable backlog-induced wait times more tolerable.

While measures such as concurrent filing and decoupling sustainment of investment from the immigration timeline have helped mitigate concerns, visa relief remains crucial. The current visa numbers are insufficient to accommodate the investments made under the EB-5 program, highlighting the need for legislative action.

Congressional representatives should be delighted to hear that foreign EB-5 investors have already committed over $874 million into rural areas and $1.7 billion into distressed urban areas since the RIA was passed. A huge economic benefit attracted by the promise of a visa incentive! Congress should also realize that the current law under RIA only provides sufficient annual visas to actually deliver about $640 million in rural EB-5 investment and $320 million in high unemployment EB-5 investment annually.

Cumulative Post-RIA I-526/I-526E Filing Trend, by Visa Set-Aside Category

Comparing Demand with Supply

Based on the information we have, we can compare the demand pipeline with supply of visas and see whether a backlog is likely. To make the comparison, we first take the known number of I-526/I-526E receipts (each representing one investor) and convert that into an estimated number of future visa applicants (which includes investors plus spouses and children, less attrition from denials). We then compare pipeline visa applicants per category with visa supply per category in coming years. The demand/supply comparison shows that by the end of October 2023, cumulative pipeline visa demand significantly exceeded annual high unemployment visa availability, even in a year with extra carryover visas. Meanwhile, the rural demand pipeline appeared still below near-term visa supply, but high enough to absorb all available visas in a normal year.


Rural Visa Demand Pipeline as of October 31, 2023 Compared to Rural Visa Supply

High Unemployment:

High Unemployment Visa Demand Pipeline as of October 31, 2023, Compared to HU Visa Supply

Please note:
*Actual cumulative I-526 and I-526E receipts from USCIS Response to AIIA FOIA Request (2/8/2024).
*Visa demand estimates multiply I-526/I-526E receipts by 2 or 3 (estimate considering addition of family and attrition from denials)
*Visa supply numbers are actual for FY2024; this supply can only be used as I-526s get approved in time.
*The first estimate for FY2025 assumes maximum possible carryover if FY24 visas unused; the second shows supply without carryover.

How long is the wait time for a visa if I invest today?

Wait times result when visa demand exceeds limited annual visa supply. Estimating specific wait times starts with facts, including how many investors have already joined the queue  for visas, how many visas will be available, and how visas get allocated by country and category. Then the estimate has to add assumptions on top of the facts, including assumptions about family sizes, future denial rates, and future I-526/I-526E processing speed, volumes, and priority. People with different agendas will use different assumptions and reach different conclusions. But it is critical for every estimate to at least start from facts. As an organization, AIIA will not tell you the one and only way to interpret the data, but we want to empower you with data to interpret for yourself. As we did with the April 2023 FOIA response, we hosted a webinar with industry experts explaining how they make wait-time estimates based on available information.

Individual wait time estimates are complex and open to difference of opinion, but the big picture is simple: demand > supply = wait times. By that metric, the high unemployment category was clearly already headed toward a significant backlog and visa wait times as of November 2023, the end of last year, while the rural category appeared to have some cushion but is approaching the backlog rapidly. Individual analysis should drill down more deeply and include the country factor.  The backlog risk is especially a concern for applicants from China and India, considering that these countries have shown strong demand but are limited to 7% of available visas plus what is leftover from the rest of the world.

Final Thoughts

Investors and professionals rely on accurate data to make informed decisions regarding immigration and investment for their clients. Understanding visa processing and issuance timelines and the number of investors waiting in line is crucial in the EB-5 program, especially given the uncertainty in immigration policies. However, USCIS does not consistently provide this information, prompting AIIA to file Freedom of Information Act requests on behalf of the EB-5 community.

As a nonprofit organization, AIIA invests significant time and resources in acquiring, analyzing, and disseminating this data. We rely solely on donations to sustain our efforts, including funding FOIA litigation, lobbying, and daily operations. We urge anyone who values our work to enhance transparency in the EB-5 program to consider supporting us by making a donation or membership contribution. Your support is vital in ensuring that we can continue to advocate for transparency and equity in the EB-5 program, benefiting investors and industry professionals alike.