What’s an EB5 visa?
The EB-5 visa is an immigrant visa which allows foreign investors and their dependent family members to acquire conditional permanent resident status after making a minimum investment of $800,000 in a Targeted Employment Area (TEA) or $1.05 million in other areas.
Immigrant investors have the choice to invest in a New Commercial Enterprise (NCE) or a regional centre. Regardless of where they invest, they are required to demonstrate that such investment has led to job creation.
After the investor has invested and subsequently approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), they will be granted conditional permanent residence along with their dependent family members. After 2 years, they can adjust their status and have the conditions removed from their conditional green card provided they can meet the requirements of the EB5 visa.
EB5 Processing Times
Compared to other visas, the EB5 visa is one of the fastest ways to acquire a green card. However, it would still be a matter of years from the time the investment was made until the time the investor has been granted lawful permanent residence.
Some websites would claim that the processing time for an EB5 visa would only take months, but this assumption is only based on the approval of the initial Form I-526E petition, which is only a part of the EB5 visa application process. It would take years to complete the EB5 visa application.
Moreover, the processing time can be affected by priority date backlogs, especially from countries with a high visa demand. The USCIS issues monthly a visa bulletin regarding the priority dates for certain countries.
Approximate processing times for each step in the EB5 visa process
The processing time for an EB5 visa constantly changes depending on the priority date per country, backlogs, and how fast you would be able to accomplish each part of the visa application process. It is highly recommended that you work with experienced EB5 visa attorneys who can help you with your immigrant petition and ensure that you won’t suffer unnecessary delays during your visa application.
Making the investment and collating documents
It would take you several weeks or months to make a successful EB5 investment in an NCE. One of the requirements of the EB5 visa is that the minimum investment is considered “at-risk” which means you have already invested or are in the process of investing the minimum amount of funds at the time of your application. Moreover, you would also need to collate relevant supporting documents to accompany your application which would prove your qualifications.
Form I-526 and Form I-526E
EB5 investors fill out either Form I-526 (Immigrant Petition by a Standalone Investor) or Form I-526E (Immigrant Petition by a Regional Center Investor) depending on where they’ll invest. In a direct investment, the funds are directly placed into a U.S. enterprise, while in a regional centre program, the funds are placed into projects called a regional centre which manages and utilizes such capital.
As we have said, Form I-526 and Form I-526E petitioners are accompanied by relevant and supporting documents about the qualifications of the immigrant investor. Upon the submission of such a petition, the investor will receive a priority date.
As of January 2024, the processing time for Singaporeans is approximately 55.5 months which may still change depending on the complexity of the application, the workload of USCIS, if there’s any additional request for evidence, and if there’s a regional centre affiliation.
Form I-485 and Form DS-260
After the Form I-526 has been approved, the immigrant investor living outside the U.S. must undergo consular processing where they will file a DS-260 (Immigrant Visa Electronic Application) to apply for the immigrant visa. Meanwhile, if the investor is already living in the U.S. under another valid status, they must file a Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status).
After the approval of Form I-485 or DS-260, the investor and their dependent family members will receive a conditional green card which is valid for 2 years.
There are varying processing times which depend on the wait times and backlogs at the National Visa Center (NVC), USCIS, or immigration service centers.
The filing of Form I-829 (Petition by Investor to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status) is the last part of the EB5 process where the immigrant investor removes the conditions on their conditional green card. This form must be filed within the last 90 days of the 2-year conditional period.
Currently, the processing time for Form I-829 is approximately 66.5 months.
Important factors to consider that affect EB5 processing time
There are a lot of factors which affect the processing time of an EB5 visa that you would need to consider. Generally, visa availability and the number of petitions filed are significant factors which affect the EB5 processing time.
There are only 10,000 EB5 visas available annually and only 7% of the total number is set aside for any participating country. The unclaimed visas are then reassigned to countries with higher demand.
The EB5 visa has seen demand in recent years, becoming much higher than the visa availability. Moreover, as more people file Form I-526 and Form I-526E, more investors become eligible for the visa which creates backlogs and increases wait times.
Another factor which affects wait times is whether the investor has applied in the U.S. or abroad. Moreover, the USCIS grants expedited status to an NCE that meets certain criteria. For example, an NCE that promotes the urgent interests of the U.S. government may receive expedited status which reduces the processing time of their EB5 visa.
Why are the waiting times for an EB5 visa so high?
As we have said, there are a lot of factors which directly contribute to the high waiting time for the EB5 visa. Due to the recent rise in EB5 visa applications coupled with the annual visa limit, the wait times have continually increased.
Despite the increase in wait times, however, the EB5 visa program still receives significant interest and support from immigrant investors.
What is the current priority date for Singaporeans?
According to the January 2024 Visa Bulletin, the current waiting time for all countries except China and India is “current” which means there’s no backlog or retrogression. Singaporeans can expect that as long as they are qualified and granted the visa, they may receive the visa immediately.
It is highly recommended that you work with a US immigration lawyer in Singapore who can ensure that your EB5 visa application is not affected by unnecessary delays.
What are the benefits of an EB-5 visa?
There are different benefits the immigrant investor can enjoy under the EB5 visa:
No job offer is required. You don’t need to secure a job offer or employer sponsorship to acquire an EB5 visa, which makes it a good option for investors who want to immigrate to the U.S. while also improving their investment portfolio.
Minimal participation from the investor. You are not mandated to participate in the process of the EB5 visa as such visa focuses on the investment itself and its impact on the economic growth of the U.S. rather than individual skills and qualifications.
Freedom to work anywhere. You are not required to strictly work in the EB5 investment. You are free to work anywhere in the U.S., which also applies to your spouse. This doesn’t require the acquisition of an employment authorization document (EAD).
Access to U.S. education. You and your family members can have access to U.S. education anywhere.
Freedom to travel anywhere. You and your family members can travel to visa-free or visa-upon-arrival countries.
Flexibility with investments. You can start and acquire businesses or make other investments while on an EB5 visa.
Eligibility for U.S. social benefits. You and your family members are eligible to acquire certain social benefits such as medicare, Social Security, and unemployment insurance provided that you meet the requirements.
How to apply for an EB5 visa?
There are different steps which you must take to acquire an EB5 visa. With the complexity of the visa application process, however, it is highly recommended that you work with an experienced and qualified EB5 immigration attorney who can handle your case and ensure that no unnecessary delay will affect your application.
Hire an immigration lawyer. While it’s allowed that you handle your visa application yourself, it is still highly recommended that you work with an immigration lawyer who has experience handling EB5 cases for Singaporeans This makes sure they are knowledgeable of the different processes in Singapore, which can help you manoeuvre through the process without any unnecessary delay.
Choosing an investment. You have the choice to either make a direct investment or invest in a regional centre. Moreover, you have the choice to make such an investment in a TEA or non-TEA.
Document collation. The expertise of your immigration lawyer also includes making a list of documentary evidence which can properly show your qualification for the visa based on your circumstances. Please take note that any document written in a foreign language must be translated and certified complete and accurate by a translator.
Making the investment. After you have chosen your type of investment and collated your documents, you must make the minimum investment of $800,000 in a TEA or $1,05 million in other areas.
Submission of documents. Your lawyer will then file Form I-526 or Form I-526E for you including the supporting documents.
Approval of the visa application. From then on, the US Migration Service would need to review your application and supporting documents.
Acquire a conditional green card. After the approval, you would need to complete a Form I-485 or Form DS-260 depending if you’re currently staying in the U.S. or not. If you’re currently living in Singapore, you would need to undergo consular processing and file a Form DS-260 with the U.S. Embassy in Singapore.
Obtaining a permanent green card. 21 months after approval of the visa, you would then need to file a Form I-829 to remove the conditions on your conditional green card. After this, you then become a lawful permanent resident.
How do I start my EB5 visa application?
Once you have chosen your type of investment, you can jumpstart your EB5 visa application by filing a Form I-526 or Form I-526E with the USCIS depending if you choose to make a direct investment or invest in a regional center.