On January 3, 2023, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published a proposed rule to adjust certain immigration and naturalization filing fees. If implemented, applicants will have to pay significantly more for immigrant filings. The proposed rule is subject to a 60-day comment period that commenced on January 4, 2023 and will expire on March 6, 2023.
What Fees are Going Up?
USCIS filing fees for EB-5 petitions would see the most significant increases under the new proposed rule.
USCIS proposes to raise filing fees for I-526E Petitions from US$ 3,675 to US$ 11,160, which is an increase of 204%.
USCIS also seeks to raise I-829 petitions to remove conditions from US$ 3,750to US$9,525, which is an increase of 154%.
Regional Center applications are not spared. Regional Center applications for initial designation or amendments on Form I-956 are proposed to increase from US$17,795 to US$47,695, which is an increase of 168%.
Why are Fees Going Up?
USCIS states that the proposed fee increase is to add additional staff to the EB-5 Program’s unit. USCIS also notes that the volume of EB-5 petitions dropped dramatically in 2020, 2021 and 2022 – which is true. The volume of new EB-5 I-526 petitions dropped from approximately 14,000 in 2015, 2016 and 2017, to less than 1,000 today.
What’s Really Going On?
USCIS, however, has not distinguished itself in its management of the EB-5 Program during 2020, 2021 and 2022. While it is true that the Regional Center EB-5 Program was suspended from July 2021 to March 2022 – leading to an additional 8 month delay – it is also equally true that USCIS has largely sat on its hands in processing visas both before and after that 8-month lapse.
The result is that EB-5 investors and Regional Centers continue to suffer under the wait caused by the longest processing delays of any visa program in the U.S. immigration system. Processing times for I-526 petitions that are currently pending with USCIS are in the range of 3 or more years. Processing times for I-829 petitions are in the range of 5 years.
Moreover, USCIS does not have a track record of turning increased filing fees into improved visa processing. Past fee increases clearly have not resulted in any practical improvements to the EB-5 Program.
The cold truth is that USCIS is in a downward spiral of processing inefficiency. Fewer investors invest in the EB-5 Program because USCIS takes outrageously long to make decisions on application. With fewer investors using the EB-5 Program, there are fewer fees to pay for new adjudicators. This cycle generates more delay to the brave investors who have actually invested their capital in the EB-5 Program.