Form I-526 Processing Times: Navigating the Investor Visa Journey

Form I-526, titled Immigrant Petition by Alien Investor, is a document used by foreign investors seeking to immigrate to the United States under the EB-5 visa program. Through this program, investors who infuse a substantial amount of capital into a new commercial enterprise that creates or preserves a minimum number of jobs for U.S. workers are eligible to apply for permanent residence. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) manages this process, ensuring applicants meet all the necessary investment and legal stipulations.
Completing and submitting Form I-526 is the first major step for an investor to demonstrate eligibility for the EB-5 visa program. The form requires detailed information about the investor’s personal background, family, their investment, and the enterprise into which the investment is made. Applicants must carefully adhere to the form’s instructions, provide comprehensive evidence, and follow the fee payment protocol as outlined by the USCIS.
The implementation of Form I-526 and its associated processes reflect the U.S. government’s efforts to attract foreign investment and stimulate economic growth while providing a structured path to legal residency. As policies and procedures around the EB-5 program continue to evolve, it remains critical for investors to stay informed about the latest requirements, thus ensuring their petitions are accurately completed and effectively managed.

Overview of Form I-526

Form I-526, known as the Immigrant Petition by Standalone Investor, serves as the cornerstone of the EB-5 visa application process, designed for immigrant investors seeking to establish permanent residency in the United States through investment.

Purpose of Form I-526

The primary use of Form I-526 is for an immigrant investor to request status as an immigrant to the United States. It is a crucial step in the EB-5 visa program, which allows investors to become eligible for an immigrant visa by investing a significant amount of capital in a qualifying commercial enterprise within the United States.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to file Form I-526, an investor must fulfill certain conditions:

  • Minimum Investment: An investor must contribute the required amount of capital to a new commercial enterprise. The exact amount varies by location and project, with targeted employment areas requiring a smaller investment.
  • Job Creation: The investment must lead to the creation or preservation of at least 10 full-time jobs for qualifying U.S. workers.
  • At Risk Investment: The capital must be at risk for the purpose of generating a return, indicating a real, active investment.

These requirements ensure that the program benefits the U.S. economy and creates employment opportunities for American workers.

Filing Process

The filing process for Form I-526 is a key step for immigrant investors seeking U.S. residency. Understanding the available filing locations, processing timelines, and payment methods is essential to ensure a smooth application experience.

Filing Locations

Form I-526 must be submitted to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Applicants can file their petitions either through paper filing mailed to the designated USCIS address or, if eligible, through the USCIS online filing system. The specific filing address can be found on the USCIS website or on the Form I-526 instructions.

Processing Times

The processing times for Form I-526 petitions can vary significantly depending on application volume and USCIS operational considerations. Historically, processing times have ranged from several months to over a year. Applicants can check the USCIS website for the most current processing time estimates.

Fees and Payment Methods

As of the latest available information, the filing fee for Form I-526 is $3,675. USCIS accepts several payment methods:

  • Checks drawn from a U.S. financial institution
  • Money orders
  • Credit cards, if filed using USCIS online filing system

All payments must be made in U.S. currency and payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Form I-526 Supporting Documents

When filing Form I-526, the Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur, applicants are required to submit a range of supporting documents. These documents serve to substantiate the individual’s eligibility for the EB-5 visa program.

Personal Documentation

Applicants must provide personal documentation to establish their identity and nationality. The following items are typically required:

  • A copy of a valid passport or other travel document
  • An official birth certificate
  • Evidence of the applicant’s current and past employment
  • Proof of the applicant’s current and past residence

Investment Evidence

Investment evidence is crucial to demonstrate that the applicant has met the necessary capital investment requirements. They must include:

  • Documentation of the source of funds
  • Records showing the investment is from a lawful source
  • Proof that the funds are at risk for the purpose of generating a return on the investment

Business Plan Requirements

A comprehensive business plan must outline the proposed enterprise and the applicant’s plans for it. The business plan should include:

  • A description of the business, its products or services
  • Market analysis, including competitor analysis
  • A detailed financial plan, with projected revenues and expenses
  • Personnel planning, detailing job creation and timelines

Adjudication and Decision Making

The adjudication process of Form I-526 involves a thorough assessment against defined legislative criteria while ensuring fairness in the decision-making process. This section explores the framework used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in evaluating petitions.

Criteria for Approval

To achieve approval for Form I-526, the petitioner must clearly demonstrate the investment meets all the specified requirements of the EB-5 program. Key criteria include:

  • Investment Amount: The capital must meet the required minimum investment amount.
  • Job Creation: The investment must create or preserve at least 10 full-time jobs for qualifying U.S. workers.
  • Legitimate Enterprise: The business must be a bona fide enterprise and the capital must be at risk for the purpose of generating a return on the investment.

Grounds for Denial

A petition may be denied for several reasons, with USCIS providing an explanation based on the applicable grounds. Common reasons for denial include:

  • Insufficient Investment: Failure to meet the minimum capital investment amount.
  • Job Creation Deficiencies: Inability to prove the creation of the required number of jobs.
  • Misrepresentation or Fraud: Providing false or misleading information in the petition.

Notice of Decision

Once USCIS adjudicates the Form I-526, they issue a Notice of Decision. The notice typically takes one of the following forms:

  • Approval Notice: If the petition is approved, it confirms the investor’s eligibility for the EB-5 visa.
  • Denial Notice: If denied, the notice details the reasons and informs the petitioner of any available avenues for appeal.

Post-Decision Procedures

After a decision has been made on Form I-526, applicants face a different set of procedures depending on the outcome. Should the petition be approved, the applicant moves forward with obtaining their visa through either adjustment of status or consular processing. In the event of a denial, options for appeals and motions are available.

Appeals and Motions

If USCIS denies the I-526 petition, the applicant has the option to file an appeal with the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) or a motion to reopen or reconsider the decision. This must be filed within 30 days of the decision (33 days if received by mail), using Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion.

Adjustment of Status

Approved petitioners currently in the United States may seek to adjust their status to a conditional permanent resident by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Eligibility for concurrent filing of Form I-485 with Form I-526 is contingent upon visa availability.

Consular Processing

Those outside the United States proceed with consular processing. This entails applying for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country. Upon approval and entry into the United States, the individual becomes a conditional permanent resident.

Investor Rights and Obligations

When an investor files Form I-526, the Immigrant Petition by Standalone Investor, they must understand the specific rights and obligations tied to their visa status and investment. These encompass adhering to visa conditions and maintaining the investment in accordance with regulatory requirements.

Visa Conditions

An investor who successfully petitions using Form I-526 is granted conditional permanent resident status in the United States. Conditional permanent residency is subject to requirements that must be fulfilled for the conditions to be removed, typically within a two-year period. The investor:

  • Must enter the United States within the period of the visa’s validity.
  • Is entitled to live and work anywhere in the United States.
  • Is obligated to fulfill the conditions of the EB-5 program to secure the removal of conditions for permanent residency.

Maintaining Investment Requirements

The investor is required to sustain their investment to ensure eligibility for an unconditional green card. Key points include:

  • The capital must be at risk for the purpose of generating a return on the investment.
  • The investment should generally still be maintained at the time the Form I-526 is properly filed.
  • The investor must create or preserve at least 10 full-time jobs for qualifying U.S. workers within two years of the investor’s admission to the United States as a Conditional Permanent Resident.

Renewal and Removal of Conditions

The renewal and removal of conditions for investors in the United States are primarily handled through Form I-829, which is a crucial step after obtaining residency through an investment visa.

Form I-829 Filing

To renew their status or remove the conditions on their permanent residency, an investor must file Form I-829, “Petition by Investor to Remove Conditions on Permanent Resident Status.” This form should be submitted within the 90-day period immediately preceding the second anniversary of the investor receiving their conditional residence status. Filing this form is a necessary step to convert conditional permanent resident status to unconditional permanent resident status.

Continuous Residence Requirement

For investors who have obtained their residency through marriage, they must demonstrate a continuous residence. The removal of conditions on their status requires proof that the investment has been sustained throughout the period of conditional residency. It is a critical aspect of ensuring that the investor remains eligible for permanent residency without conditions.