New Data: I-526 Receipts by Month, By Investor Country of Birth, Oct 2019-Oct. 2020
We have some interesting new data regarding EB-5 demand. On November 23, 2020, our firm filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking USCIS to publish data regarding Form I-526 receipts by country of birth, by month, from October 2019-November 2020. The Agency claims 0 petitions were filed in November 2020, but I personally am skeptical.
USCIS finally today (December 16, 2021) responded to the request. (Note: this took way too long and we could have sought to compel this data through a lawsuit against the agency, even seeking attorney’s fees for the delay. But we opted to not do that. The topic of FOIA suits is a blog for another day).
Admittedly, obtaining this data would be much more exciting for interested stakeholders if the Regional Center program were not stuck in an ongoing lapse. But as longtime participants in the EB-5 space, we find such data compilations to be fascinating and hope you do too, especially as we remain optimistic that there will be brighter days ahead.
As one might expect, November 2019 was a huge month for filings, with the Agency receipting a whopping 3,238 cases. This was of course due to the now-defunct EB-5 Modernization Rule, which had raised minimum investment amounts and sharply curtailed which projects would qualify at the lower minimum investment thresholds. As one might expect, new Form I-526 filings dropped off sharply starting in December 2019, never even hitting 20 in a single month until September 2020 (29).
There are many ways to slice this data. Surely you have your own hot takes. We want to hear them!
At first glance, let’s take a look at the nine countries with triple-digit filings in November 2019. We see some usual countries, but there are some clear surprises regarding volume and relative rankings.
1. India: 745. India as #1 is hardly surprising as India-born investors have dominated the EB-5 space in recent years. But what is surprising is how India had over twice as many as the second country.
2. P.R. China: 351. China has been the EB-5 hegemon historically. But to us, this volume is quite surprising given the severe visa backlogs Chinese investors face. Are Chinese investors willing to endure such long-predicted waits? Perhaps part of this demand can be explained in that many of these filings might have been from minors seeking to have Green Cards once they become adults, or investors with spouses that were born in other countries (and thus not chargeable to the Chinese backlog following approval). We are sure this data can be interpreted in a great many different ways.
3. South Korea: 309. South Koreans have been a huge constituency for the EB-5 program. Coming in at #3 is not terribly surprising, but congratulations are in order to the agencies and regional centers continuing to develop that market and eclipsing the 300 mark in a single month.
4. Hong Kong: 200. Treated separately from P.R. China for quota purposes, Hong Kong made a strong showing with 200 cases. We would have assumed it would have trailed Vietnam. It didn’t.
5. Vietnam: 190. Another huge source of EB-5 visa demand has been from the Vietnamese. Admittedly, we are a little surprised that the number of these investors trailed South Korea and Hong Kong. Perhaps the onset of visa retrogression may have somewhat tempered demand. Vietnam did boast more than Hong Kong when combining October and November 2019, however.
6. Mexico: 184. The U.S.’ southern neighbor nearly hit 200 cases in November 2019. Perhaps Mexican-sourced investment could be a much larger part of the EB-5 visa demand portfolio in the coming years.
7. Taiwan: 175. No major surprises here, demand for the program has historically been strong in Taiwan and continued to be that way in November 2019.
8. Brazil: 115. Brazil has been emerging as a major source of EB-5 investors for the past six years (or so), and its native-born investors impressively boasted a high number of filings in November 2019.
9. South Africa: 107. An emerging source of investors that has not historically participated in EB-5 in great numbers, South Africa broke through into the triple digits prior to the modernization regulations.
There are some other interesting takeaways from this data, perhaps to us none more interesting than the fact that North Korean born investors filed two petitions during the data range, which is more than Norway (just one). We do not expect any industry conferences to take place in Pyongyang or Oslo for the immediate future, however.
This data is open to lots of interpretations. We invite you to examine the attached and let us know your own insights regarding this data.