EB-5 Statistics and the Fee-dom of Information Act

By David North on October 11, 2017

No, the headline does not contain a spelling error.

I have stumbled on an aspect of the government's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that was not known to me until now. (Perhaps it is well known to others.)

One can pry information out of the government under FOIA and then re-sell that data to other parties that are not quite as adept at FOIA. Here's an example in the EB-5 immigrant investor program.

There is a trade organization called IIUS (for Immigrant Investor United States) that secured some detailed information from the Department of Homeland Security via FOIA on the initial EB-5 applications (Forms I-526) filed from 1991 through 2016, a period of 25 years, including total forms received, approved, and "pending, denied, or withdrawn". All of this by the country of origin of the alien involved, and the year that the forms were filed.

If you want details from this data dump, you can pay IIUS to provide them to you. I am sure that the data could be useful to some professionals in the field, and certainly can supply lots of trivia for others. For example, what are the denial rates for investors from Scandinavia vs. those from the Gulf States? Have there been any applications from the (wealthy) citizens of Monaco?

The boxcar numbers for petitions from Chinese nationals, in that quarter of a century, are interesting in and of themselves. These are the statistics that IIUS has published:

  Mainland China Numbers China as Pct. of All
Total Receipts 51,196 77%
Total Approvals 27,754 77%
Pending/Denied/Withdrawn 23,352 78%


Denial data, as opposed to the broader category shown here, would have been much more useful. But despite that caveat, what can we gather from these few numbers?

First, China, which had 85 percent of all receipts in FY 2016, has dominated the scene throughout the program.

Second, the petitions from China are no better and no worse than those from the rest of the world, at least in the eyes of USCIS.

Third, a 46 percent pending/denied/withdrawn rate calculated from the first column of numbers above is much, much higher than comparable figures for other petitions handled by USCIS, which tend to have something like 5 to 10 percent rejection rates. Thus, even the ever-forgiving USCIS sees the EB-5 program as much more troubling than most of the other programs it runs.

Another View. I had lunch with an immigration lawyer the other day. He, unlike most of his peers in the EB-5 field, only represents investors; the rest work for the various stateside middlemen and real estate developers. His view, and he was there when the program first passed, was that the Chinese domination of the field is about to give way to a set of other nations, mostly in Asia.

He said that the pyramid of the most nervous Chinese investors has been topped, that the most anxious of them — to the tune of 50,000 or so — have already applied, and that the current situation of long waits for visas, but only for applicants from China, will tamp down the number of EB-5 applicants from that country.