Comment: Visa Bulletin Projections

Charles Oppenheim of the Department of State made a presentation earlier this month offering predictions on waiting times for China, Vietnam and India. We disagree with Mr. Oppenheim's predictions for the following reasons:

1) Bad Data: Calculations for current Visa Bulletin rely approximately 90% on USCIS data and 10% on Department of State data. While the DOS data is reliable, the USCIS data is notoriously unreliable and varies wildly. Bad USCIS data was responsible for Visa Gate a decade ago which resulted in issuing hundreds of thousands of EADs. USCIS has poor data management across its multiple locations and frequently revises its data. Mr. Oppenheim has repeatedly complained about the poor quality of the USCIS data and the consequent difficulty in basing projections upon them, and he is correct. His presentation makes liberal use of the word "estimated" when referring to USCIS data precisely because of its poor quality, and consequent wild variations in predictions therefrom.

2) Bad Methodology: The methodology used at the Department of State uses straight line projections based on the past data for a country. This assumes that the rest of the world will continue to behave the same for the future as it has in the past. It does not take into account Death, Denial, Divorce and Drop-outs which materially impact waiting times. The projections also assume an approval rate of 100% for I-526 applications which obviously will not be the case, particularly for countries like India. Advanced mathematical tools like Game Theory and Monte Carlo simulations need to be used to take into account the relevant factors--and the result would be ranges and scenarios--not specific numbers for waiting times. Due to improper methodology, we object to any prediction by anyone, within DOS or outside, if such prediction is a number instead of a range, and if such prediction does not PROMINENTLY offer different scenarios with different ranges. [Our beef on retrogression projections is that folks in the EB5 industry seem to be drinking their own kool-aid, when they assert that straight line projections ending in point solutions have probative value.]

Immigration Daily's Two Cents on visa availability predictions follows three rules: (i) We base our predictions on anecdotal data (which is certainly better than relying on USCIS, as Mr. Oppenheim is compelled to do); (ii) we disclaim any suggestion that our predictions are authoritative, and assert merely that they are based on market data (instead of government data) and (iii) we offer only general directions, mentioning numbers only where necessary as a contrast to numbers by DOS and others - so here is our take, following the aforementioned three rules:

a) China: Based on our understanding of the above factors our best judgement is that Mr. Oppenheim is under-estimating the waiting time for China. He estimates it to be 16.5 years. We think that this presupposes that the rest of the world will not use more EB-5 visas in the coming years. We expect the EB-5 markets in the rest of the world to grow considerably, thus dramatically reducing the number of visas available for Chinese investors waiting for their visa. We expect the waiting time for Chinese investors investing today will be close to 20-30 years.
b) Vietnam: We think that the DOS estimate for Vietnam of 7.6 years is in the right ball park.
c) India: We think Mr. Oppenheim is overestimating the waiting time for India at 8.4 years for three reasons: (i) Because of inefficiency of processing of I-526s by USCIS, any waiting time prediction which is not far-off from USCIS processing times has less impact on the final waiting time; (ii) The market is moving towards Indians already in the US, instead of Indians in India. These USA-based Indians have children who are US citizens, and are themselves sometimes single and childless--thus significantly reducing the number of visas used per investor; and (iii) The rate of denial for Indians is significantly higher than the Chinese. Based on these three factors we suspect the waiting times for Indians to be in the range of 3-4 years instead of 8.4 years as estimated by Mr. Oppenheim.

Please let us know your thoughts by writing to editor@ilw.com.

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