Why Is Your Case Taking So Long to Process? Our Guide to Dealing with Case Delays

Welcome back to the Immigration Lawyer Blog, where we discuss all things immigration. In this video, attorney Jacob Sapochnick discusses the long processing times to adjudicate applications and petitions filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The backlog of cases has been especially significant for certain types of applications and petitions where demand is greatest, such as I-539 applications to extend/change nonimmigrant status, I-360 petitions for Amerasians, Widow(er), or Special Immigrants, I-765 Applications for Employment Authorization, I-751 Removal of Conditions applications, and many others. According to previous data, in 2014 an average green card case took about 5 months to be processed by USCIS, while in 2020 it has taken over 10 months to process the same type of application.

The reason behind these high processing times leads back to the crippling effects caused by COVID-19. Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, USCIS has been experiencing a financial crisis as more and more people have found it difficult to afford paying costly fees for their immigration processes. To make matters worse, USCIS has also been experiencing a shortage in personnel and resources, making it difficult for the agency to efficiently adjudicate immigration benefits.

Many of these limitations have been caused by conditions in various states around the country, as well as local government mandates. States with high rates of coronavirus for example have been especially hard hit, making it difficult for USCIS to continue to operate at previous levels. The Biden administration has taken steps to try to improve conditions and reduce the backlogs by reinstating deferential immigration policies mandating immigration officers to defer to prior approvals where immigration benefits involve the same parties and facts. The agency has also lengthened the status of removal of conditions applicants from 18 to 24 months while their applications remain pending with the USCIS and implemented flexibility policies to respond to requests for evidence. Despite these changes there is much more that needs to be done.

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Massive Delays at USCIS Reach Crisis Levels

  • According to USCIS data, from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2021, processing times for all I-539 applications to change or extend status rose from about 2.8 months in 2017 to 9.8 months in 2021 (an increase of more than 250%)
  • In the same period, processing times for family-based adjustment of status (I-485) applications rose from 7.9 months in fiscal year 2017 to 13.2 months in fiscal year 2021 (an increase of more than 67%)
  • Also during the same period, processing times for naturalization applications (N-400) increased from 7.9 months in 2017 to 11.6 months in fiscal year 2021 (an increase of nearly 47%)

What is causing these massive backlogs?

Several factors are contributing to the slow processing of cases at USCIS, some of which include inefficient processing, understaffing (especially with respect to competent officers available to adjudicate cases), and many policy changes that were implemented due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic that caused even further delays in processing applications. As you may remember at the start of the pandemic USCIS adopted policies that were never seen before. For instance, USCIS implemented policies that required officers to conduct duplicate reviews of past immigration decisions, adding unnecessary work for each case thereby causing more delays in processing applications. Another example of a harmful policy that increased the backlogs was a measure adopted by USCIS which required all applicants filing an I-539 application to extend/change nonimmigrant status to undergo biometrics. This caused even greater delays to process I-539 applications because Application Support Centers (ASC) did not have the capacity to schedule biometrics appointments for applicants during the pandemic.

An even more disastrous consequence of these delays was the decision to close all USCIS offices to in person services from March 2020 through July 2020 to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. During this period no interviews and no biometrics appointments were scheduled for applicants nationwide. While USCIS later opened their offices and resumed interview scheduling, the agency was forced to limit the volume of interviews that could be conducted on any given day to abide by social distancing protocols. More than a year later, the agency has still not been able to recover from the backlogs caused by these closures and applicants continue to wait to be scheduled for interviews.

What can you do today to minimize the delays in processing your application?

Regardless of whether you are filing your application for the first time with USCIS or whether you have had your case pending for months for USCIS, the following tips will help you minimize the processing delays for your application.

#1: FOLLOW UP – Make sure that you implement a dedicated follow up routine for your case. You can check on the status of your case by calling the USCIS Contact Center Monday through Friday from 8 am to 8 pm eastern time at 800-375-5283. Applicants who require more advanced information should ask to speak with a tier two immigration officer for information about their cases. As an alternative applicants can also file an e-request online to request the status of their case. If USCIS does not respond to your inquiry by phone or service request, you may utilize the assistance of the USCIS Ombudsman for cases pending beyond the posted processing time on the USCIS webpage or initiate the help of your congressman’s office.

ADVANCED TIP: If at any time during your immigration process you move to a new address, you must remember to change your address with USCIS by filing the AR-11 change of address application online. If USCIS cannot forward important correspondence to you by mail relating to your case, this will cause additional delays, and even worse a possible administrative closure or denial if you fail to respond to requested documentation.

#2: SIGN UP FOR CASE STATUS NOTIFICATIONS – To receive the most up to date information about your case it is a wise decision to sign up for online notification case status changes with USCIS. If anything changes regarding your case, you can sign up for an online service that can notify you of those changes through text or email. This will enable you to take immediate action should any additional information be needed from you to continue processing your case. This will help you stay ahead by knowing what you can expect to receive in the mail from USCIS.

#3: FILE RENEWALS EARLY ON – Those filing to renew a work permit or travel permit with USCIS should file their renewals early enough to prevent any interruptions in employment or necessary travel. Applicants should be well informed of how long renewal applications are taking to process and file those applications well before their current work or travel permits are set to expire.

#4: CONSIDER EXPEDITING – Finally, if your application is stuck in the backlogs, you may consider filing an expedite request to speed up the process if any of the following circumstances applies to you. It is a wise decision to receive the help of an experienced attorney and your local Congressman’s office to help ensure a successful expedite.

USCIS may consider an expedite request if it meets one or more of the following criteria or circumstance:

  • Severe financial loss to a company or person, provided that the need for urgent action is not the result of the petitioner’s or applicant’s failure to:
    1. Timely file the benefit request , or
    2. Timely respond to any requests for additional evidence;
  • Emergencies and urgent humanitarian reasons;
  • Nonprofit organization (as designated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)) whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States;
  • U.S. government interests (such as urgent cases for federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Labor, DHS, or other public safety or national security interests); or
  • Clear USCIS error.

If any of the above conditions apply to you, you can initiate expedited processing by contacting the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283 (TTY for the deaf, hard of hearing, or those having a speech disability: 1-800-767-1833) or by asking Emma after you have obtained a receipt notice.  (You can access Emma by clicking on the Ask Emma icon on the top right of this page).

#5: MANDAMUS LAWSUITS – If you cannot resolve your situation utilizing all other avenues, such as contacting USCIS, seeking help from the USCIS Ombudsman or Congressman’s office, you may consider filing a mandamus lawsuit if your case is beyond the posted processing times indicated on the USCIS webpage.

Contact us. We hope that this information was helpful. If you have any further questions or would like to schedule a consultation, please text 619-483-4549 or call 619-819-9204.

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