Nationwide, millions of families, businesses, and individuals applying for immigration benefits are waiting long periods of time for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to process and approve their applications and petitions.
Over the past few years, USCIS has adjusted the information it displays publicly concerning the processing times, how it calculates this information, and the mechanism by which customers can follow up. In a press release in May 2022, the USCIS announced some changes to its processing times page, ‘simplifying’ how the information is viewed and how the processing time of an application is calculated. This page (https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/) allows customers to check processing times in which 80% of similar cases are adjudicated based on the form type, category, and the USCIS field office or service center. There are also additional pages containing processing time data, including a historic processing times page showing the median processing time by form and type, and myProgress pages for applicants that, according to the agency, provide a “personalized” processing time based on “similar case types.”
However, one of the key challenges for all of the agency’s clients, including immigration attorneys, is estimating the time it will take for the agency to process an application or petition and when they will be able to follow up should the case fall outside of the posted processing times.
Let’s take the example of an application for I-485 Adjustment of Status (Green Card) in a category of “Based on grant of asylum more than 1 year ago” filed on March 04, 2021, with the National Benefits Center in Overland Park, KS. When we select the appropriate application form, category, and field office or service center from the processing times page, it indicates that 80% of similar cases have been processed within 31,5 months; the end of this period is exactly today, October 18, 2023, for this case. However, when we scroll down to the “When can I ask about my case” section and enter the receipt date, March 4, 2021, it indicates that “Your case is processing normally” and that “the earliest you can submit questions is April 01, 2024. This means that the beneficiary or immigration attorneys cannot make an inquiry with the agency until April 1, 2024. So, the normal processing time for this case is not 31,5 months as indicated on USCIS’s processing times page, but almost 37 months.
Based on previously available USCIS data, in FY2017, an average case took about 6.4 months to process while in FY 2022, an average case took more than twelve months. Anyone who files applications or petitions with USCIS is affected. People applying for family-based benefits, employment-based benefits, travel documents, and employment authorization are all experiencing delays. According to American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), many factors can slow down cases, including “inefficient processing and understaffing.” During the last administration, AILA reports, “USCIS implemented many new policies designed to restrict legal immigration and delay processing. While the current administration had made some helpful changes, the COIVD-19 pandemic has contributed to continued slowdowns.”
If you have a pending case with USCIS that you think outside the processing times, you can ask USCIS to expedite your case, if you qualify, or if applicable, to premium process your case. You can also talk to your congressperson’s office for assistance. For more information, call our office at 216.566-9908.