Over the past two years, the time it takes USCIS to process petitions and applications has increased significantly. Overall case processing time has increased by 46% since FY2016, and 91% since FY2014. Data presented in a 2018 Department of Homeland Security report to congress suggests that USCIS’s net backlog at the end of FY2017 was the highest ever recorded!
When USCIS was created, Congress intended it to be a service-oriented agency that would efficiently process immigration-related petitions. This mission is critical to enable people to obtain work authorizations, immigration benefits, and to allow U.S. employers to fill critical workforce gaps. However, due to the substantial increase in processing times, families have been spent more time separated or in financial distress, and the viability of American companies seeking to employ aliens has been threatened. Clients are left unable to sufficiently plan their futures due to uncertain and extensive processing times. Attorneys are left to interface with an increasingly unresponsive system that offers few answers.
This increase in processing times can be tied to the new policies enacted by the current administration. For example, in 2017, USCIS rescinded guidance that directed officers to give deference to prior determinations when adjudicating employment-based extensions of status, thus causing unnecessary reexamination of matters that were previously accessed satisfactorily. As another example, USCIS implemented a new in-person interview requirement for all employment-based green card applications. Just these two policies alone take huge amounts of additional time and effort in an already overburdened system.
These policies have exacerbated processing times by prioritizing enforcement over the administration of legal immigration benefits. Since the last full year of the prior administration, processing times for 79% of form types have increased. This is especially true for the most high-volume form types. Processing times for four of the five most high-volume form types increased by more than 25% from FY 2017 to 2018. This includes form I-130 Petition for an Alien Relative, I-485 Application to Adjust Status, N-400 Application for Naturalization, and I-131 Application for Travel Document.
Don’t be discouraged from filing your immigration petition. With the help of an experienced immigration attorney and the knowledge that your wait times could be longer than originally anticipated, your immigration process can be completed!