USCIS Processing Delays have reached Crisis levels

USCIS is the government agency that oversees lawful immigration to the U.S. Some of the services that they provide include naturalization, management of the process that allows legal permanent residents and U.S. citizens to petition for residence for close relatives and management of the process that allow individuals to work in the U.S. – temporarily or permanently.

USCIS is entirely funded by filing fees. NO tax dollars are used to run USCIS.  Filing fees increased substantially on 12-23-2016 after several prior substantial increases. The justification for the fee increases was the need to hire additional employees. Case processing times increased substantially in 2018 as the number of cases filed markedly decreased. There was a net backlog exceeding 2.3 million delayed cases as of the end of fiscal year 2017. This total amounts to more than a 100% increase in delayed cases over a one year span despite just a 4 % increase in case filings that year.

The statistics mentioned above were provided by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) on January 30, 2019 as part of their extensive policy brief. AILA (of which I have achieved Senior Status for having been a member for more than 25 years) also provided a document to its members to be distributed to clients, reporters and others about USCIS processing delays. I have included the full text of the message from AILA HERE.

Statistics are boring to most people (and strike real terror in the minds of many who are required to take Statistics to earn a degree) so let me give you a real-life example showing how these delays affect real people.  

This is an example given the current  USCIS processing delays:

Carolina is a U.S. citizen who met Andres, the love of her life in a U.S. graduate school. Andres, who is from France, was working on a master’s degree in Engineering. They marry and immediately filed for U.S. permanent residence. Part of the application for residence includes an application for Andres to work while the residence application is pending. He wants to start working as soon as possible because they just found out that they are pregnant.  USICS shows the application processing time for the residence process to be up to 22 months and the application for the work permission is taking about 9 months. He has a job offer that provides a good income and health insurance for him and Carolina but can’t take the position because he does not have work permission and the company needs to hire someone immediately. Carolina must apply for Medicaid to cover the pregnancy and delivery.  The work permission is approved a few months after the birth of the baby and he starts to work for another company. His work permission was issued for one year. Six months later he applies for an extension of his work permission because USCIS instructions indicate that you should file for the extension six months before it expires. Andres follows USCIS instructions and files for the extension which takes 10 months. His work permission expires and he loses his job. Andres is approved for U.S. residence after 22 months and can then look for another job after they suffered through two periods of time during which he couldn’t work. They both had to drop out of graduate school during this time.

Four years ago, this is what would have happened:

They marry and apply for residence.  The work authorization is required by law to be issued within 90 days. It is actually issued in 75 days and Andres was able to accept the job offer which provided medical insurance for him and his family.  Carolina does not need to apply for Medicaid because they have insurance. The application for residence is approved three months after the work permission is issued.  There is no need to file for an extension of his work permission because he obtained the residence before his work permission expired. He is able to work and continue graduate school on a part time basis while Carolina is able to continue graduate school while they care for their baby.

This is one of the many stories that illustrate how the processing delays affect real people. This is what has happened after USCIS substantially increased fees to be able to hire more people to process cases while the number of applications has decreased.

The AILA policy brief says “ Ballooning USCIS processing times leave families—including families with U.S. citizen spouses and children—in financial distress, expose vulnerable protection seekers to danger, and threaten the viability of American companies. Yet rather than relieving the logjam, USCIS exacerbates it with policies that inhibit efficiency and prioritize immigration enforcement over the administration of legal immigration benefits. Such measures act as bricks in the Trump administration’s “invisible wall” curbing legal immigration in the United States.”  

Processing delays also negatively impact U.S. Businesses. The AILA policy brief states:

“Increased delays in the adjudication of employment-based benefits have undermined the ability of U.S. companies to hire and retain essential workers and fill critical workforce gaps…. Lengthy processing delays in employment-based cases exacerbate labor shortfalls and alienate talented candidates from seeking employment opportunities in the United States, thus compromising the sustainability and global competitiveness of American businesses.”

AILA provided some insight on why the processing delays have occurred.

“In an April 2018 report, AILA highlighted numerous changes introduced by USCIS and other agencies over the past two years that have functioned as bricks in the Trump administration’s growing “invisible wall”—a comprehensive set of policies and practices slowing and decreasing legal immigration to and in the United States.  Some of these “invisible wall” policies obstruct efficient adjudications, fueling today’s case backlog. One example:

“USCIS rescinded longstanding guidance that directed USCIS personnel to give deference to prior determinations when adjudicating nonimmigrant employment-based extension petitions involving the same position and the same employer. This shift wastes resources and promotes inconsistent decision-making by compelling adjudicators to needlessly reexamine matters already satisfactorily assessed.  

AILA recommends that “ Immediate steps must be taken to shed additional light on and address USCIS’s processing crisis.  AILA recommends that USCIS rescind a series of policies introduced within the past two years that deepen delays. In addition, USCIS should enhance transparency by providing more information to the public about its processing practices and the impact of its policies on adjudication efficiency. Finally, Congress must conduct rigorous oversight to support the agency in achieving greater transparency and accountability.”

Thankfully we now have a House of Representatives that is exercising their oversight obligations. Hopefully, they will soon deal with the processing delays that have reached crisis levels.


Linda M Kaplan