Why is my immigration case taking so long?
Posted by Ester Greenfield
Our clients often ask why their case is taking so long. USCIS now has a backlog of more than 5,000,000 petitions and applications to process. The processing times for many types of immigration cases have increased dramatically. A bright spot is that USCIS appears to be processing naturalization applications much more promptly in recent months than in the past few years.
Here are some other reasons your case is taking so long:
- Visa availability. If you are the beneficiary of a family or employment-based preference petition, you may be subject to immigrant visa backlogs. Certain types of cases (such as siblings of U.S. citizens) and applicants from certain countries (such as China and India for employment cases) must endure waits of many years for a green card. Once you know your priority date, you can check visa availability at the Visa Bulletin, which is updated monthly: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-bulletin.html
- Processing times vary by region. USCIS has many offices across the country. Some are more backlogged than others.
- Related immigration files can get disconnected. Some immigration filings are complex with separate filings for parents and children. Sometimes the files get separated and one member of the family is delayed while the others are processed. Sometimes an eligibility question applies to one or more but not all members of a family.
- Certain immigration files were stored in a cave. USCIS actually sent old “A” files to a cave storage center in Missouri and had no one to retrieve these files when the applicant applied for citizenship or to renew an expiring green card. This accounts for a small percentage of the delays – hopefully not yours.
- Covid disrupted government agency operations. USCIS is still recovering from the impact of covid shut-downs on its processing.
How to cope with delays. Here are some strategies to help cope with long case processing times:
- Inform yourself about expected processing times. You can check average case processing times here: https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/. You need to know the form number, form category, and field or service center. You make selections from drop down lists. The field or service center where your application is pending is shown on the lower left of the USCIS receipt notice.
- Find out if there is a remedy for slow processing:
- o Could you successfully ask USCIS to expedite your case? The USCIS expedite standards are here: https://www.uscis.gov/forms/filing-guidance/how-to-make-an-expedite-request
- o Is premium processing service available? If your filing is eligible for premium processing, you may interfile a request for this fast service into a pending petition. More information is here: https://www.uscis.gov/forms/all-forms/how-do-i-request-premium-processing
- o File a service inquiry with USCIS. You may find that even though a petition is beyond average processing times, it is too soon for USCIS to accept a service inquiry. See https://egov.uscis.gov/e-request/displayONPTForm.do?entryPoint=init&sroPageType=onpt
- o Contact your Congressional representative and ask him or her to push USCIS to make its decision.
- o For extensive delays, consider litigation to force USCIS to make its decision. Filing a mandamus action against USCIS in federal court sounds like an extreme step. However, more than 6,000 such lawsuits are pending against USCIS. Others are using this remedy, some with success.
- Sign up for email notification of updates to your pending case. You can create an account with USCIS and receive updates and notifications about your case automatically. See https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/showSplash.do. You can also check out the current status of your case using USCIS Case Status online. You will need the receipt number. See https://www.uscis.gov/tools/checking-your-case-status-online
- Do not compare yourself with others. Everyone knows someone whose case was processed faster. There can be many reasons why their processing time would not apply to your case. Don’t make yourself crazy by thinking about what happened to someone else. There are very likely factors you might not know that explain the difference.
- Have patience. Every day we see people achieve their immigration objectives after years of processing. If you are committed to the goal and you are eligible, chances are that you will get there eventually. Even if it takes longer than you would like.