Immigration Processing Now at Crisis Levels
By: Reuben Seguritan
The USCIS has been plagued with delays in processing petitions and applications since President Trump took office in 2017. The USCIS admits that there is a net backlog in all of their cases. Net backlog means that the active cases are past their targeted time completion goal. Millions of cases are delayed and the USCIS had its highest delays on record in the year 2017 with more than 2.3 million delayed cases.
The delays in processing times has affected the jobs, ability to travel abroad and status of families and persons seeking relief and benefits through the USCIS. For example, the delay in approving I-765 Application for Employment Authorization has led to applicants being unable to work and provide for their families. The employment authorization processing time is supposed to be 90 days or less. However, currently the average processing time is 5 to 8 months.
As for Advance Parole (Travel) Cards, the delay has meant that applicants who might need to travel abroad for a short period of time, cannot travel abroad because if they do, they could risk their pending adjustment application being classified as abandoned. If their application is classified as abandoned, then their application will be denied and they will not be able to return to the United States with their pending adjustment status.
The delays in processing times has also forced applicants to have to submit new I-693 Medical Examination report even after submitting it during the initial application/petition. This is because the completed I-693 is only valid for 2 years. What is happening now is that the interview date is set more than 2 years after the original application/petition was submitted. This means that the applicant must submit another I-693 at the interview. This is an additional cost for the applicant which could have been avoided had the USCIS processed the application/petition within the processing time. A suggestion that lawyers have for their clients is to not submit the I-693 with the application/petition. Rather, submit the I-693 at the interview. However, this tactic might not be effective and could result in more delays. This is because instead of scheduling the applicant for the interview, the USCIS could send a request for further evidence (RFE) and state that the I-693 must be submitted before the case can be reviewed fully and eventually scheduled for an interview.
The Trump administration’s “extreme vetting” security protocols has led to additional delays in processing. The USCIS was created by Congress as a service-oriented benefits agency. However, the current administration has transformed the USCIS into an immigration enforcement component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). There are now more interviews conducted, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests, fraud investigations and a new Notice to Appear (NTA) issued for petitions and applications that have been denied. The NTA forces the applicant to appear before an immigration judge which is the start of their removal proceedings.
The delay in processing applications has also affected US businesses when they file employment-based petitions. US companies are unable to hire and retain the employees that they need. Their petitions used to take 2.9 months in 2014. Now these petitions take at least 7.8 months to process. This has led to US companies having gaps in their workforce and forcing talented and skilled workers to apply for jobs outside the United States.
The humanitarian-based applications have also suffered extensive delays. The processing time for these cases was 4.8 months in 2016. Now these cases take at least 13.5 months to be resolved. This has led to the vulnerable applicants such as domestic abuse survivors and abandoned children being held in limbo, traumatized and threatened without any clear efforts by the USCIS to give them relief.
The USCIS’s overall case volume actually decreased by 17% from 2017 to 2018. However, the overall processing time in 2018 increased by 19% from 2017. There have been no reports of a decrease in the number of USCIS personnel that would rationally explain the delays. If news reports are to be believed, the USCIS appears to be hiring more personnel. More personnel should mean faster processing of cases. Sadly, that is not what is happening.
It seems that the overall delays are caused by the Trump administration’s policies. For example, in 2017, USCIS rescinded the directive which allowed their personnel to give deference to prior determinations when adjudicating nonimmigrant employment-based extension petitions involving the same position and the same employer. This policy change has led to unnecessary interviews and submission of additional evidence. The USCIS personnel are made to re-adjudicate cases that have already been extensively assessed during the first application. Another example is the requirement of in-person interviews for all employment-based green card applications and applications for Refugee/Asylee Relative petitions. Furthermore, it is widely reported that ICE agents are arresting illegal immigrants, even those married to US citizens, when they appear in court or at the USCIS office for their interview. The USCIS has also phased out the self-scheduling of meetings that attorneys and applicants could make through InfoPass. The USCIS has decreased its transparency to the public in its operations. Congress has also failed to effective exercise its oversight over the USCIS. Until the USCIS changes its current operations and policies, delays will continue and this will lead to the detriment of all applicants and their families and to US companies.