Senators Demand Answers for USCIS Delays

Erick Widman

If you’re applying for an immigration benefit for yourself or someone you know, you’ve likely noticed by now that there have been a lot of processing delays lately. Cases of all types are taking longer than ever to be adjudicated. I-751 petitions, on average, are taking a year and a half or longer to process. Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) used to take 90 days and now show posted processing times of 5-7 months. I-130 processing times just jumped from 7-9 months up to 10-13 months for many applicants nationwide. This exacerbates the concern many have regarding why is my USCIS case taking so long and if there is any truth to concerns about efforts to purposely cause a delay.

Many applicants, feeling the strain of delayed processes, are asking, “Your case is taking longer than expected to process, but can you sue USCIS for taking too long?” With these extended waiting periods, the frustration is palpable, particularly when it feels like USCIS is taking too long without adequate explanation.

The severity of these delays has reached what the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) describes as a “crisis level” at USCIS. According to a January 2019 AILA report, this situation has prompted both Democratic and Republican senators to demand immediate action and transparency from USCIS, as the delay in processing has substantial impacts on applicants’ lives. The report details that USCIS delays in processing are not only frustrating but can have significant personal and professional repercussions for applicants.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of 38 senators came together and drafted two letters to be sent to USCIS Director Francis Cissna and the CIS Ombudsman, Julie Kirchner. These letters demand an assessment of how USCIS’s policies contribute to delays and call for concrete plans to eliminate the agency’s case backlog. This effort is particularly noteworthy considering the ongoing questions about USCIS congressional inquiry response time and whether inquiries are being addressed in a timely fashion.

Before this, 82 Democratic senators requested a Government Accountability Office report of the delays, which asked such questions as:

  • How are current USCIS policies and practices impacting case processing times?
  • What new policies and practices should USCIS adopt to process cases more expeditiously and reduce the backlog while ensuring the fairness and quality of adjudications?
  • To what extent are new policies affecting the speed and accuracy of USCIS case processing?

The report aims to shine a light on how policy changes under the Trump administration have led to an extreme slowdown in processing and adjudication. USCIS’s reports reveal a current backlog of 5.6 million cases—a number which continues to grow even as application rates have decreased and funding has increased over the past several years. This rising backlog prompts many to seek insights into their USCIS case status frequently, trying to understand why USCIS take so long to process applications and whether their case is taking longer than expected due to systemic issues or inefficiencies.

An in-depth examination revealed that USCIS has reported a significant decrease in “case completions per hour.” This includes both family-based and employment-based petitions and indicates that nearly every type of immigration benefit now requires more time and resources to process than ever before. For instance, the case completion rate for temporary workers (Form I-129) decreased from .97 cases per hour to .64, marking a 34% drop between 2016 and 2018.

The overall slowdown in case completions is attributed to increased complexity and length of forms, heightened security checks, and redundant reviews of the same cases. The frequency of in-person interviews and Requests for Evidence (RFEs) has also increased substantially. While historically, in-person interviews for I-751 petitions were reserved only for cases where officers suspected fraud or a national security threat, they are now being scheduled almost indiscriminately for a much higher percentage of cases.

The senators calling for action argue that the delays at USCIS are leading to “dire” consequences: “Business operations are being stalled, family reunification takes far longer, and vulnerable individuals are living in fear because the agency cannot decide their cases in a timely fashion.” These issues underscore the importance of addressing USCIS processing delays and ensuring that USCIS delayed processing does not undermine the integrity of the immigration system.

AILA invites individuals affected by these delays to join the Senators in Taking Action through their Advocacy Action Center. This concerted effort is crucial to ensuring that necessary reforms are implemented to address these inefficiencies, ensuring that each US immigration case processing time is optimized and that the system functions efficiently for all stakeholders involved.

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