Whether you and your significant other need to file a K-1 fiancé(e) visa, your business would like to sponsor an employee for a green card, or a family member needs a waiver, you are going to need to file an immigration petition with USCIS and you want that petition to be as strong as possible. No matter which immigration option or benefit you are considering pursuing, the current reality is that all immigration-related matters are taking longer and requiring more work than ever before.
Studies, reports, and research conducted by governmental and immigration organizations over the past two and a half years all point to the fact that, while the Trump Administration may not have made much progress building a physical wall on our southern border, it has been quite effective at building an “invisible wall” in terms of greatly increasing immigration bureaucracy.
In order to most effectively navigate the immigration system and get your case approved without becoming permanently stuck or bogged down in the process, it is important to understand two key factors about the immigration under the Trump administration and to plan accordingly.
First of all, All immigration benefits are taking longer to process or be approved, which can have major impacts on financial stability and the ability for families or businesses to plan ahead. Secondly, all immigration petitions are taking more time and work, which makes the process more expensive and overall more stressful and uncertain.
We will explore what this means for you and your case, and what you can do to achieve the best possible outcome.
All types of immigration applications are taking longer to process by the government, so families and businesses should keep this in mind when making decisions or future plans.
We all need income to live and businesses need employees who are consistently able to work. These necessities are being hindered by current extreme delays at USCIS and the State Department. According to data compiled by AILA (American Immigration Lawyer’s Association), 94% of all case types are taking longer to process in 2018 compared to 2014.
In practice, we have seen a dramatic slowdown in the processing of Employment Authorization Documents (AKA work permits). EADs used to be issued reliably at the 90-day mark as part of an Adjustment of Status application, but are now routinely taking 5-7 months to process. This results in two or more months of lost income, which can cause extreme hardship to families and employers alike.
In addition to delayed work permits, citizenship applications and applications to remove conditions on 2-year green cards that used to take 5-6 months to process are now taking closer to a year and two years, respectively. This extreme increase in processing time has caused many applicants to require additional services and resources from USCIS, such as emergency Infopass appointments for work or travel authorization, continual follow up with USCIS officers, and an increased need to repeat biometrics appointments, medical exams, and in-person interviews.
So what can you do?
Given these dramatic delays, it is important to reset your expectations. Even if you have experienced quick processing in the past or if you have a friend, family member, or colleague who previously applied for the same immigration benefit without any trouble, there is a very good chance that you will encounter delays and other issues under the Trump administration. Those who are filing immigration petitions should be aware that their family member or employee may not be able to join them in the US as quickly as they had hoped, and should plan accordingly.
In addition to understanding the current climate at USCIS, applicants and petitioners should be prepared to follow up on their case. In addition to delays and added scrutiny of immigration petitions, we have also been seeing an increase in disorganization and carelessness when dealing with government officers. It is crucial that you track and monitor your case and get in contact with USCIS if you notice any errors or if your case falls outside of normal processing times. Depending on the issue you are experiencing, you have the option to submit an e-request online, call USCIS, set up an Infopass (in-person) appointment, or contact your congressional liaison for assistance.
In addition to delays and long processing times, all immigration cases are requiring more proof and more work to get approved.
Across the board, USCIS processes are taking longer and using up more resources than ever before. In practice, we are seeing an increase in in-person interview requests, requests for additional evidence, and a more aggressive and intensive application process. These changes are causing more time and resources to be allocated to individual cases, which creates longer delays and a huge backlog of pending cases.
Removing conditions on a 2-year green card with form I-751 has become one of the most time-consuming USCIS processes. I-751 applications are taking an average of 18-24 months to process and are receiving RFEs (Requests for Evidence) and in-person interview appointments at a higher rate than ever before. In this case, a great deal of resources are being used to scrutinize relationships that were deemed bona fide as little as two years prior. These couples are required to come up with new evidence of their relationship in order to file their case, and a high percentage of them are being hit with RFEs for even more evidence 12-18 months later.
RFEs in general are being issued at a very high rate for all types of cases. These requests are often excessive or superfluous and in many cases they ask for something that was already submitted the first time around. RFEs often just feel like an extra hoop to jump through and can take a lot of time and work to respond to — sometimes as much time as compiling the original application packet.
Finally, applicants and immigration attorneys around the country are reporting that family-based immigration interviews are becoming increasingly aggressive and intensive. In many cases, USCIS offers are subjecting applicants and their family members to more aggressive questioning and are frequently not satisfied with supplemental evidence that used to be sufficient. For cases being processed abroad, interviewing officers have begun putting cases into “administrative processing” for months, and sometimes years, following the interview with no set timeline or option to follow up.
So what can you do?
Keep in mind that immigration officers simply cannot approve all of their cases and, unfortunately, they have the discretion to make some applicants work harder than others to get an approval. While applicants are not officially graded on a curve, in practice it can feel that way.
In order to get you case approved and avoid requests for evidence and other roadblocks, you need to turn in top-quality work that earns an “A” from USCIS. This means that it is better than your competition — the other applicants. For the best shot at approval, you must be a top-notch applicant. This means you should:
- Submit a well-organized packet with lots of relevant evidence and a good cover letter to demonstrate you are highly motivated to get approved;
- Be well prepared at the interview with necessary documents and supplemental evidence;
- Be professional and not overly aggressive when dealing with USCIS in person or on the phone;
- Be persistent and keep following up with USCIS with e-requests and calls if your case is delayed. Set up an Infopass appointment or contact an immigration attorney if necessary.