TIME TO RESET EMPLOYEE EXPECTATIONS: PROCESSING DELAYS WITH US CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES
What is the status of my case? Why is it taking so long? My co-worker's case only took 3 months, why have I not received my decision yet?
Are these questions all too familiar from employees within your company? Employees and managers are becoming increasingly frustrated with pending visa applications at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Start dates need to be changed, projects need to be put on hold, disruption in your business plans due to immigration matters are becoming more commonplace.
So, what is happening and why? The previous Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and now USCIS have always struggled with timely application processing times. Historically, it was not uncommon for an applicant to wait eight months to over a year to have their application processed in both the adjustment of status and naturalization contexts. USCIS fee increases in the mid-2000s allowed USCIS to increase staffing levels to help address the large backlogs resulting in decreasing wait times on average to three to six months for many application types.
However, over the past two and a half years, applicants with pending applications at USCIS have seen the wait times significantly increase—while processing times were already slowly on the rise, recent statistics issued by the agency has shown a 46% increase in processing times since FY 2016.
RECENT TESTIMONY: USCIS
In their testimony, USCIS stated that they are in the process of implementing changes to hopefully decrease the backlog and lower processing times by focusing on efficiency.
USCIS has stated that multiple issues have affected their ability to address the backlog: struggling staffing levels, increased receipts for naturalization cases, new security check requirements, court-ordered changes in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and existing buildings preventing increased employee capacity. On July 16, 2019, USCIS testified before the House Judiciary oversight committee to explain why the processing times have significantly increased. In addition to the above stated issues, to their own admission, USCIS also testified that many of their new/changed policies under this administration have led to the increased processing times. Click this link to review the testimony. For example, requiring mandatory interviews of all I-485 applications (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status form) including employment-based cases, rescinding the deference to prior approvals policy, increased Request for Evidence (RFE) letters and changing definitions for computer programmers have all led to the slowdown of case processing and increased the time it takes to complete the case.
In their testimony, USCIS stated that they are in the process of implementing changes to hopefully decrease the backlog and lower processing times by focusing on efficiency. USCIS aims to:
(1) Transition more pre-, post- and non-adjudicative work to non-adjudicators;
(2) Centralize the delivery of information services through the USCIS Contact Center;
(3) Reintroduce performance metrics;
(4) Leverage electronic processing and automation;
(5) Redefine some publicly stated processing time goals; and
(6) Hire additional staff.
UNDERSTANDING NEXT STEPS
In the next few months, applicants will begin seeing field offices "redistrict" therefore allowing field offices with lower capacity to take cases from field offices with higher backlogs.
Cases with non-decisional work will be assigned to non-adjudicators to complete so that adjudication decision-makers have time to review more cases:
- The agency will be refining their technology platforms to offer self-help online resources so that applicants can find answers to their questions without needing to contact an immigration services officer.
- Unfortunately, USCIS also stated they plan to reset previously listed processing times expectations to reflect the current environment—not necessarily a welcome change.
These are just some of the examples listed in their testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.
What does this mean for your immigration program in the U.S.?
While USCIS plans to address the concerns of the community, it is unlikely that any swift change in processing times will significantly improve in the next year. Therefore, having conversations upfront with your employees about realistic start dates, ensuring applications are filed no later than 6 months in advance to ensure needed documents—like employment authorization documents (EAD)—are obtained timely in a timely manner and discussing processing timelines on renewals are ways the company will address the likelihood of receiving an RFE.
Another step is becoming familiar with USCIS’ online tools to track cases as well as encouraging employees to sign up for a MyUSCIS online account. All of these techniques can go a long way in helping to reduce employee anxiety and helping them understand that the landscape has changed from the quick processing times the agency used to operate under in previous years.
We would like to thank our guest blog author Kelli Duehning for her time and sharing the latest immigration updates with us!
Kelli is Senior Counsel in the San Francisco office of Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP, practicing in the firm’s Compliance and Government Relations team. Kelli joined BAL after a 17-year career with the Department of Homeland Security U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
CapRelo delivers Visa and Immigration services through trusted partners specializing in Global Immigration and Migration services. CapRelo coordinates all aspects of the process to ensure necessary documents are obtained, applications are submitted and approvals are received. We track and report visa and work permit status and send automated alerts to our client.
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