By Samantha Davis, Richmond, VA Immigration Lawyer
If you feel like your case has been pending for longer than anticipated, you are not alone. Members of the immigration law community have noticed longer and longer case processing times. Their observations were confirmed with a recent AILA report. The American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (AILA) analyzed recently published USCIS data and came up with some staggering statistics. AILA reviewed data for fiscal years 2014 through 2018 and concluded that the overall average case processing time has risen by 91% since fiscal year 2014 and 46% just in the past two fiscal years. AILA found that just in fiscal year 2018, case processing times increased substantially despite a decrease in case receipt volumes.
USCIS has a gross backlog and a net backlog of cases. The gross backlog refers to the number of cases pending outside the “target cycle time period,” which is the agency’s processing time goals. The net backlog refers to the number of cases in the gross backlog that are not currently actionable, such as cases where an RFE has been issued but a response has not yet been submitted to USCIS. In April 2018, the Department of Homeland Security provided a report to Congress that showed a USCIS net backlog of 2,330,143 cases as of the end of fiscal year 2017. Based on prior statistics, that fiscal year 2017 net backlog was the highest on record for USCIS. The net backlog had actually doubled from the cases in the backlog at the end of fiscal year 2016 despite only a four percent increase in case receipts during that same timeframe.
Historically, processing delays can be tied to an increase in case receipt volume, personnel levels and agency policies. With the most recent data available, we can see that not only are processing delays not improving, but it is becoming clearer that the delays are not simply due to an increase in cases. In the first three quarters of fiscal year 2018, there was a 17% decline in case volume but a 19% increase in the overall average USCIS case processing time. In its April 2018 report to Congress, DHS acknowledged recent policy shifts as a factor. In its analysis, AILA concluded that several recent policy changes have contributed to the decreased efficiency in adjudicating cases. A few policy changes AILA highlighted include rescinded the guidance that allowed USCIS personnel to give deference to prior determinations for employment-based cases, the overhaul of refugee case adjudications and the phase-out of self-scheduled InfoPass appointments.
As families, employees and businesses dealing with the current processing times and the consequences related to them, we don’t have to stress how detrimental the delays can be. On February 12, 2019, 86 members of Congress wrote a letter to USCIS Director Lee Francis Cisna raising concerns about the growing backlog of adjudications and increase in processing times. We are happy that attention is being brought to this issue and can only hope that DHS and USCIS will listen to the community and members of Congress and address these issues. In the meantime, it is critically important to plan ahead with immigration flings, especially when your ability to continue working, obtain a driver’s license, travel outside the US, etc depends on a certain application or petition being approved.
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