Processing times for visas, work permits, and other immigration benefits are now so long they’re reaching “crisis” levels, the American Immigration Lawyers Association says.
Overall processing times have increased since fiscal year 2014 for 94 percent of the forms submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the association said in a report released Jan. 30.
Moreover, average processing times rose during FY 2018 even though there was a 17 percent decline in case volume from the prior fiscal year, the report said.
The increased wait times for a decision on a visa petition are no secret to businesses and their immigration attorneys, who have been experiencing the delays firsthand.
The USCIS in early 2018 suspended premium processing for H-1B skilled guestworker visas, an option that allows employers to pay an extra fee to guarantee that their petitions will be adjudicated within 15 days. After being suspended a second time, the fast-track option recently was restored for H-1B petitions filed in April that are subject to the annual visa cap.
Agency Says It’s Trying
The USCIS has taken steps to try to bring down its processing times, including growing its workforce by 38 percent between 2012 and 2017. The agency also has opened three new field offices and expanded 10 others, and plans to open a new service center in Dallas.
“The truth is that while many factors relating to an individual’s case can affect processing times, waits are often due to higher application rates rather than slow processing,” USCIS spokesman Michael Bars said in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law Jan. 30. Petitions and applications are adjudicated “well within the agency’s standard processing goals” where possible, he said.
“USCIS strives to adjudicate all applications, petitions, and requests as effectively and efficiently as possible in accordance with all applicable laws, policies, and regulations,” Bars said.
The delays appear to be the result, in part, of policies adopted by the Trump administration, AILA said. They include a policy eliminating deference to prior decisions, as well as one requiring in-person interviews for all immigrants who apply for employment-based green cards from within the U.S.
The organization is calling for the USCIS to rescind policies contributing to processing delays, increased congressional oversight, and increased agency transparency surrounding processing time calculations and goals.
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(Story updated to include comment from the USCIS.)