Introduction

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has five service centres that process applications and petitions that do not require a personal interview. The service centres process cases that form instructions indicate are to be mailed to them and those which are electronically filed. USCIS generally processes cases in order of receipt, sending a receipt notice which states when it has accepted a case for processing.

USCIS has recognised that some cases are taking longer to process than usual, and that its personnel resources do not align with its current caseload. USCIS is working to address the staffing shortages and workload issues that are causing the delays. It recently addressed processing delays and provided specific examples that shed light on the frustrating wait times and recommended solutions.

Website processing times

Once applicants or petitioners have received a receipt notice, they can check processing times on the USCIS website. USCIS updates processing times on its website on the 15th day of each month to reflect current processing times as of the previous full month. It takes USCIS 45 days to update processing times. Consequently, March processing times will be posted by mid-June and May processing times will be posted by mid-July. However, USCIS indicates that the data may change without notice.

At times, filing surges can create an imbalance in workloads at the various service centres. Filing escalations for a particular month are taken into consideration when USCIS publishes the processing reports. However, the case build-ups are not always captured immediately and it may take months for the changes to be reflected in the reports.

Filing transfers

USCIS occasionally transfers cases between its five service centres in order to balance workloads and ensure timely processing. These file transfers are taken into consideration when posting processing times. The transfer should not delay processing times and the processing time posted by the new service centre should not affect its processing of the transferred case. If the case is transferred from one service centre to another, the receipt number for the initial receipt should be used to check the case status. For example, if a case initially filed with the Nebraska Service Centre (NSC) for which there is an NSC receipt is transferred to the Texas Service Centre (TSC), the USCIS system will use the NSC receipt (and not the TSC receipt) and calculate the processing times based on the NSC processing time. File transfers can create logistical issues with respect to inquiries and follow-up as USCIS locates the new receipt number and calculates the processing time based on the new service centre's receipt number.

Premium processing cases

The USCIS premium processing service provides expedited processing for certain employment-based petitions and applications. Specifically, USCIS guarantees processing within 15 calendar days for petitioners and applicants who choose to use this service. The 15 calendar days begin when USCIS receives the request for the premium processing service (Form I-907). Within the 15 calendar days, USCIS will:

  • issue an approval notice, a denial notice, a notice of intent to deny or a request for evidence; or
  • open an investigation for fraud or misrepresentation.

If the petition or application requires the submission of additional evidence or a response to a notice of intent to deny, a new 15-calendar day period will begin on receipt by USCIS of a complete response.

Receipting of premium cases takes several days compared to the actual delivery date, which affects processing times. USCIS uses two dates: the receipt date and the date on which the case arrives in the USCIS mailroom. Accordingly, there is an inconsistency in dealing with premium processing cases; USCIS is looking into the discrepancy between the two dates.

Immigrant petitions and adjustment of status applications

'Concurrent filing' is when an immigrant petition (Form I-140) and the adjustment application (Form I-485) are filed simultaneously and mailed together with all of the required filing fees and supporting documentation to the same filing location. Concurrent filing cannot occur in consular-processed cases, as immigrant petitions are filed with USCIS and immigrant visa applications are filed with the US Department of State. Therefore, concurrent filing is seen only in the context of an immigrant who is adjusting to permanent resident status (a green card) while in the United States. A petition and application can be filed concurrently when a visa number is immediately available at the time of filing. If the I-140 and I-485 are filed concurrently, the applicant and petitioner should consider the processing times for both forms. USCIS will process the adjustment of status only once the immigrant petition is adjudicated. As such, the adjustment of status application will take longer to process than what is posted on the USCIS website, because USCIS will calculate the I-485 processing time based on the date of the approved I-140, rather than the filing date.

Inquiry process

USCIS has provided a three-step process for submitting inquiries when an employer needs to utilise a case escalation process:

  • The petitioner should submit an online inquiry or call the national customer service centre;
  • If a response is not received or the response is unsatisfactory, the petitioner should follow up with the specific service centre; and
  • If no response from the specific service centre is received, the petitioner should follow up with Service Centre Operations.

Comment

USCIS continues to work on providing more user-friendly information – particularly on what is considered "beyond the processing times" – and incorporating more real-time data, in order to better assist foreign nationals and their employers.

For further information on this topic please contact Melissa Winkler at Fakhoury Law Group PC by telephone (+1 248 643 4900) or email (melissa@employmentimmigration.com). The Fakhoury Law Group website can be accessed at www.employmentimmigration.com.

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