The USCIS has finally taken a decisive step to correct a problem that’s been going on for several years: the inordinate delays in FBI name check clearances. In order for the immigration agency to approve I-485 applications for adjustment of status (“green card” cases), it must first get the go-ahead from the FBI, which checks to make certain that the applicant does not have a criminal background and does not pose a security threat. Unfortunately, in far too many cases, the FBI has taken years to issue its clearances.

But last week, the USCIS issued a memorandum that instructs that if a case is otherwise approvable, and the FBI name check has been pending for more than 180 days, the adjudicator should approve the application and proceed with permanent residence card issuance. It is still unclear when the 180-day period begins, but we believe it is the date that the I-485 is filed with the agency. We are working to get further guidance on this point.

If, after approving a case, the immigration agency receives adverse information about the applicant, the USCIS will decide whether it should institute rescission or removal proceedings.

This new policy does not apply to N-400 applications for U.S. citizenship. In those cases, the FBI clearance must be issued before the application can be approved.